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Is Doug McDermott the best option to replace DeMar DeRozan in the Spurs' starting five? |Preseason Profile

The 29-year-old forward is coming off a career year as he proved he's more than just a shooter, and his prowess without the ball can help San Antonio's young guards.

SAN ANTONIO — If you’re looking for the most notable addition to the Spurs’ roster this summer and the player who has the best chance to crack the starting lineup out of the gate, Doug McDermott is your guy.

The 29-year-old forward is coming off his best season in the NBA as he averaged 13.6 points, 3.3 rebounds, 1.3 assists, and 24.5 minutes per game, all career highs. He started 29 games for the Pacers last season, and grew his offensive game beyond the reputation he’s earned as a deadeye shooter.

McBuckets has shot over 40% from deep over the course of his career, but his accuracy from inside the arc was never impressive until the 2020-21 season. On a career-high number of attempts from shorter range, McDermott made 64% of those shots. He did the bulk of that work right at the basket.

Not known as an interior threat, McDermott tried 4.8 attempts per game inside 5 feet and hit 68%. That’s almost the same percentage at the rim as Jakob Poeltl, Nikola Jokic, Joel Embiid and Steven Adams on a similar level of attempts. The only 6’7” player more accurate than McDermott was Kawhi Leonard. If all of that information seems a bit crazy to you, you are not wrong. 

Mark Schindler covers the Pacers for the Indy Cornrows, and attributes McDermott’s growth in that area to his ability to cut and move decisively without the ball, then make a quick decision to get to the hoop. 

“He’s not really a great athlete, but in the thing that he needs to be good at to be an elite movement shooter, he’s very good at it,” Schindler said. “That ability to put the ball on the deck last year, he really didn’t have that in his first two years in Indiana. He used to be a lot more of like, he couldn’t get all the way to the rim so he would just pull up from like 18 feet. Now, he was almost the most efficient player at the rim on the team last year because of how good he is at getting there, and he’ll occasionally totally yam on somebody, which is very fun to watch.”

Exhibit A on how fun it is to watch him yam on somebody: This absolute poster over Markieff Morris that generated an iconic meme response from Jimmy Butler and a genuinely incredulous “What?” from the stunned announcer. If his bounce sneaks up on you, you haven’t read the scouting report.

Take a minute to dive into the 217 baskets that McDermott made inside five feet last year, and it’s clear that he has learned how to maximize his first step in a way that pairs perfectly with his ability to run off screens and get open from deep. He has a way of catching on the move and throwing the ball through a gap in the defense before chasing it down en route to the rim. On attempts with no dribble or one dribble, he was ruthlessly efficient.

Any more than a dribble or two, and McDermott is out of his comfort zone offensively. The good news is he probably won’t be asked to create much, and he’s perfectly happy in an off-ball role. He sounds excited about joining a Spurs organization that he molded his play style after.

“It’s like a dream come true, growing up watching all those teams win championships,” he said after signing his deal for three years and $42 million. “I always kinda modeled my game after being a guy in this type of system, so it’s really a dream come true. It’s the gold standard of the league, So I’m just really excited to be here.”

There’s a chance that the only change to San Antonio’s starting lineup is swapping DeMar DeRozan for McDermott, and it would be hard to conceive of a guy with a more polar opposite offensive skillset than DeRozan, who is at his best making plays with the ball in his hands.

DeRozan is clearly the better individual player, and it’s not like he didn’t set his Spurs teammates well last season, but McDermott brings skills that will be better for helping guys like Dejounte Murray, Derrick White and Lonnie Walker IV grow as primary playmakers themselves.

“I think I’ll bring a ton of shooting and spacing for the young guys,” McDermott said. “I think one of my strengths is being able to move without the ball, really put pressure on the defense that way. I think my overall presence moving around out there can put a lot of pressure on the defense, and hopefully give guys some room to create and attack.”

"I think that's one of my main strengths is shooting the three, and I think we've added a couple of good shooters here, and I think the way the Spurs have historically moved the ball, it just really fits my type of game," he said. "I'm not a guy that's gonna break you down one on one, I rely on playing basketball the right way and having some freedom cutting, shooting, and playing unselfish basketball, so I think I'll fit right in."

San Antonio’s front office has made a conscious decision to move in this direction and prioritize development, and it signals a substantial amount of faith in the young players who will all be asked to do more this year. McDermott is also optimistic on the development of those guys, and excited about the prospect of being an elder statesman on this team.

“I want to be a part of this young roster with very talented guys,” he said. “Playing here over the years, just seeing how much they’ve developed and how much better they’re getting. Just to be able to be somewhat of a leader on this team, because I haven’t really been in this position much, so that’s something I really value. I’m just really looking forward to coming in here and showing these guys a thing or two, but I’m sure I’m gonna learn a lot from them too.”

Whether he starts or plays steady minutes off the bench, McDermott figures to be an important cog that can slide in and contribute alongside almost any group of players. He isn’t the strongest defender, but the coach’s son has a solid understanding of where to be and how to contribute to team defense.

“I think he’s a perfect player to add as a complimentary piece to this team, especially playing off of the young guards,” Schindler said. “I love the idea of him playing with Thad, because him and Thad have played together a little bit before. Doug had incredible synergy with (Domantas Sabonis), and that was the bread and butter of the bench unit. I think you can replicate some of that with him and Thad, and maybe even with Jakob too.”

If McDermott and Keldon Johnson are the forward pair, someone will be a bit undersized at the four. McDermott has shown that he has the ability to do that as the game continues to get smaller, but team rebounding and post defense could become a problem. 

Even with those concerns, McDermott appears to be the clearest choice to replace DeMar DeRozan in the starting five, at least out of the players who are new to San Antonio this year. He’s an elite motion shooter with size, and the Spurs certainly suffered without one of those last year as they ranked near the bottom of the league in terms of three-point accuracy and attempts. In his past two seasons, McDermott has hit over 41% of his threes.

San Antonio is working to assess the skill level and potential of their young core, and as all of those guys get more opportunity to dribble and attack the rim in the absence of DeRozan, McDermott seems like an ideal off-ball deep threat and cutter to have on the floor with them.

McDermott spoke glowingly about the Spurs, and can't wait to learn from Gregg Popovich.

"I've been a lot of places in my career, and always admired the way the Spurs play basketball, even as a kid growing up watching the glory days with Tim Duncan and Manu and Tony, its just always been a place I've wanted to play, and obviously it starts with Coach Pop," said McDermott, who spent some time around him with USA basketball several years ago. "Just a really good guy, straightforward, I've played for a lot of coaches, but now I get to play for the best coach."

"I know he's an unbelievable coach, and there's a lot of great coaches here as well, I was hoping he'd be around and I hope I play for him my whole time here," McDermott said. "He's a guy you just want to soak up as much time as you can around him and pick his brain about basketball. I'm just really excited to be around him and be a part of the Spurs tradition."

As the Spurs move in a new direction, McDermott is the offseason acquisition that reveals the most about where they hope they’re going.

"I'm just really excited to be around these guys, obviously there's a lot of young talent, I'm not used to being one of the oldest guys in the room, but I'm really excited to take on that role and be a Spur."

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