A worn-down Doug McDermott was about to take a nap one afternoon earlier this week. It was a shade past 3 p.m. on a warm June day in Chicago, and McDermott was lazing on the 32nd floor in the downtown high-rise apartment he’s sharing with Michigan’s Mitch McGary as the two prepare for the NBA Draft.
Take a nap, in the middle of a gorgeous afternoon, when one of the greatest cities in America was McDermott’s oyster? Hey, give the kid a break. He’s earned all the naps he can get. It’s been exactly one month since the 22-year-old graduated from college and only three months since he ended one of the greatest, most unlikely college basketball careers of his generation, scoring 3,150 points at Creighton University, good for fifth all time.
It’s been a busy couple months in Chicago training for the draft. He’s at the gym by 9 a.m. He works out with fellow prospective draftees like Michigan’s McGary and Nik Stauskas and Michigan State’s Adreian Payne and Gary Harris until noon. He grabs lunch. Most days, he goes through a round of afternoon weightlifting. Evenings are be split between Chicago steakhouses and playing Grand Theft Auto with other players.
There won’t be many naps after next Thursday, when McDermott is expected to become only the sixth college senior in as many years to be drafted in the lottery.
Think about this young man’s unlikely journey: He took a back seat to teen phenom Harrison Barnes on his high school team in Ames, Iowa. He wasn’t offered a scholarship to play at his hometown university, Iowa State . . . when his father was the school’s head coach. He was second in the nation in scoring a year ago, yet he decided to stay in college for his senior season because doubts persisted about his NBA abilities.
And the whole time, despite people doubting him, he worked, and he worked, and he worked, becoming what his college coach told me is one of the most efficient gym rats you’ll see. He improved his footwork, quickened his release, tightened his handle, added to his creativity, developed his ballhandling coming off screens – and turned himself into what one international talent evaluator told me is the safest pick in the 2014 NBA Draft.
Staying in college an extra year paid off in an AP Player of the Year award for McDermott.
“I never thought I’d even be in this situation, ever,” McDermott told me shortly before taking that aforementioned nap. “It’s a dream to me. There’s a side to me that’s pretty anxious because I don’t really know where I’m going yet. But I just want to hear my name called, just like everyone else, to be able to walk up on that stage.”
Despite the fact that the prevailing scouts’ opinion of McDermott is he’ll be a solid, 10-plus-year NBA player, an unfair reputation lingers. Perhaps it’s because he’s 22 years old in a draft where top talents are always teenagers. Perhaps it’s because his height, 6-foot-7, places him in that tweener status that makes his NBA position uncertain. Or perhaps it’s because – let’s be honest here – he’s a white shooter with less-than-elite athleticism coming off a stellar college career. That pile of facts brings up all sorts of unflattering and unfair comparisons: to Jimmer Fredette. Worse, to Adam Morrison. The Great White Hope who couldn’t cut it at the next level.
We all know NBA teams draft on potential as much as on track record. It’s the paradox of drafting, why youth is considered an asset, why experience is considered a liability, and why McDermott – who likely will be the only player taken in the lottery who has played past his sophomore season in college – is the most intriguing player in the draft.
Here are some predictions on how McDermott’s skills will translate to the NBA from a handful of people I’ve spoken to:
• One international talent evaluator who has seen McDermott’s development believes he’s the safest pick in the whole draft. “How many people in this draft do something as well anyone else currently in the NBA?” he told me. “McDermott shoots it as well as anyone else in the league.”
• One NBA insider believes McDermott will have a tough time defending in the NBA because of his in-between size and that he won’t be able to play with his back to the basket. “He could be a 20-minunte-per-game player on a low-level playoff team like the Atlanta Hawks, come off the bench, make some shots and play fundamental basketball.” He sees McDermott as a better version of Mike Dunleavy: always will have a spot in the league, better off the dribble than Dunleavy, and with some gutsy points in the paint.
McDermott showed better than expected athleticism at the NBA Draft Combine.
• Ryan Blake, the senior director of NBA scouting operations, said McDermott showed surprising athleticism at the NBA draft combine last month. That was one of the few question marks on his draft resume. “We know he has a high basketball IQ and his dad’s a coach, and that’s huge,” Blake said. “He’ll be in the league for a long time.”
• One NBA scout said he knew a lot of McDermott’s game was off the charts – IQ, shooting ability, moving without the ball – but that the surprising athleticism he showed at the draft combine helped quell any doubts he had.
Me? I’m bullish. It’s a lazy comparison, since both went to Creighton, but I see him as a rich man’s Kyle Korver: a player who, like Korver, could become the league’s top three-point shooter, but who is more versatile offensively. The comparison you hear most often is Wally Szczerbiak, who averaged 14.1 points per game in a 10-year NBA career. McDermott is a coach’s kid, a hard worker who’d be an excellent addition to any locker room. Like the man said, he’s the safest of bets.
I wanted to ask one more person about McDermott’s NBA potential, so I went to the person who’d know him better than anyone else: his father, Creighton head coach Greg McDermott.
“He made biggest jump between his freshman and sophomore season,” his dad said. “That was mostly strength related to improving his body, finishing through contact at a much different level as a sophomore than as freshman. His ball-handling improved, his defense improved, and the intermediate game is something he really worked to add to his game. Most people in the NBA have taken notice he’s improved every single year.
Being a coach’s son can only help McDermott.
“You wonder if he can do it against elite athletes, but what Doug has proven is he’s not far from being an elite athlete. His second jump is really quick. I’d rather have someone get off the floor quick than one who can jump higher.”
Later this week, McDermott will leave his Chicago apartment for good and come back to Omaha. It’ll be his last few days at home, where he can appreciate the life of a college student. Because next week he’ll fly to New York with his family, head to the Barclays Center on Thursday night, and, much earlier than he could have imagined even one year ago, the NBA commissioner will call his name.