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Q&A with Mavs Moneyball on Doug McDermott

Sam Guertler stopped by to talk about what clicked for Doug McDermott with the Mavericks.

NBA: Memphis Grizzlies at Dallas Mavericks Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports

Unable to prepare for the upcoming season without switching teams since the summer of 2016, Doug McDermott, time and time again, has been the transactional means to a desired, though sometimes questionable, end.

Chicago, who had the league’s worst 3-point percentage in the age of the Three Alphas, traded their best 3-point shooter along with Taj Gibson to add Cameron Payne’s youth to their existing stockpile of non-shooting guards. Seven months later, after being acquired to space the floor for Russell Westbrook, Oklahoma City packaged him with Enes Kanter to fetch Carmelo Anthony. The Knicks, despite already having Frank Ntilikina, took a swing at buying-low on Emmanuel Mudiay, and the Mavericks chanced losing the sharpshooter in free agency for the opportunity to open up enough room to land a high-caliber center.

Perpetually a trade chip lacking control of his own destiny, McDermott now joins the Pacers not only by choice and as one of only a handful of players on the roster with a multi-year contract but also, quite possibly, with the freedom to at last breathe easy and nestle into his role.

“It’s not at the top of our priority list to make changes during the season,” Kevin Pritchard said on The Full 48 podcast hosted by Bleacher Report’s Howard Beck prior to the end of the season, while speaking about his team’s general lack of appetite for in-season trades. “When we sign you, when we trade for you in the summer, (or) when we draft you, it’s with the intent that you will be a Pacer for the year.

“The reason why,” Pritchard added, with the caveat that the general rule isn’t necessarily foolproof. “is because when you’re comfortable, when you feel good about working for the company you work for, (and) when you know that there are people that care about you off the court, on the court, (nutritionally), psychologically... you’ll perform better.”

Sniffing at what he did in 26 games with the Mavericks, where he finished in the top 10 of the league in points per possession off screens (1.164) as well as off screen frequency (34.4 percent) among those with at least 70 such opportunities, would make offering stability to yet another of the league’s (so-to-speak) unloved a worthy gamble for the mid-range adoring Pacers — especially with the salary cap expected to rise each of the next two offseasons.

“I feel like I can really space the floor not only for Tyreke, but Vic and a lot of these other guys who are great playmakers,” McDermott said at his introductory press conference. “And I think they can benefit off me, but I can also benefit off them with the way they put pressure on the defense.”

For more on what enabled McDermott to transform into a flamethrower during his short stint with Dallas and how it might pertain to his next act with the Pacers, Sam Guertler from Mavs Moneyball agreed to do a wide-ranging Q&A with Indy Cornrows.

The Mavericks rescinded their qualifying offer to McDermott in order to clear his $10 million cap hold and make a major push for a free agent big man, which turned out to be DeAndre Jordan. If not for the inconvenient but necessary salary cap rigmarole, do you think it would’ve been an easy decision for Dallas to bring him back long-term?

It would have been a no-brainer to bring McDermott back long-term. Even with the addition of Luka Doncic, Harrison Barnes was the only NBA-capable wing on the roster, and Dougie McBuckets proved to be a seamless fit in his short time with the Mavericks.

He owned the second highest net rating on the team for any player who logged a substantial amount of playing time which was a testament to how easy and quickly he picked up the Mavericks offense. He was a threat from anywhere on the perimeter, even shooting a scorching 67 percent from the left corner and 64 percent from the right corner. His presence spaced the floor and he demonstrated the ability to make a play, whether shooting or passing, when defenders ran him off his spot on the three-point line.

The Mavericks had one of the best bench units before trading for McDermott, but it’s important to note that unit didn’t skip a beat when he filled in for Devin Harris, who played for Rick Carlisle the past five seasons and was the most underrated Maverick.

The 26-year-old sharpshooter shot a career-best and, quite frankly, downright absurd 49.4 percent from three in 26 games with the Mavericks last season. In what ways, specifically, do you think Rick Carlisle’s offense maximized the resourcefulness of McDermott’s off-ball movement?

Most of McDermott’s minutes came at the three with J.J. Barea and Yogi Ferrell taking backcourt duties, while Dirk Nowitzki and Dwight Powell bolstered the front court. The lineup seems unimposing, but it killed bench units nightly. Even at 39, Dirk still commanded so much respect with his shooting, and Powell was an elite rim runner spacing the floor vertically. Add in the point guard savvy of Barea, and it’s clear to see how McDermott was able to thrive. He worked off screens, spotted up and took advantage of the defense’s attention to his teammates by cutting and slashing. A good chunk of the Mavericks’ offense relies on the guards getting into the teeth of the defense and that allowed McDermott to take advantage of off balance and scrambling defenses.

McDermott’s rebounding rate with Dallas (6.5 percent) ranked 207th out of the 238 forwards who averaged at least 20 minutes per game last season, so is it wishful thinking that he could function as an interchangeable forward?

At this point it probably shouldn’t be expected, but it’s not entirely wishful thinking He’s 6’8’’ yet not all that physical. However, the game will likely continue to get smaller, which gives him the opportunity to guard some fours, but the majority of his time with the Mavericks (and his career for that matter) he’s played the three.

That’s probably due to who he was playing with and the Mavericks roster construction, though. Harrison Barnes is a better offensive player at the four, and he’s a stalwart on the defensive block, so the Mavs plugged McDermott in at the three when those two shared the floor.

Other times he played with Dirk and Powell, so it was clear McDermott would play the three in that situation. Really, the Mavericks didn’t have any other wings and desperately needed McDermott’s presence at the traditional small forward role. It’s certainly possible he could be an interchangeable forward, but McDermott playing the four on defense would not be ideal for long stretches.

Dallas held opponents to 3.9 points per 100 possessions fewer with McDermott on the floor as opposed to off. Should that differential be interpreted as a product of those around him, or was he actually passable — or, at least not a liability — on that end of the floor?

McDermott was definitely passable on the defensive end. By no means is he a lockdown defender, and at this point in his career, he will never be one. He’s not an elite athlete, and that limits what he can do and who he can guard on defense. The Mavericks did not want McDermott switched onto a guard on the perimeter, but it was hardly a worse case scenario.

Essentially, McDermott is a good team defender. He’s insanely smart, knows where to be and gives maximum effort. That’s half of the battle.

Additionally, the rest of the Mavericks weren’t exactly defensive stoppers in their own right. Other than Wes Matthews and Harrison Barnes, the Mavericks were a collective bunch of average defenders, and the team played undersized way too often. Ultimately, a Rick Carlisle coached team is going to be fundamentally sound, but McDermott deserves credit for his defensive abilities and instincts. He’s not a liability.

McDermott only attempted 20 total shots off three or more dribbles last season, and he went a measly 2-of-17 on pull-up threes. With the Pacers, his primary role will likely be to provide floor spacing around Victor Oladipo and Tyreke Evans, but was there any evidence with Dallas that he could be more than a shooting specialist?

The biggest surprise in watching McDermott was just how much of a feel for the game he had. I’m not sure why that was surprising considering he played four years in college and was a national player of the year, but he definitely seemed to have a spot-up shooter reputation coming from the Knicks. Maybe it was his skillset blending with Carlisle’s offense so well, but it was clear he was more than just a shooting specialist.

Almost nightly, McDermott would get a bucket or two curling off a Powell screen, and even threw it down in traffic every now and then. Other times he’d notice his defender eyeing the pick-and-roll action on the other end of the floor, and he’d dart toward the basket from the weak side for an easy bucket.

Another interesting facet of McDermott’s game shown in Dallas was his court vision. In his 26 games, he registered three or more assists four times. That doesn’t sound like a a lot, but in his 238 career games outside of Dallas, he reached that mark only 12 times. When he got the ball on the move, he knew when to dish it and when to shoot it. He clearly knows how to get to his spots and read the defense on the move.

With all of that said, it’s unrealistic to expect McDermott to be a shot creator or be able to bail the offense out at the end of the clock. That’s not his game in the NBA. But if he’s given the opportunity to move and space the floor within the offense, he has a chance to thrive.