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NBA PM: Chicago’s Kids Coming Around

Doug McDermott and Bobby Portis played well for Chicago’s summer league team. Will their seasons echo that?

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Doug McDermott Looks to Rebound in Year 2

Despite his status as a lottery selection and coming off a prestigious college career that made him one of the most prolific scorers in college sports, Chicago Bulls forward Doug McDermott did not have a strong rookie season.

There were a lot of reasons for this, most notably a nagging knee injury that kept him out of uniform for a good chunk of the early and middle parts of the season. For rookies, that’s when they cut their groove in the rotation. Missing that time and all those valuable rookie-year minutes that build the requisite experience to see early success in the league put him way behind fellow Bulls rookie Nikola Mirotic, who played well enough to find his way into Tom Thibodeau’s exclusive club of big-minute rotation guys he could trust.

Thibodeau was part of the problem for McDermott, as well, because it’s not often that rookies do get a lot of playing time under the defensive-minded coach. Jimmy Butler, for example, hardly played at all until his sophomore campaign, and he was perfectly healthy his first year in the league.

An offseason of getting healthy should help McDermott, as should a new head coach known for his run-and-gun offensive style. Now at Summer League, he seems fully ready to make the leap toward productivity in his second NBA season.

“I’m not going to lose confidence because I believe in myself and believe in my game,” McDermott said this week in Las Vegas. “There’s going to be nights where I don’t shoot well. That’s part of the game, and I’m going to work extremely hard to get through it.”

Beyond his confidence, however, McDermott has done a lot of work on his body this past season, adding 10 pounds and cutting back significantly on body fat.

“I’m like 225 (pounds),” he admitted. “More of my body weight is coming from the legs. I didn’t do a lot of lower body in college. I did more upper body, but in the NBA, they focus more on squatting and power cleans. I’ve made some strides there, so that’s good… I made a jump, but it’s better weight. I had a little more body fat in college. You’re eating McDonald’s at night, but now you’ve got a training table right there for you after practice.”

Beyond physicality, McDermott is looking to add some more wrinkles to his game this season. For starters, new head coach Fred Hoiberg is playing him a little at the four in Summer League, giving the sophomore an opportunity to hone more of his all-around offensive skills. He’s not just a three-point shooter, believe it or not, and so far he’s gotten back to that a little in Vegas.

“This year I’m playing more at the four,” McDermott said. “It’s an adjustment going back and forth from the three and the four, but it’s something I need to get used to if I want to keep playing well in the Summer League. The inside is working a little better than the outside right now, but I feel more confident with my shot, and I feel confident with my inside game.”

Hoiberg has seen the improvement this summer, as well.

“He was great in our mini-camp,” Hoiberg said. “We had a two-quarters scrimmage and a three-quarters scrimmage and he made 10-of-15 threes. When Doug’s open, you’re surprised when it doesn’t go in. That’s how it’s always been, so getting him out here and getting some confidence is big.”

“It all comes with work ethic,” McDermott said. “Having a guy like Coach Hoiberg to work with, I’m working with him every day. It’s just a great group to work around.”

Hopefully a new boss, a healthy body and a more diverse arsenal of offensive tricks can get him into the team’s rotation this season. It’s a nearly identical team from a year ago, but there could be more minutes available for him assuming Hoiberg distributes playing time more liberally than Thibodeau. Plus, with Hoiberg’s flair for shooting the three-pointer, McDermott could thrive and Summer League is a good start toward making that happen.

Bobby Portis Proving Mettle in Vegas

Bobby Portis is kind of insane. Anybody who spoke with him or worked him out during the draft process grew to understand very quickly that the kid is 100 percent about basketball and has just that little bit of emphatic craziness that has drawn him some personality comparisons to Kevin Garnett.

From the standpoint of playing the game, that’s a lofty appraisal, obviously, but he already puts off a vibe that he’s not just happy to be here. He’ll smile, sure, but once he gets out onto the court he’s all-out competitive energy all the time, and Bulls head coach Fred Hoiberg already has seen that.

“He was aggressive, he ran the floor well, and I love that he asked me to come out of the game three times. That really showed me his great effort,” Hoiberg said, and Portis himself said that’s exactly the first impression he wanted to make.

“That’s who Bobby Portis is,” Portis said. “I’m a guy who’s going to go out there and play my hardest. There were a few times where I got tired and had to ask Coach to take me out, but that’s just how I am.”

He does go hard and that ability to get out on the break and expend energy is, he says, his greatest strength.

“People always say I don’t do anything great, but something I do great is run the floor,” Portis said. “But that goes without credit though because it’s not on paper.”

What is on paper, however, is his ability to knock down deep shots, including three pointers, despite being 6’10.

“His ability to knock down shots and stretch the floor, he showed that in our little mini-camp before [Summer League],” Hoiberg said. “He’s been comfortable. He took one wide open [three-pointer] and missed it, and a couple of our coaches were grumbling. I said, ‘[Shoot], guys. He’s three-for-three. Let’s see what he’s got. It’s a heat check. Let him go.’ He showed it, and not just today. He showed it in camp. He’s comfortable, not just on the perimeter but in the post. Any time you’ve got a 6’10 guy who can draw the big away and knock down shots, that’s huge.”

Portis, however, doesn’t feel like anybody should be surprised by his range.

“I always have shot threes,” Portis said. “It’s just moving back a couple of feet to take those. It’s not really a challenge for me, but it is necessary for me to be that dominant stretch four I want to be.”

He has had a strong Summer League so far, but with a stacked Chicago frontcourt it’s not entirely clear just yet how he’ll fit into the rotation. There are injury concerns there, with Joakim Noah, Pau Gasol and Taj Gibson all experiencing pretty serious injuries over the course of the last couple seasons. That may be how he gets his opportunity, but one thing’s for sure: he’s definitely ready to prove himself.

“I’m not intimidated by anyone,” he said. “I’m not worried about matchups, I’m just trying to being the best basketball player I can be for this franchise.”

He’s off to a good start.

Joel Brigham is a senior writer for Basketball Insiders, covering the Central Division and fantasy basketball.

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