DALLAS — The least surprising thing in the universe last night was Doug McDermott looking really good in his first game in a Mavericks uniform.
A 26-year-old, 6’8 forward that can shoot the lights out and play smart basketball within a team framework? Yep, Rick Carlisle has a place for you. McDermott being the Mavericks’ latest rehab success story shouldn’t shock anyone.
They’ve been doing it for years. First it was Brandan Wright, the eighth pick of the 2007 draft. Next it was Al-Farouq Aminu, a former top-10 pick out of the 2010 draft. Seth Curry doesn’t have the draft pedigree of Aminu and Wright, but he certainly has the name. He was tossed around the league for years before landing in Dallas and turning into a no-brainer starter.
For as bad as the Mavericks have been with the draft in the Dirk Nowitzki era, they’ve been really good at taking the league’s unwanted youngsters and transforming them into more than competent basketball players. McDermott is up next and passed his first look with flying colors.
McDermott has his flaws, including being a less than forceful defender, a poor rebounder and not much of a playmaker. That probably means he shouldn’t have been drafted 11th overall in 2014, but it doesn’t mean he’s hopeless. McDermott has real NBA skills, and if there’s one thing Carlisle is good at, it’s squeezing as much positive production out of a player as possible, while limiting their chances to be a negative.
Consider where McDermott played prior to Dallas: Chicago, Oklahoma City, New York. That’s two really bad offenses and another dominated by one superstar. None of those teams had inspiring ball movement and none, at the time McDermott was there, had imaginary offenses. That’s not good for McDermott, who can command attention off the ball with his shooting but can’t do much with it if he’s planted in the corner for a majority of his minutes.
So it was especially neat to see what McDermott could do in a more modern, proven NBA offense like Carlisle’s, even if it was just one night. The Lakers were so terrified of McDermott popping free that they sent two defenders his way, leaving the screener wide open.
“It was evident tonight,” Dennis Smith Jr. said of McDermott’s court gravity. “If he’s coming off screens, a lot of times the big also leaves with him and his guy follow him as well cause he can shoot it so well.
“I found Salah (Mejri) for a cut tonight, I think that’s how Dirk got his dunk off of the same thing. He’s spacing the floor a lot for us,” Smith continued.
It wasn’t a Dirk dunk, but it’s clear McDermott’s teammates are very aware of what he brings to the floor. Outside of Wesley Matthews, Dirk and Yogi Ferrell, the Mavericks don’t have a lot of dangerous shooters. Harrison Barnes is capable, but he’s been hovering around 35 percent from deep since he’s been in Dallas, not exactly a fear-inspiring number as far as the defense is concerned.
That makes McDermott very useful and unique for the Mavs. Now Dallas can always have one or two deadly shooters on the floor, which will only make things easier for Smith. Smith has been one of the more impressive finders of spot-up shooters in the league, especially for his age. McDermott will only help there.
“It fits really well,” McDermott said of his game and the Mavericks offense. “I think coach puts shooters in good positions out there. That’s what I’m out there to do. It’s exciting to be here, they play the right way. I’m pumped to be here.”
By playing in an offense that is a little more free-flowing and demands ball movement, it even unlocked some skills McDermott hasn’t really shown. He’s averaged a staggering 0.7 assists per game in his career. That is not a typo. Less than one a game! That’s really hard to do for a wing in the NBA, playing in a bad offense or not.
So, of course, McDermott had three assists against the Lakers in 21 minutes. His career high, from earlier this season, is four assists. Entering tonight, he had just 10 games with at least three assists, in 238 career games.
Rick Carlisle is a warlock, forever. It is cemented.
His assists weren’t cheap ones either — McDermott made a great read after catching off a screen and then again later while attacking a closeout.
This is what happens when you play on an offense that encourages ball movement and has proper floor spacers. We’re not going to confuse the Mavericks offense with the Warriors or Rockets, but the system is in place and Carlisle pushes for movement and creativity. It also helps that the Lakers play games without a proper rim protector, but still, McDermott did some eye-opening stuff.
Who knows where this goes or ends. McDermott will be a restricted free agent this summer, and this was just one game against a bad team that wasn’t particularly interested in playing defense. But it’s not like McDermott learned how to play basketball yesterday. He’s always been a good shooter, he’s always been a good off-ball mover. McDermott just needed a coach to put him in a position to succeed without the pressures of living up to his draft status. There’s plenty more left in the tool box, as Carlisle said after the game he wants to play McDermott at the four down the road as well.
It’ll be fun. Dallas finally has another wing to play with, one that might have more skill than once thought. The Mavericks might not have the best track record of drafting for the past 20 years, but hell, they’re getting really good at letting teams draft for them.