When Mike Dunleavy’s injury was announced a few weeks ago, it was assumed Doug McDermott would take his place at small forward and begin fulfilling the promise expected of a lottery pick.
But Fred Hoiberg hasn’t started McDermott in one preseason game to date, and with the regular season opener looming, one would think Hoiberg, tabbed with the responsibility of coaxing the most production from a talented player, would start familiarizing McDermott with being on the first unit.
McDermott will start Thursday in the Bulls’ final preseason game, against the Dallas Mavericks in Lincoln, Neb., but it won’t be a continuing trend when the games really count. Hoiberg likes that scoring punch off the bench, so McDermott will anchor the second unit.
“That's the role I've anticipate for Doug is coming off the bench. I'll start him in Lincoln (Nebraska),” Hoiberg said. “It'll be a fun game for him with his family and everybody that supported him. I know a lot of people will come from Ames. I'll start him that game for sure, but I like Doug coming off the bench. I think it's been a good role for him.”
McDermott would certainly love to start—all NBA players worth their salt do, no matter what they say—but he understands and is fine with Hoiberg’s decision.
“Yeah, I’m completely fine with that,” said McDermott, who’s scored in double figures in every preseason game. “Either way. I think it’s been good for me, just kind of see the game develop a little bit. I think they need scoring off the bench, too, so I feel like I can bring that and I’m fine with whatever.”
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It’s clear Hoiberg isn’t happy with the Bulls’ defense as a whole, and wants the most balanced unit on the floor. McDermott is no defensive stopper and has had trouble staying in front of drivers from the top of the key or the wings.
If McDermott was to be a part of the starting lineup, it would force Jimmy Butler to certainly defend an opponents’ best perimeter scorer or playmaker, and there seems to be an emphasis on conserving Butler’s energy with the heavy minutes he’ll have to play this season.
So there’s a possibility of starting Tony Snell, who injured his ankle in a game this week, or Nikola Mirotic (also not the most inclined defender) or even Kirk Hinrich, which would slide Butler over to small forward and out of the backcourt.
McDermott knows defensively he’s a work in progress because being a perimeter player is new to him.
“It’s tough for me, especially played a lot of four in college so I wasn’t the guy getting into the ball-handler and force him one way,” McDermott said. “I’ve worked on that a lot. I’ve tried to pull guys aside after practice even if it’s a guy like Jordan Crawford where I can just, you know, try and get into a guy that’s quick and athletic. It’s been tough. Part of it’s on me. Part of it’s on all of us communicating and we’ll all get better.”
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With McDermott in the starting lineup, there’s a chance he would get lost among primary scorers Butler, Derrick Rose and Pau Gasol. Coming off the bench allows him to anchor the scoring from the second unit while also minimizing his defensive deficiencies, pitting him against lesser offensive players.
He sees both sides of the argument.
“I think it goes both ways. I think, more of an opportunity for shots and scoring off the bench,” McDermott said. “You see guys like that in the league all the time, coming off the bench and just kind of fire away. I feel like that’s something I can do, but at the same time if I was out there with Derrick and Jimmy and Pau, I feel like I’d really space the floor for them. I think Derrick would get a lot of driving lanes, along with Jimmy. So, either way, I think I can help out wherever they ask.”
When Dunleavy comes back, one can assume the veteran will come back as the starting small forward, barring an unforeseen change from the head coach. Having McDermott establish a rhythm as a primary scorer as opposed to jerking him in and out as a starter could be Hoiberg’s goal, or part of it.