DEERFIELD, Ill. -- Call it the opening act. For the Chicago Bulls, the fireworks begin on Tuesday with the opening of free agency. They've got a meeting locked down with Carmelo Anthony, and have been linked to names like Pau Gasol and Chandler Parsons. Some of those players may be wearing red in November, or they may not. But before the madness kicked off, the Bulls introduced another scorer who will most definitely be on the roster at next season's tipoff: Thursday's lottery pick, former Creighton star Doug McDermott.
The marriage between the Bulls and McDermott makes so much sense it almost seems predestined. Tom Thibodeau's buzzwords are "toughness," "grit" and "heart." McDermott's scouting report includes the phrases "four-year college player," "high basketball IQ" and "ready to play right away." With Derrick Rose missing all but 10 games of the 2013-14 season recovering from a second major knee surgery in 18 months, the Bulls' playoff run was ultimately done in by lack of anything resembling a reliable scoring threat. McDermott's nickname is "Doug McBuckets," and he scored the fifth-most points in Division I college basketball history in his four years at Creighton. He played all four of those years under his father, Greg, so nothing the notoriously intense Thibodeau can throw at him will faze him.
The Bulls and McDermott have also been eyeing each other for a while.
"I'll tell you a funny story," Bulls GM Gar Forman said on draft night. "[Bulls VP of basketball operations] John Paxson went to see him a year ago and there was a huge snowstorm. He got to see him in practice and got to know Omaha really well. Our entire staff, obviously since he's a four-year player and he's been on the radar, we've seen him quite a bit."
The Bulls held the No. 16 and 19 picks in Thursday's draft and were so enamored with McDermott that they traded up with the Denver Nuggets to grab him at No. 11.
"I had no idea, to be honest," McDermott said on Monday, at his introductory press conference at the team's practice facility. "I knew they were interested, I worked out for a couple different teams. I actually didn't work out here. I was open to whatever was going to happen, but this was definitely the spot I wanted to be at throughout the whole process."
McDermott's path to becoming an NBA lottery pick was an unusual one. In Ames, Iowa, he was high-school teammates with a fellow future lottery pick, Golden State Warriors forward Harrison Barnes. He initially committed to play at Northern Iowa University, where his father coached. But when Greg accepted Creighton's head coaching job the summer before his freshman year, McDermott was granted permission to join him. Being a coach's son wasn't always easy, but both father and son went out of their way to make sure it wasn't awkward.
"He had to be a lot harder on me as an example for the team," McDermott said. "At first it was hard to get used to, but as a senior I got a lot more used to it."
"Doug was adamant to his teammates that you can't be afraid to say things in the locker room just because he's my dad," the elder McDermott said after his son's conference. "Because the reality of it is, if we just had a tough loss, I'll probably agree with you guys. But Doug was very humble in his approach and he did a great job of trying to deflect as much attention off him and onto the team as he possibly could."
McDermott was going to redshirt in his freshman year, but was thrust into the Creighton starting lineup because of injuries.
"I wasn't really expecting to play that much," he said. "I was a redshirt, and I sort of had to play because there were some injuries but I think I surprised myself and some Creighton fans. But it did so much for my confidence going forward."
McDermott's college career speaks for itself: He won 2014's consensus national player of the year award, as well as Big East player of the year. He led the NCAA in scoring this season and was named a Consensus First-Team All American in each of his final three seasons. There's no denying his accomplishments at the collegiate level. The more pressing question concerns his ability to translate that remarkable success to the pros. All the signs are there, but plenty of college sharpshooters who seemed like sure-thing NBA stars were never able to adjust to the extended range of the pro game.
"I think that'll adjust right away," he said. "I feel like I'm a great shooter, and I can do it in a lot of different ways. I'm not just a stand-still shooter, so I think that will translate really well. It's been a little bit of an adjustment, going deeper, but I'm starting to get used to it."
Greg is most excited about the prospect of his son playing with Rose, whose rehab efforts Forman and Thibodeau say are on schedule and is expected to be ready to go for training camp.
"Doug didn't get many open shots in college," Greg said. "He had to work for everything he got and a lot of his three-point shots were, he'd catch it and it'd have to be gone because he didn't have much space. I think Derrick's ability to create things off the dribble and create things for his teammates is going to allow Doug to get some open shots. And when he gets open shots, more often than not he's gonna knock them down."
McDermott can shoot with anyone. That much is clear to someone who's watched him play and seen his relentless practice routine, inspired by fellow ex-Creighton shooter and NBA veteran Kyle Korver. But shooting alone isn't going to keep you on the floor on a Thibodeau-coached team. His defense has long been a question mark, and his biggest adjustment from the college game to the NBA game will be whether he has room to learn on that end. Even if he doesn't, the Bulls have fielded a top-five defense the last four seasons with Carlos Boozer as their starting power forward, so he couldn't be in a better scheme to mask his weaknesses.
Korver, who played two seasons for the Bulls and still plays pickup games in Omaha during the offseason, has already told McDermott what he's in for with his new coach's demands.
"(Korver) said he learned more about defense in two years there than in his whole career," McDermott said. "He told me to go in there with an open mind, get better every day and learn from coach Thibodeau and you're going to be just fine."
Thibodeau didn't have much specific comment on McDermott's defensive strengths and weaknesses. He more or less gave the same boilerplate rookie talk he gave to the media with Jimmy Butler in 2011 and Tony Snell last fall.
"You have to learn the system," the coach said. "You have to learn the NBA game, you have to learn your teammates, you have to learn your opponents. You go step by step. The first step is to become a great practice player."
Thibodeau has never been one to anoint anybody who hasn't proven themselves to him. It's part of the strength of the culture he's helped build in his four years in Chicago, and it's what he hopes to sell to a superstar free agent over the next two weeks. And in McDermott, he's found a player who can fit in perfectly and contribute right away, with or without Carmelo Anthony.