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Chicago's Small Forward Conundrum

Doug McDermott and Tony Snell are limited on opposite ends of the floor, and it's presenting Fred Hoiberg with multiple issues, and putting a lot of pressure on Mike Dunleavy Jr.'s return.

Steven Branscombe-USA TODAY Sports

On September 25th, just days before training camp was set to open, the Bulls announced that starting small forward Mike Dunleavy Jr. would undergo back surgery, keeping him sidelined for up to eight to 10 weeks. With having made no offseason roster moves, the immediate focus shifted onto Doug McDermott and Tony Snell. Where prior the two would be fighting for backup minutes, they were suddenly thrusted into a competition for the starting job.

The Bulls are 13 games into the season, standing with a 9-4 mark, good for second in the Eastern Conference, just one game back of the Cleveland Cavaliers. Early season returns for the Bulls are mixed, and no one quite knows what to make of them just yet. The defense is performing at a fringe top five level, while the offense continues to find its rhythm. As for McDermott and Snell, neither has firmly supplanted themselves as the starting small forward or the solution to Dunleavy's absence.

The Good with the Bad

Doug McDermott and Tony Snell each bring something this team desperately needs, each on opposite ends of the floor. In his second season, McDermott is excelling offensively under Fred Hoiberg, averaging just under 10 points per game on 49.5% shooting from the field and 48.9% from long range. He looks extremely comfortable in the way that Hoiberg is using him offensively, confidence growing with each passing game. However, while all is well on that end, it's the defensive side of things that's hampering not only McDermott from stable playing time, but the Bulls from improving as a team.

Our very own Ricky O'Donnell and TheHungarianJordan have outlined in depth McDermott's immense struggles on the defensive end of the floor. While Hoiberg does his best to put McDermott in with lineups that are more favorable for him defensively, it's still very difficult to leave him in for long stretches at a time, because his defense is so far behind.

Though it should be noted that with Doug's defense, it's going to be process that will take time. He defended college fours, rarely venturing out to the perimeter. Now at the NBA level, he's being asked to guard three's, which is a whole different level from what McDermott has experienced.There's a learning curve and an adjustment period for him, especially after his rough rookie season. Nevertheless, if his defense continues to be problematic to the point where Hoiberg is unable to play him, it will only present further issues for the Bulls.

On the other side of the spectrum is Tony Snell. He's shown early on that he has the ability to defend at a high level, as illustrated by Today's Fastbreak's Kelly Scaletta. This is crucial in that in certain situations, it allows Hoiberg to preserve the Bulls best player in Jimmy Butler, by spelling time with Snell on the opposing team's best player. And although that is a perk for Hoiberg, it's on the opposite end, in addition to the mental aspects of the game that hinder the Bulls when Snell is on the court, once again, as outlined by TheHungarianJordan.

Currently, Snell is shooting 40.5% from three, up from the 37.1% last season, both very good numbers to say the least. Snell has shown he can knock down the long range shot, but it's his general lack of aggression and capabilities on that end that limit the Bulls. In his three years in the league, Snell has yet to show the ability to create while in the pick-and-roll and off the bounce especially.

We've seen plays like the one above on multiple occasions from Snell. We know he has the athleticism and the ability to get up and potentially finish around the rim. But for whatever reason, he's yet to put it together and on a consistent basis, as illustrated in his shot chart below.

Snell Shot Chart

And it's not just specifically around the rim where Snell is struggling. So far this season, he's proven to have the worst 2P FG% in the league.

If Snell isn't hitting shots from downtown, he presents little to nothing in terms of offensive production, and Mike Dunleavy's void on that end becomes that much bigger.

The Bulls are 13 games into the season, but Hoiberg's hand has been forced and is using either Kirk Hinrich or E'Twaun Moore, mostly the former, during crunch time. While Kirk is having himself a fairly solid season so far, and Moore can be stingy defensively, both present their own forms of weaknesses. Needless to say, this isn't an ideal situation.

The MDJ Predicament

Mike Dunleavy is reportedly still about a month away from returning to the lineup from his back surgery, and there's a lot riding on him once he does return. But here's the thing: MDJ is 35 years old, and coming off a major back surgery, those two things don't bode well together.

Can we really count on him coming back and being the same, or close to the same player he was the past two seasons with the Bulls? Obviously, this is pessimistic, but given the two variables, it's definitely something that needs to be taken into account moving forward. You have to hope for the best, but at the same need to understand the realities of the situation.


Doug McDermott and Tony Snell are role players attempting to fill a starters void, as Mike Dunleavy Jr. continues to work his way back. The Bulls are doing OK given the circumstances, but as the season moves forward, if McDermott and Snell cannot start making progress in their respective areas, the Bulls will find themselves in a dilemma, especially if MDJ is unable to return to form. All we can do is hope for the best, and if the best doesn't happen, that the Bulls front office addresses it in a timely manner.