Breaking down new Indiana Pacers forward Doug McDermott

The Indiana Pacers agreed to a 3-year deal Doug McDermott so quickly that free agency hadn’t even officially begun yet as Adrian Wojnarowski reported the news at 11:55 p.m.

McDermott, who will be on his fifth team in five seasons, will be reunited with a pair of former teammates: Victor Oladipo and Domantas Sabonis, who thrived with the Pacers after struggling in their lone season with the Thunder as their roles didn’t fit their skill sets. Dougie McBuckets will look to do the same with the Pacers after having a very successful stint with the Mavericks to end last season, shooting nearly 50% from 3-point territory in 26 games.

So how will McDermott contribute to the Pacers? How will the Pacers utilize his shooting ability? What are his strengths and weaknesses? Let’s take a look.

When watching film on McDermott, one thing started to pop up more and more. At different times with both the Dallas Mavericks and the New York Knicks, he was used in a very similar way to how the Pacers like to use Bojan Bogdanovic on certain plays.

The Pacers are likely going to use their new backup forward in much the same way as their starting forward on offense.

Bogdanovic ran around screens a lot for the Pacers and one way he got some easy baskets was with a curl screen. You can see both players run the play below.

McDermott is also very good at reading his man and knowing when he can backcut instead of going around the screen. Something that Bogdanovic does as well.

One of the parts of McDermott’s game that was surprising when diving into his performance was that his tracking data for coming off of screens with his first three teams was terrible. Somewhat shocking for a player well regarded for his ability to move without the ball and knock down shots.

In the first season Synergy data is available, he ranked in the 29th percentile in 2015-16 with the Bulls shooting only 31% on these plays. In 2016-17 with the Oklahoma City Thunder, he plummeted to the 1st percentile, making only 18.8% of his attempts (but we know of a few examples of players that just didn’t fit in their roles on that Thunder team already). Last season, starting with the Knicks, he ranked in the 18th percentile and shot just 31% again. Most of his plays running around picks ended up looking like this one with him running around the screen and taking a mid-range attempt.

In his 26 games with the Mavericks, that all changed. He became an elite player efficiency-wise when moving around picks and knocking down shots off the catch. According to Caitlin Cooper of Indy Cornrows, McDermott was in the top 10 of the entire league in points per possession off screens at 1.164 and in how often his possessions came from this play type at 34.4% (among those with at least 70 possessions).

So what changed? Why was McDermott used so much more often and with much better results with screens in Dallas than with his previous teams? Plenty of the credit goes to Mavs Coach Rick Carlisle, who used him in ways that seemed to better suit him than coaches did at his other stops around the league. Suddenly, instead of taking those mid-range looks, most of his jumpers off screens were coming at the top of the arc where he hit 50% of his looks on the season.

Dallas had a plethora of ways to get McBuckets a shot at this location from the more straightforward to some misdirection with where the screen setter was going to set the screen.

Bogey gets a lot of 3-pointers by running to his spot in transition and McBuckets likes to do the same. In his small-sample size with Dallas, he actually ranked in the 99th percentile in transition points per possession per Synergy, making 66.7% of his shot attempts.

He got looks in transition a lot less frequently than Bogdanovic, however, who ranked in the 83rd percentile while 25% over his offensive possessions were in this play type. McDermott’s chances were only about 10% in transition with the Mavs.

There’s some value in being able to plug in a backup when needed and the offense be able to be run exactly the same (There are things to be said for having players that can fill a variety of different roles as well but that’s another story). McBuckets does have his limitations on the offensive end, however, that will probably never make him a primary option when he’s on the court. He won’t be challenging Bogdanovic for his starting spot and will likely remain the 20-25 minute rotation player that he has been for most of his career. He’ll average around 7-9 points per game and have the occasional blow up where he gets hot and scores 20.

Any time you make him dribble on the catch, the defense probably won. McDermott cannot create his own shot. He was assisted on an incredible 100% of his 3-point makes last season with both the Knicks and the Mavericks. When he does decide to dribble, the results are generally awful. He often badly misses shots that don’t seem all that difficult.

Some of these attempts are baffling for how good of a shooter that McDermott is, but the general rule is simply if he dribbles, it’s probably not going to end well. His game in the mid-range is poor and that is a concern as he comes to an Indiana team that loves that area of the court more than most teams in the league. The Pacers should encourage him to stay away from dribble pull-ups and stick to shooting behind the arc off the catch.

This is the biggest difference between him and Joe Harris, who decided to return to the Brooklyn Nets at a similar price point. Harris was very good at finishing off the dribble when he had the opportunity. McDermott is a little like free agent Wayne Ellington before he decided to almost exclusively shoot 3-pointers.

This is also a big difference in what separates Bogdanovic from him on that end of the court when you look at both players’ shooting charts.

shotchart (2) shotchart (3)

Another positive that McDermott adds on the offensive end is his ability to move without the ball, even without screens. He’s excellent at making timely cuts when he notices his defender out of position or falling asleep, and he’s got some surprising hops at the rim at times.

Most of his cuts come from those corners where he’ll likely spend a lot of time in halfcourt sets when a screen play isn’t run for him. It’s a good place for him to create space for the offense as he hit over 50% of his 3-point attempts from both corners last season. He also has a nice subtle ability to take a few steps to make himself more available for a pass. Watch him slide over just enough to make the passing lane much easier for the guard trapped on the other end of the court here.

And here he takes advantage of a ball watching Oladipo to get open in the corner.

If the Pacers are hoping to get anything close to the extremely on-fire Mavs version of McDermott, they’ll have to focus on getting him the ball in similar places where he had the most success with Dallas. It’s not realistic to expect him to shoot 49% from deep over a whole season, but stealing some of those play designs from Carlisle might help him live up to his new contract with Indiana.

In theory, you can play the 6’8″ player some at the power forward position, but it’s not something he has done often (never more than 6% of his playing time according to Basketball Reference) and his lack of rebounding at the 4 would be a liability.

On the defensive end, his reputation is very poor. The good news would be that the Pacers seemed to have some success without another bad defender in Bogdanovic last season, so maybe they could do the same with him. The Mavericks actually had a better defensive rating with McDermott on the floor by 3.7 points per 100 possessions but none of the other defensive statistics are in his favor. He was the 7th worst small forward defender according to NBA Math’s Defensive Points Saved metric (-61.53). He ranked 88th out of 93 small forwards in ESPN’s Defensive Real Plus Minus. It’s very rare that he gets a steal (0.2 per game) or a block (0.3 per game). He doesn’t add much on that end.

McDermott is going to have to hit shots to be worthwhile. He doesn’t rebound very well for his position, nor will he rack up many assists. But he’s a backup for a reason. His job is to give the second unit more spacing which it desperately lacked last season, and he’s a guy that’ll hit shots when he’s left open and won’t turn the ball over when he has it. If he can develop and add more to his game over these next three years of his prime, the Pacers will be very happy with the 3-year deal.


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