This time last year was anything but a fruitful season for Doug McDermott, and his face cringed at the mental recollection of being inactive for all the wrong reasons.
It was a slight moment of misery after a night where he made a big leap professionally, so the memory that sticks with him is clearly a driving force behind his emergence.
“Last year right now I was in a hospital bed, getting surgery set up,” McDermott said after scoring 17 in the Bulls’ 98-85 win over the Memphis Grizzlies at the United Center. “I didn’t know what to expect, I was a rookie who didn’t know much. Now to have a year under my belt, it’s been huge. I feel like a completely different player.”
Right knee meniscus surgery put him in a very bad place as a rookie, but being arguably the third best player on the floor Wednesday night behind Jimmy Butler and Derrick Rose displays how hard he’s worked to get back — along with his coach’s trust in him.
“That’s the big thing with Doug, he’s put in so much time. And it’s paying off,” Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg said.
McDermott hit a pair of 3s to stem the tide while Rose and Butler were getting their rest to start the fourth quarter, and with each substitution that took place, McDermott kept waiting for a teammate to tap him on the shoulder for him to return to the bench.
It never happened.
“Right now we're still trying to find a group to close the game,” McDermott said. “I think it's whoever has the hot hand, to be honest. Last night I had it going, Aaron (Brooks) had it going prior nights. It really depends on who has it going.”
So as the Bulls completed their fourth-quarter shutdown of giving up 19 points, McDermott was on the floor with the thought that not only is he counted on offensively, he’ll have to hold his own defensively, too.
Defending ball screens has been his biggest improvement, and with Mike Dunleavy’s back injury leading to things being very murky, McDermott could see more prime time in the fourth quarter.
“I feel like just as a group, we're talking a lot more,” McDermott said. “For a guy like me who needs all the help he can get, with Jo (Joakim Noah) and Taj (Gibson) and all those guys, they're talking and communicating way better.”
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But his calling card is as a scorer, something he’s not running away from. The more he puts stretches like these together, where he’s scored in double figures in six of the last eight games, teams will game plan for him more — which could lead to more open-floor opportunities for Rose and Butler.
“I think that always helps when you have somebody out there spacing the floor,” Hoiberg said. “On different nights, we’re going to have different guys. Tony (Snell) shot the heck out of it the game before. He played the whole second half. It was Doug yesterday.”
At some point, you wonder if McDermott’s outside shooting will become feared by other teams. Until then, he has to keep building his resume — which has to catch up to the confidence that brims with every swish in a big moment.
“I feel like when I catch it and I'm open, it's going in every time,” McDermott said. “It's still building, and last night was another block. Earlier in the year or even last year if I missed a 3 or shots, I kinda shut down a bit. Last night I missed three or four shots then got it rolling there. I think I took a big step in that regard last night.”