Yesterday, I broke down the positive aspects of Doug McDermott's defense thus far. There was a fair bit of good stuff, but there is certainly plenty of work to be done. Let's dive into where Doug has struggled.
As I mentioned in the post on the good things he's done, McDermott has a pretty tough time navigating screens at this stage of his career. I think a lot of this has to do with his playing as a power forward a lot at Creighton. The other big issue is that the speed of the game is new for McDermott, so he might just not be used to big men who move as quickly as NBA big men coming over to put a solid screen on him.
In the two plays below, the Wizards were able to get open long jumpers for their shooters as McDermott was completely blocked off by the screening big. You can see him darting from side to side seeking an angle to get over the screen, but by the time he gets around, it's too late and the open shot is up.
In the next clip (below), McDermott is hit with a solid screen on a dribble handoff into a pick and roll by DeJuan Blair. Otto Porter is able to use the screen to penetrate towards the rim which forces Nikola Mirotic to rotate forward to stop Porter. As a result of this rotation, Blair is able to dive to the rim for an easy layup before Taj Gibson can rotate over to stop him.
McDermott does a good job on the initial touch by Porter, as he shades him baseline and forces him to pass, but Porter is able to quickly cut away from him after the pass and runs him right into the Blair screen. Doug has his head turned over towards the ball as Porter makes the cut, which gives Porter a head-start and in Doug's frantic attempt to recover, he's unable to see the Blair screen coming or to get over it well. He hits Blair and is stopped in his tracks. As Doug continues to do well on his initial body positioning and shading his man towards the baseline and away from the middle of the floor, opposing defenses will likely use more of these sorts of change of directions and screening actions to expose his weaknesses here.
In the below play, McDermott hustles admirably, but he gets hit with a screen by the tiny DJ Augustin and it slows him down much more than you'd hope.
After the Augustin screen, Kyle Singler is able to spring open briefly enough near the rim to draw Jimmy Butler's attention away from his man, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, which leads to an open three pointer for the Pistons. That's the trouble with Doug's difficulties fighting over and around screens: the cascading negative consequences that they can have on the defense. It's possible that Jimmy should have stayed focused on Caldwell-Pope and assumed that Doug could recover in the way he did, but generally speaking, teams don't like to leave guys open near the rim, so Jimmy was in a tough place: a potential open layup or an open three-pointer.
The next play was the first in a series of 3 possessions the Bucks ran where they picked on McDermott. (The second of these possessions lead to McDermott getting posted up by Ersan Ilyasova, but he held his own nicely, and I highlighted that in the Good Doug post).
The result of the screen on Doug shown above is the relatively immobile Pau Gasol being switched onto Jared Dudley. This is less than ideal. Dudley isn't a burner with the ball in his hands, but he's capable enough that Gasol on an island against him represents a nice mismatch for the Bucks, and unsurprisingly, Dudley is able to get past Gasol and draw the foul.
In this play, McDermott gets hit with his third straight screen by Ersan Ilyasova and he is still unable to see it coming or prevent it from catching him flush. As a result, Dudley is open for a jumper, so McDermott desperately lunges at him and Dudley is able to wisely jump into him for the shooting foul.
In the play above, Doug is again just hit with a simple screen by Darrell Arthur on a basic dribble-handoff action with Wilson Chandler. Chandler is able to use the screen forcing the mismatch between Chandler and the helping Nikola Mirotic. Mirotic and Taj do an admirable job of making Chandler work for it without fouling, but once he'd penetrated that deeply into the paint, it was basically a foregone conclusion that he was scoring or getting to the line.
Here, McDermott shows his inexperience and how he needs to understand his surroundings a little better on defense. He gets caught watching the ball and loses his man after getting hit with a back screen by Jusuf Nurkic. That screen springs his man open which lead to the series of passes ending in an open jumper for Darrell Arthur, which he cashed in.
Ball Watching and Ball Chasing
Speaking of ball watching, this is one of McDermott's other big weaknesses thus far. You'll see him get caught with his head turned a fair amount. Not only does he ball watch, but sometimes, he'll even chase the ball when it's not his responsibility, a big no-no.
In the below screen shot, Doug isn't even watching the ball, so much as he's not looking at the ball or his man. Maybe he was looking at Thibs for instruction?
McDermott's turned head allowed his man Otto Porter a free baseline run to the rim. The Wizards botched the alley oop, but were still able to get an easy basket out of it.
The next play is one of the clearer examples of Doug trying really hard, but losing track of his responsibilities.
McDermott hedges really high on the screen and roll with Kyle Singler (his man) and DJ Augustin, effectively double teaming him. Augustin makes the easy pass to Singler, but of course, Jimmy Butler is there to help. McDermott starts to chase after the ball, before realizing that he needs to get back to the weak side to cover for the rotation Jimmy had to make. The Pistons swing the ball to Jonas Jerebko, who Doug sort of starts to close out on, but Jerebko passes the ball out to Meeks and Doug tries to follow the ball again, darting towards Meeks before realizing that Jimmy's got him, and returning to Jerebko. Just a really tough possession for McDermott. The motor and effort are on display, but as we learned with latter-day Andres Nocioni, all the energy and effort in the world don't really help a defense if they are without proper direction.
On the play above, Doug screams into the paint for a rebound but loses his man, Caron Butler, in the congestion in the paint because he's watching the ball after it caromed over his head. This leads to him scanning frantically to find Butler and to Butler getting a wide open three from the corner. Taj makes a valiant effort to close out and erase the mistake, but it's too late.
Finally, in the last play I'll look at (below), Doug stunts towards Danilo Gallinari on the perimeter and loses sight of his own man, Wilson Chandler.
You can see what McDermott was trying to do, he thought that Taj had lost Gallinari, but he's got to trust Taj to close out on Gallinari there. As a result of his darting towards Gallinari, Chandler is able to get a free run to rim for the easy tip dunk.
As you can see, McDermott has plenty to work on. The good thing is that he's busting his ass out there, which takes the sting out of some of the mistakes. He seems to understand the fundamentals of the defense, but he has to gain better awareness and strength to recognize and fight over screens. He also needs to develop trust in his teammates so that he can focus on his own defensive responsibilities when he's off the ball, else he's going to get back cut to death. Trust is built through experience and awareness of screens on the perimeter should likewise come as he gets more reps.
There's more than enough with which good to be happy overall, specifically that he doesn't look overmatched athletically, which was a big concern for me given his low rebounds, blocks, and steals in college, as those numbers often serve as a very solid proxy for applied basketball athleticism. In time, it's easy to envision McDermott becoming a passable enough defender to warrant minutes with the starters because of the value of his quick-trigger, dead-eye shooting to space the floor for the rest of the starters, who don't really space things out that well themselves.