Doug McDermott wasn’t always the scoring machine that you saw during his final seasons at Creighton, when he piled up buckets so often that his nickname became “Dougie McBuckets.”
Yes, the star forward finished fifth on the NCAA’s all-time scoring list (3,150 points, 517 shy of Pete Maravich’s record), and, yes, he was the most prolific scorer of his generation, but McDermott’s game evolved plenty through the years.
“When I saw him the first year as a freshman, he was basically a stone-cold [power forward],” said one Eastern Conference executive. “He was just a low-post player. And then in warm-ups, he was just burning up the nets from the outside. And you’re like, ‘What is this guy doing? Why isn’t he shooting threes?’
“And then each year, it’s almost like his dad would allow him to shoot a little bit more, a little bit more. By senior year, he’s a lights-out, cannot-leave-the-guy-on-the-3-point-line type shooter.
“It’s just so funny. It’s a progression from being a back-to-the-basket, rim-running 4-man to being a catch on the wing, get a pick and it’s lights out.”
That progression, which happened under the watchful eye of McDermott’s father, Greg, who is also Creighton’s coach, helped create a versatile threat, able to shoot from distance or post up in the paint. McDermott averaged 14.9 points per game as a freshman, then 26.7 as a senior, racking up honors along the way.
The 6-foot-8-inch forward became the first player in almost 30 years to be named to three consecutive Associated Press All-America first teams. He also swept every major Player of the Year award as a senior.
Now McDermott, who is projected as a potential top-10 pick in next week’s NBA Draft, will have to evolve again when he reaches the next level.
His ability to shoot 3-pointers — he shot better than 40 percent from beyond the arc in all four seasons at Creighton — is a coveted asset entering an NBA game that has been trending toward more 3-point shooting in recent years, especially to help space the floor and open up driving lanes.
But there are questions about exactly what position McDermott will play: power forward or shooting forward? And there are concerns about his athleticism, though he showed well at the Chicago draft combine, posting a 36½-inch maximum vertical leap.
“He’s going to be limited because of his athleticism and his quickness and being able to finish over longer, more athletic guys,” said one Eastern Conference scout. “But with that being said, I think there’s going to be a place for him because he can shoot. And so if [Spurs forward] Matt Bonner can carve out a niche for himself, so can McDermott.”
“I think he’s better than Steve Novak. There’s going to be a place for this guy, too. He makes winning plays. I don’t think he’s going to be a starter, but I think he’s going to be a reliable backup and coaches are going to love him because he hits shots, doesn’t turn the ball over, and doesn’t make mistakes and he wins.”
Another impressive aspect of McDermott’s production was that he always scored with a target on his back.
“Every game he went into, the other team was just trying to shut him down,” said one Western Conference executive.
“He’s got a great basketball IQ and a feel for the game. He’s fundamentally sound. His intelligence will really help him in the NBA because he’s always in the right position.’’
“He knows the angles. He knows how to use his body. That makes up for, if you want to say, he lacks athleticism, but he’s a guy who’s got a good motor, too. I don’t think he gets enough credit for that. He plays every possession. He’s really smart with how he uses his body. And obviously his skill level is real high.”
Though McDermott is known for his shooting, one Western Conference scout said his ability to post up players is underrated.
“As funny as it sounds, that’s the most underappreciated aspect of offensive success that people don’t talk about when they talk about prospects,” the scout said. “Right now, Andrew Wiggins, if you put him in the post, he’s just going to turn and jump over the top of you, or turn and step back and make a pass. He doesn’t have a real diversified low-post game.
“But McDermott is great in the post. He’s a great passer. If you double him, he’s going to find the open guy. If you single cover him, he’ll turn over your shoulder. He’s strong. He’s going to create angles, he’s going to get fouled.”
McDermott said that he watched highlights of Celtics legend Larry Bird before every game, and the two were often compared, if only because both were sharp-shooting, high-scoring forwards at mid-major Midwestern college programs.
This past season, Sports Illustrated even remade its famous 1977 Bird cover with McDermott in his place.
“I’ve heard [the comparison], but they’re crazy,’’ McDermott said at the combine. “There’s not another Larry Bird. If I can do half of what Larry accomplished I’d be just fine.”
“It’s pretty cool to be mentioned in the same sentence as him, but like I said, there’s not going to be another Larry Bird.”
Not everyone is high on McDermott. One Eastern Conference scout said he doesn’t really have a position because he’s not athletic enough to play defense on other NBA small forwards.
“Defensively, he’s useless,” the scout said. “It’s not that you can’t be a solid pro, but your ceiling can be limited when you’re not an elite athlete and you don’t have a position.”
An Eastern Conference executive also had doubts about McDermott’s offensive game in the NBA.
“It seems like the games I saw McDermott at this year, when Creighton absolutely needed a bucket and the other team knew they were going to him, he couldn’t get a shot,” the executive said. “He was very much handcuffed and unable to do so.
“But having said that, whatever team he’s on, I would be shocked if he’s the No. 1 option.”
Rather, McDermott figures to be a backup, but the system he’s in will play a key role.
“He’s got to go to the right team,” the executive said. “If he goes to the right team and he’s a piece, boy oh boy.
“I could see him going to San Antonio and being one of those guys. But if you put him in Milwaukee and try to let him run the show for you, you’re going to be in trouble. If he’s going to start for you, you’re going to be in trouble. For me, he’s an eighth man.”
Said a Western Conference scout: “If he were on the Miami Heat next year or the Lakers in the heyday of the triangle offense, he would be tremendously good.”
Though some have compared McDermott to fellow Creighton product and current Atlanta Hawks 3-point sniper Kyle Korver, several scouts and executives said McDermott is more like Wally Szczerbiak, a complementary scorer, a crafty, smart NBA forward who isn’t the best athlete but knows how to find his shot and make it.
“Wally would just be all over the floor moving, active, active, active, boom get to his spot,” said an Eastern Conference executive. “This kid does that.”
Said a Western Conference scout: “He’s more versatile than Kyle Korver, for sure. He’s got some deceptive quickness for himself.
“A lot of people say that he can’t guard anybody, he can’t move. He’s better than what people think. He’s a tremendous worker, a tremendous kid. Huge, high basketball IQ.
Baxter Holmes can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @BaxterHolmes.