DEERFIELD, Ill. — The more the Bulls got to know Doug McDermott, the more they realized he was the perfect fit for what they were trying to accomplish.
And they got to know him plenty the past four years.
A snowstorm in Omaha last year extended John Paxson's stay at Creighton a week. McDermott participated with Team USA where Thibodeau, an assistant, got to watch college basketball's best player compete. McDermott spent this summer preparing for the draft in Chicago, giving the Bulls additional opportunities to see the country's best shooter up close. McDermott even attended a Bulls playoff game at the United Center in April.
And being a highly touted four-year starter in a Midwest city allowed the Bulls to see McDermott play as much as any other team in the league, both at home and on the road, as well as in practice settings, where he showed off the basketball IQ of a typical coach's kid.
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So by the time the Bulls brass met with McDermott this summer at the NBA Combine - also taking place in the Windy City - they already knew they had found their guy.
Because of that, they didn't hesitate Thursday night during the NBA draft to pull the trigger on a trade that sent both the Bulls' first-round picks (Nos. 16 and 19) and a 2015 second-rounder to the Denver Nuggets in exchange for McDermott, who had been selected 11th, and Anthony Randolph.
"It's just an unbelievable feeling. I knew the interest was there," McDermott said on a teleconference with Chicago media late Thursday night. "I saw them at a lot of practices and games. It’s great to land in Chicago."
It was the first of many NBA trades that night, but more important for the Bulls it became their first action taken as they begin an all-important offseason that could change the makeup of the roster and franchise as a whole.
"We feel in Doug McDermott we got, if not the premier shooter in the country, (then) one of the premier shooters in the country. But what excites us about Doug is, our feeling is he’s much more than a shooter, that’s he’s got a lot of game. And we’ve seen him play, we’ve studied him for years," Gar Forman said at the Berto Center following the team's second-round selection. "We’re really, really excited that we were in a position where we could make the move to get Doug."
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And while the Bulls are quick to label the three-time All-American as much more than a shooter, they realize it's his best trait and the one their offense needs most. Last year, the Bulls offense ranked last in the NBA in points per game and made just 6.2 3-pointers, which ended up being their downfall in a first-round playoff series loss to the Wizards in which they scored just 69 points in the decisive Game 5.
So it was no surprise that Forman, John Paxson and Tom Thibodeau made it a priority to address the franchise's biggest concern. And they did it the Bulls way, too, selecting an upperclassman in the first round for the third time in the last four drafts. And as they continue to buck the one-and-done trend in the NBA, opting for players who can contribute from Day 1 and won't need as much of an adjustment period into Thibodeau's ramped up defense, the hope is that McDermott is quick to pick up the system and NBA pace for the win-now Bulls.
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"The big thing is coming in and ... learning the system, then he’s got to learn the NBA game and then he has to learn his teammates," Thibodeau said. "And I think in the short time that I was around him, he has a great work ethic, and that’s usually the first step. We hope he picks things up quickly, that’s what’s expected of him. But he’s a great fit for what we need."
Thibodaeau's not wrong on his assessment, but most players who scored more points in college than Larry Bird did are a great fit for all 30 NBA teams. McDermott led the country in scoring last year (26.9 ppg), shot 46 percent from beyond the arc during his four-year career and hit on 87 percent of his free throws. Put simply, the kid can score, and putting points on the board wins basketball games, even in the Eastern Conference.
Still, McDermott's offensive smarts, marksman 3-point shooting and above-average size (he measured 6-foot-8 at the Combine) that he uses well to run off screens, drive to the basket and, at times, battle for positioning in the post all will serve him well in the Bulls offense; with Derrick Rose returning and Joakim Noah the 2010s version of Vlade Divac, McDermott admitted he's going to have ample scoring opportunities he plans to take advantage of.
But what makes McDermott the perfect fit in Chicago, ironically, is that his defense is his one question mark. He doesn't possess elite athleticism and isn't the quickest changing directions (though he did average 7.0 rebounds as a senior). But as McDermott noted speaking on a teleconference with the Chicago media Thursday, a player whose "weakness" is considered defense could do much worse than being coached by Thibodeau.
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"Defensively, it will be the biggest adjustment and there’s not a better guy to play for if I want to improve on that end of the floor. I think I'm going to fit in great with him," he said. "Such a great franchise, great city, great fans, I couldn’t ask for a better slot under coach Thibodeau and all the great players on their team."
As familiar as the Bulls were with McDermott, the 2014 Naismith Player of the Year was just as familiar with the six-time NBA champions. It was during that Game 5 matchup with Washington, as the Wizards defense shut down what was left of the Bulls offense and beat the host all three times at the United Center, that McDermott realized he could make a difference.
"I knew watching that game that I was a perfect fit for them, that I could bring so much to the table. And now with D-Rose back, I’m going to be able to play off him real well because he draws so much attention. It’s going to allow me to get some open shots," he said.
"I feel like I can fit in right away and I’m going to play the role to the best of my ability and help the team win."