A quarter of the way into his first second season with an NBA team since his sophomore outing in Chicago, Doug McDermott has already logged as many games with 10 or more field goal attempts as he did all of last season.
With more opportunities than ever to fire away from three, the off-ball mover is averaging career highs per 36 minutes in points (16.4) and assists (2.0) while connecting on 46.8 percent of his triples, good for sixth in the league. As a bench player, he’s also been one of the most prolific scorers at coming off screens, putting up 81 points. According to Synergy, despite his lower (by comparison) diet of possessions, that ranks No. 5 among everyone in the NBA, trailing only Bojan Bogdanovic (91), JJ Redick (89), Bradley Beal (82), and Buddy Hield (82).
Freer to move and more visible to the eye to see, all of these stats seem like a revelation from where he was a year ago in his role as the forgotten man. Granted, Indiana’s rash of early season injuries have likely contributed to his bump in usage, but there’s also reason to think that he won’t be finishing as many games with two or fewer shots even once the team is fully healthy with Victor Oladipo back in the fold.
Red herring, no more
When the Pacers ran floppy last season, Bojan Bogdanovic was more often than not the intended target. In fact, most typically, he would set a decoy screen for McDermott on the single side and then fly off the double side himself for a wide open shot.
To be fair, in this particular instance, San Antonio’s off-ball switching leaves the action dead on arrival for both players, but the objective is nonetheless clear: McDermott is a red herring to distract away from Bogdanovic.
Fast forward to now, and the Pacers are using him as the primary option in the same set —only with different variations. He’ll do a little give-a-screen, get-a-screen dance before coming off Justin Holiday and a secondary pindown, like so.
Hang this in a museum— Caitlin Cooper (@C2_Cooper) November 11, 2019
Love this give-a-screen, get-a-screen baseline action for McDermott and Holiday coming out of the timeout. pic.twitter.com/qDIlvG2Mf1
Or, as is the case here, he’ll make the initial choice between the single and double sides and then Justin will read off of him before darting in the opposite direction.
Either way, at least in these types of sets, he’s moved up the food chain.
With palpable chemistry on dribble hand-offs, pindowns, and away screens, there’s no denying the wavelength that exists between Doug McDermott and Domantas Sabonis. Unlike last season, however, McDermott’s usage rate has managed to stay afloat to almost the same degree when he hasn’t played with Sabonis (17.6 percent) as when he has (18.1 percent), and that’s in large part thanks to T.J. McConnell.
Not only has McConnell thrown the 27-year-old sharpshooter more passes than anyone on the team, he’s assisted on 26 of McDermott’s 85 field goals, making the pair one of the stronger bench player-to-bench player assist combos in the league, with LA’s Lou Williams and Montrezl Harrell (55) in a class of their own.
As such, instead of needing a flashing, neon sign to be seen, like he did last season.
There have been moments where it’s been evident that McConnell is already planning his next pass to McDermott before he even has the ball.
Take this possession against the Rockets, for example. As soon as McConnell spies McDermott cutting through to the opposite side of the floor as the post-feeder, he foregoes the opportunity to orchestrate two-man game with Bitadze in order to throw a dart to the corner.
In Orlando, with eyes seemingly as big as saucers, he was chomping at the bit for Sabonis to toss him the recycled miss so he could find McDermott cutting to the basket, knowing full well that Evan Fournier was leaking out in transition to head the other way.
It isn’t just that McConnell finds McDermott when he’s open; he actively searches for the next opportunity when he will be open.
More willing to put the ball on the floor when defenses prevent him from cutting backdoor or crowd him coming off screens, McDermott has almost recorded as many unassisted field goals though 24 games (7) as he had all of last season (10).
That’s still a tiny number; but, considering that he’s upped his shot volume per 36 minutes by two attempts per game while still subsisting on a meager quantity of touches (23.2), not having to pass out of as many potential shots in part accounts for why he’s been able to stay more consistently involved this season.
Here, for example, even with Jaren Jackson Jr. and Kyle Anderson right there to help in the aftermath of the screen, McDermott continues to attack rather than immediately kicking it back out to McConnell and playing it safe, as was his M.O. in his first year with the Pacers.
While not an unassisted basket, it also matters that he’s made more of an effort to allow his momentum to take over on these curls when the bigs stays higher up the floor to protect against the open three.
Instead of automatically sprinting over the picks with no set-up or stopping short and defaulting to a throw-back out of necessity, he wraps all the way around for the easy two and benefits from the patience of his point guard.
To be frank, there’s nothing special about this two-man screening action. It’s the same run-of-the-mill stagger they ran for him last season, except for two subtle differences: 1) Like a reality star pre-alerting the paparazzi of his whereabouts, he’s doing more to stay relevant in the play, and 2) T.J. Warren isn’t setting up the camp in the dunker’s spot, which means McDermott has all the room he needs to curl the full-length of the lane.
Force of Gravity
Cashing in on made threes is of course a powerful incentive to feed shooters (or, at least it should be), but so is the force of gravity. The more shots that McDermott knocks down, the more likely it is that the defense will bend. After all, just like slashing guards and rolling bigs can create open shots for shooters, shooters can open up space for slashing guards and rolling bigs.
With an assist from a no-look pass from McConnell, just look at what happened, here, against the Knicks. Because Bobby Portis came up higher in an attempt to thwart McDermott from springing loose from the corner, Sabonis was able to slip to the basket and force a weak-side rotation for a three-point play.
Having just recorded his fourth-straight double-figure game off the bench, that’s the difference the threat of an engaged shooter makes. And that’s why, in addition to finally being seen and making some individual improvements to his game while moving up the chain of command in certain actions, it doesn’t seem as likely that he’ll completely fade into the background this go-around — even if his number isn’t called as often once Jeremy Lamb slides back to the bench.
As was the case last year, there’s still no perks to him being a wallflower.