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Bulls: McDermott seemingly starting from scratch in Summer League

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Bulls: McDermott seemingly starting from scratch in Summer League

LAS VEGAS--Perfect placement, perfect form, impeccable release.

Only Klay Thompson’s shooting form rivals Doug McDermott’s fundamentals in today’s NBA, seemingly, but Thompson’s results are more proof of his process than that of the 11th pick in the 2014 Draft.

McDermott finds himself battling the bad luck of last year along with trying to find himself mixed into an environment where his opponents are desperate to earn a guaranteed contract in the NBA’s Summer League.

There were moments where you could see flashes of his being able to score in bunches, moments where issues surrounding his confidence is mere conjecture and not reality.

He couldn’t buy a basket early, like many of the Bulls in their 81-66 loss to the Toronto Raptors at Las Vegas’ Cox Pavilion, going scoreless until the third quarter.

Then the second-year player started filling it up.

[RELATED: New Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg has low-key opening in Summer League]

He scored seven straight, which was followed by a Jab-fake-jab on the wing where that textbook jumper fell easily.

“It is a big year for Doug,” said Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg. “I thought he got it going in the second half. When he starts making baskets you can play through him. I think he’s gonna have that ability.”

Who knows if he’ll get those isolation opportunities on a team where Derrick Rose and Jimmy Butler promise to get the time and space to create shots on the regular. With veteran Mike Dunleavy being rewarded with a three-year deal recently after displaying an ability to take advantage of open shots, it shows that’s what the Bulls are looking for—even in someone who’ll prevent McDermott from getting on the floor this season.

“He had great looks,” Hoiberg said. “I thought he passed up a couple. He can’t do that. Doug’s got an open shot, he’s gotta shoot it.”

“I have a lot of confidence in Doug and I’ve been trying to portray that to him. And get him to go and play with confidence. He’s obviously a gifted scorer.”

Imploring McDermott to shoot the ball when open seems like a foreign proposition, but it’s almost like he’s starting from scratch after a nondescript rookie season marred by a knee injury early, then inactivity upon his healthy return.

He had a few good games before injuring his knee, then couldn’t crack the rotation for more than spot minutes after the All-Star break and into the playoffs.

[MORE SUMMER LEAGUE: Portis impresses in Summer League opener]

“It’s tough. A lot of guys go through that early on, especially with a veteran team like Chicago last year,” Hoiberg said. “When he had the injury, Chicago was playing great and was playing guys who had it rolling. Tom (Thibodeau) went with the guys he felt could win games. Doug has to go in the mode of being a basketball player. He’s very versatile.”

“I’m not gonna lose that confidence because I believe in myself and my game,” McDermott said. “There’s gonna be nights where I don’t shoot well, don’t play great. But it’s part of the game and I’ll work extremely hard to get through it.”

Sunday was one of those nights as he finished with just 11 points, nine coming in that quick third-quarter flurry.

During his 5-for-13 showing, he rushed shots a bit and clapped his hands two possessions after his last miss, moments before he exited the game for the final time, a slight display of frustration.

“You gotta keep it all in perspective,” McDermott said. “If I have a good game, it’s good for my confidence because I haven’t played a lot of 5-on-5 last year. Any 5-on-5 competition is huge for me because I didn’t get a lot of experience. I’m just starting to get my feet wet.”

While he’s one of the players in Vegas on a guaranteed contract as opposed to hoping to impress a current team or another franchise, it’s clear McDermott feels the pressure to perform.

[NBC SPORTS SHOP: Buy a Doug McDermott jersey]

The opportunities in this setting are immense, even if the play is far more physical and less structured. He’s reshuffled the weight in his body, gaining a bit to get to 225 pounds but he feels more adept to playing a power forward if need be.

The unconventionality of the playoffs showed he may have to be ready in the event the Bulls want to play smaller on occasion, and the strength means he must be ready to defend his position.

“He’s a basketball player,” Hoiberg said. “You look at different lineups that happened in the playoffs. Was (Golden State’s) Harrison Barnes ever in his life a (power forward)? No. But he played it in the playoffs.”

Whether at guard or even big forward, McDermott will have to maximize every opportunity to display that fundamental jumper.

And making a few wouldn’t hurt, either.

Bulls crack the top-10 in ESPN's NBA League Pass Rankings

Bulls crack the top-10 in ESPN's NBA League Pass Rankings

The Bulls have struggled through the 2019-20 NBA preseason but have shown signs of a team on the rise in a drastically different Eastern Conference. ESPN's Zach Lowe released the second half of his NBA League Pass Rankings, with the Bulls making a surprise leap into the top 10 that supports the notion that they are a team set to be entertaining and much more effective in the 2019-20 NBA season.

While Lowe's League Pass Rankings are not power rankings, they go hand-in-hand with the idea that the Bulls are starting to become an interesting team on the national stage.

The highest score a team can get in Lowe's League Pass Rankings is a 50, based on a 1-10 ranking in five separate categories. The Bulls received a score of 34.5, finishing right behind the Utah Jazz.

Lowe credits the potential for Lauri Markkanen and Wendell Carter Jr. to develop into a "rare frontcourt pairing" as one of his main reasons for telling readers to look out for the Bulls this season.

While Markkanen has yet to shoot over 50% from 2-point range and Carter has yet to attempt more than 18 3-pointers in a season, the potential is there for both of these players to improve greatly in both of these areas, truly making them a "rare" and formidable offensive duo. 

Throughout Lowe's League Pass Ranking-breakdown of the Bulls, he had kind words for the Bulls' new pinstriped jerseys, the improvisational ability of the Bulls' veterans and LaVine's dunking ability.

LaVine is the best dunker since prime Vince Carter... 

-Zach Lowe on Zach LaVine 

And while Lowe hinted at Bulls head coach Jim Boylen playing a bit of a character, he had positive thoughts on him as well. Lowe calls Boylen, "a smart coach," and states "there is even some logic in how he stripped the Bulls down to the basics of physicality and effort upon taking over."

The Bulls have lofty goals for the 2019-20 season, making the playoffs being the biggest one. At the same time, they are not pressuring the roster as Boylen himself has stated the most important goal is to "get better every day."

From what has been written about the Bulls this preseason — including Lowe's League Pass Rankings — it would appear most NBA writers expect the Bulls to be a more entertaining, effective, and cohesive unit over the course of the 2019-20 season. On October 23, when the games start to count, we will see if the Bulls can back up the hype.

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Kevin Durant chimes in on Zach LaVine's comments on mid-range shooting

Kevin Durant chimes in on Zach LaVine's comments on mid-range shooting

There is much discussion in the basketball community surrounding the value of the midrange shot following a Sun-Times article from Joe Cowley that discussed the Bulls analytics department wanting Zach LaVine to limit his mid-range attempts, and a segment on ESPN's The Jump, discussing the same topic. On Tuesday morning Matt Moore of the Action Network chimed in, offering up the statistics that clearly support the notion that LaVine should be shooting many, many more 3-pointers than 2s. 

While Moore's points were solid and backed up by the numbers, NBA superstar Kevin Durant offered up his opinion from a player's perspective. Durant backed up LaVine's quote of "sometimes there's nothing better than putting the ball in your best playmaker's hands and letting him get the shot he needs rather than the one you want." KD commented that he has seen too many players pass up wide-open midrange shots to force up 3-pointers or contested shots at the rim, with analytics having an influence on the shots that players take, referring the mid-range as "forbidden."

Durant went on to comment and respond to users' comments on the situation. In one response Durant agrees with a user who states that he is teaching his son to work on his mid-range game first and shoot 3-pointers once he is strong enough, stating "that's how I was taught."

Moore had some fun with the response from Durant, stating that when he initially tweeted about the topic, his intentions were not to get into a debate on the value of mid-range shots with an active NBA player who is already among the all-time greats. 

 Moore's original sentiment agrees with what the Bulls' analytics department is trying to accomplish. LaVine has always been a good mid-range shooter but last year alone he shot 35.8% on mid-range shots and 37.4% on 3-point attempts.

It is obvious that players still need to have to players who can hit mid-range attempts, as some of the best teams in the league—including recent NBA champions Toronto and Golden State, who finished second in the league in percentage of points coming from mid-range shots—have relied on players who can generate solid mid-range attempts in high-leverage moments. But Durant's point is important to note too.

Durant stated that you have to be "confident to make any shot" but countered that whatever you work on the most is what you will be best at. He doubled down on that point, saying most primary scoring options in the NBA shouldn't worry about analytics and should play off of feel, rather than numbers. 

Ultimately, there has to be a balance.

As we have seen through the preseason, taking fewer shots from the mid-range has certainly appeared to benefit LaVine's game, as he is currently fourth in the league in preseason scoring, averaging 23.3 points per game through three contests. But taking what the defense gives you, especially when you are as confident of a player as Durant or LaVine, still needs to be emphasized. 

In what should be a huge season for LaVine, he will again have a high-usage rate as he looks to lead the Bulls to a bounce-back season and mid-range shots, while limited, will still be a part of his shot profile.

So as far as Chicago Bulls fans should be concerned, this is a win-win. LaVine has clearly taken to heart was the Bulls' analytics department is preaching by shooting fewer mid-rangers but he still understands that that shot is going to be necessary for certain moments. So when LaVine is open from mid-range in 2019-20, the Bulls coaching staff will likely be saying the same thing Durant did on Tuesday morning, "Shoot em Zach."

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