By Cody Westerlund-
CHICAGO (CBS) – For his entire basketball career, Bulls rookie wing Doug McDermott has been known for his offensive prowess. In high school, he was an efficient scorer alongside Harrison Barnes on a high-flying squad in Ames, Iowa that won back-to-back state titles. In college, all he did was become the NCAA’s fifth all-time leading scorer with 3,150 points in a storied four-year career at Creighton.
Now five days into the first training camp of his professional career, McDermott knows that while his ball skills make the headlines, it’s his development in a different area that will decide when and for how long he gets on the court.
“It’s a learning process,” McDermott said. “Some things come slow. Some things come fast. You have to adjust to the playbook, get the defensive tendencies.”
Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau is widely regarded around the league as a defensive savant, and that’s been the bedrock of his teams in his four years in Chicago. Of course, creating such an identity can only mean that all five players need to follow his system to a T, executing consistently and with little margin for error.
One main principle of the Bulls’ defensive scheme is to clog the paint. Another tenant is (often) to isolate the two players involved in a pick-and-roll, so that one action doesn’t disorganize the entire defense.
That latter goal is made possible by having the mobile, reigning NBA Defensive Player of the Year in Joakim Noah in the middle. As an offshoot of that, every man has specific responsibilities in any given set or look. Any one man not doing his job can lead to a breakdown, and little drives Thibodeau as crazy as a mental lapse on the defensive end.
That’s the challenge for McDermott.
“There’s a lot more space out there than a college game,” McDermott said of the biggest difference of playing NBA defense. “You only get 2.9 seconds in the lane, so you got to be quick. Also, chasing guys off screens – you got to be attached to their body. These guys can all shoot now. You have to be able to get to them quick and get to their body.”
How much McDermott will play, only time will tell. Thibodeau has indicated that using a nine-man rotation would be ideal. The starting five of Derrick Rose, Jimmy Butler, Mike Dunleavy, Pau Gasol and Noah seems set. We also know Taj Gibson and Kirk Hinrich will get quality minutes off the bench.
As for the final two slots, Thibodeau spoke highly of point guard Aaron Brooks at Monday’s media day, referencing him as a 20-point-per-game scorer earlier in his career (he actually averaged a career-high 19.6 points in 2009-’10) without being solicited. Add that to Thibodeau’s preference for veterans, and it’s likely Brooks will have an early season role.
That would seemingly leave the final rotation spot up for grabs between McDermott and fellow rookie Nikola Mirotic, a stretch four.
“With any rookie, it’s an ongoing process,” Thibodeau said. “You’re learning each day. He and Nikola have done a good job. They’re earnest. They give you everything they have. They study. If they make a mistake, it usually gets corrected the next day. It’s good. Their attitude … is very good.”
Cody Westerlund is a sports editor for CBSChicago.com and covers the Bulls. Follow him on Twitter @CodyWesterlund.