McDermott is NBA-ready, two Big Five coaches say

Doug McDermott could slip to the 76ers at pick No. 10.
Doug McDermott could slip to the 76ers at pick No. 10. (   CHARLES FOX / Staff Photographer)
Posted: June 25, 2014

Over several long study sessions to prepare for the greatest scorer in 21st-century college basketball, Phil Martelli could see the incremental improvement, the subtle ways that Doug McDermott was growing and diversifying his game.

From one year to the next, whenever it came time for Martelli and his St. Joseph's assistants to scout Creighton, the video would show that McDermott had gotten smarter in his decision-making and quicker in his movements on the court, flashing signs that he could and would develop beyond the plodding, standstill shooter so many presume he will be at basketball's highest level.

Martelli knows what an NBA player looks like, having coached three of them - Jameer Nelson, Delonte West, and Dwayne Jones - during his 19-year tenure at St. Joseph's. And he coached against Creighton often enough, and watched McDermott disassemble the Hawks' defensive schemes often enough, to appreciate McDermott's rise into a lottery pick and a possible selection for the 76ers in Thursday's NBA draft.

"I saw him as challenging," said Martelli, whose team lost three of its four games against Creighton during McDermott's career there. "The great players see the game in slow motion, and you could see him doing that - not that he played in slow motion, but he thought it in slow motion. I always thought he slowed that game down so much that he saw a shot opportunity before the defender saw the possibility that he would shoot it."

There's no chance the Sixers will take McDermott with the No. 3 overall pick, but he might still be on the board when they come up again at No. 10, assuming they don't trade the pick. Those 3,150 points (fourth in Division I history), that .550 shooting percentage, and that two-steps-from-midcourt range would seem to fit the system that general manager Sam Hinkie and coach Brett Brown want the Sixers to play on offense: Push the ball, spread the floor, and either get to the rim or find an open three-pointer.

The reservation with McDermott is predictable: that he doesn't have the lateral and vertical speed to keep up with such a breakneck pace, to create his own shot, or - the greater concern - to play adequate man-to-man defense. Maybe that will turn out to be a legitimate flaw in his game, but the Sixers presumably have a center/rim-protector in Nerlens Noel, who could mitigate the defensive weaknesses of any of the team's wing players.

More, McDermott, who is 22 years old and is listed at 6-foot-8 and 225 pounds, has enough physical and emotional maturity to withstand the rigors of an NBA season right away. In fact, last summer Villanova coach Jay Wright saw him compete against NBA players, including the Portland Trail Blazers' Damian Lillard and the Clippers' DeAndre Jordan, during a USA Basketball camp. In those scrimmages, McDermott appeared every bit the pro that those rising young stars did.

"He belonged," said Wright, who also watched McDermott average 31 points a game in Creighton's two lopsided victories over 'Nova last season. "He played well. He didn't look like a college kid who could hang. He looked like a guy who belonged right there and then with young NBA players."

At the risk of creating a straw man here, it would seem difficult to deny that McDermott's race affects people's perceptions of the player he is and will become. The instinct is to hold him up against other white players because, well, if they look alike, they must play alike, and that reflex can lead to comparisons that either overrate or underrate McDermott. It already has. Just listen to the chatter. He's Larry Bird. No, he's Adam Morrison. No, he's Kyle Korver. Even Sports Illustrated fell into that trap, putting McDermott and two Creighton cheerleaders on its cover to mimic a famous staged photo of Bird at Indiana State.

"When you're in competition against him and have had your toughest guys guarding him, you don't see color at all. You see a toughness," Wright said.

"I don't think he's a franchise kind of player, but he has that kind of mentality. He would be a great member of a 'Big Three.' He's got the talent to score in the NBA, and he's got the talent to guard his position, and he's got the talent to make other people better."

The Sixers could use a player like that. They could use a few of them, actually. That No. 3 pick is the one everyone's most curious about, but that No. 10 pick matters, too, and McDermott may be there for the taking.

"He's special," Martelli said. We'll see if the Sixers think so, or if they believe they can find a better player than the one who treated two Big Five teams and pretty much the rest of college basketball as if they'd wandered into his own personal playground.


msielski@phillynews.com

@MikeSielski

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