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Can Doug McDermott provide a spark?

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By Sam Smith | 3.03.2015 | 7:15 a.m. CT

With Derrick Rose, Jimmy Butler and Taj Gibson out injured, there are two big questions with the Bulls.

Can Doug McDermott save the Bulls?

Will Doug McDermott get to play at all?

Perhaps there’s some exaggeration there, though that’s endemic to sports. After all, how many shots, games and plays can be unbelievable? When it is so extraordinary that if rarely, if ever, has happened before.

But I digress.

The Bulls were hit with the unbelievable, if not unexpected, news Monday that Butler would be out three to six weeks with his elbow injury sustained in Sunday’s loss to the Clippers. And so goes the Bulls starting backcourt sidelined for March with Gibson probably out at least this week with a recurrence of a sprained ankle. So Pau Gasol returning from a flu/virus, Mike Dunleavy adjusting after his month long absence with a bone bruise and Joakim Noah laboring through his own knee issues are the healthy ones.

The latest starting lineup likely will be Aaron Brooks and Tony Snell in the backcourt with Dunleavy, Gasol and Noah. Nikola Mirotic after his career high 29 points Sunday likely will continue to play a significant role off the bench unless someone else is hurt. Same for Kirk Hinrich.

Which raises the question about McDermott, and you begin to wonder is there something going on no one knows about.

McDermott is a rookie, so it’s not like he’s about to replace Butler, Rose or Gibson. But there’s really no rational explanation now not to play him for a team that in the last four games has averaged 88.7 points and shot 37 percent. Extended out over the entire season, that would place the Bulls last in scoring and shooting. And by a lot. Unbelievable? Well, not really.

They desperately need scoring and shooting. And what do you know. Sitting on the bench basically doing nothing is one of the greatest shooters in the history of college basketball, a mature 23-year-old who is one of the most accurate three-point shooters in NCAA history and the Bulls first lottery pick in the last six years.

And you’re saying a team that can’t score 90 points per game—which is what the 76ers average and they are trying to lose—and doesn’t shoot even close to 40 percent can’t at least take a look at a player his teammates say has one of the best looking shots on the team. Well, in practice, anyway.

This might be a good time to rethink a bit of this season for the Bulls as well.

It’s been a difficult season for Thibodeau with all the injuries and time restrictions on players. He has gone deep into his bench. So the criticism he won’t use young players and sticks only to a short rotation hasn’t been justified. Snell has gotten a regular role, and now Mirotic as well.

But the season also has changed in many ways with Rose and Butler out probably until April.

It’s perhaps more now about doing some development for the playoffs. Rose and Butler will return, but certainly Rose won’t be playing big minutes, at least to start. Perhaps not Butler as well after missing so much time. The Bulls are not about to miss the playoffs. They’ve got a 12-game lead with 22 to play on several pretty bad teams. In fact, the Bulls no matter what they do the rest of the regular season likely have little chance to even falling farther down than fifth in the Eastern Conference.

The Bucks are sixth, have floundered since the trade of high scorer Brandon Knight and seem settled on it being a successful season already. And it is. Plus they’ve got a tough road immediately ahead with six of their next 10 on the road, including in Golden State, Indiana, Memphis and New Orleans and home to the Spurs, Wizards, Cavs and Warriors. Talk about your other teams who can’t score. Can’t wait for Bulls/Bucks April 1 with a 58-53 final and no April Fool’s for the fans.

So why not take a look to find out if McDermott can be of help in the playoffs, someone to come off the bench and make a three or three. After all, he’s done it before. He’s not going to save the season or replace a starter, but how could you not want to know?

And forget that can’t play enough defense excuse. It’s not like we’re going to see many all-defensive votes for Bulls players this season.

There’s this narrative that McDermott didn’t play well when he did play early in the season, which is not true. He actually played very well and was on the way to being a serious Rookie of the Year candidate. Until he stopped playing for no apparent reason.

He had 12 points on opening night on the road in Madison Square Garden shooting five of nine. Very impressive for a rookie in his first game.

He was scoreless with three misses in the home opener loss to the Cavs in 17 minutes and played just 11 minutes the next night and was one for four in Minnesota. But then he had 12 points in 12 minutes and was four of six against the Magic, played seven minutes without a shot against the Bucks and then in a combined 32 minutes in two games against the 76ers and Celtics, he shot six for eight and scored 14 points. Pretty good, really, for a rookie in his first seven games, 40 points in 103 minutes. That’s a double digit scoring average in a regular rotation and the ability to spread the floor, desperately needed by the Bulls.

McDermott then didn’t play much for two games and had an awkward stretch with 57 minutes over the next four games and six for 18 shooting. Not horrible, but McDermott hardly played after that. He then had a knee issue develop and had meniscus surgery Dec. 12. He was back available to play Jan. 19. He’s played 13 minutes in the last 18 games. Not average; combined.

You could say coming off surgery and with the team pretty much whole there was no time to work in a rookie coming off surgery. That’s not unreasonable. But hardly now with the roster decimated, the team unable to score or make shots, 31 percent Sunday, 38 percent Friday, 35 percent last Monday. You can’t give a try to the best collegiate three-point shooter on your roster?

So we’ll see Tuesday against the Washington Wizards, who look a lot like the Bulls first round playoff opponent again. The Wizards, of course, won 4-1 last season and hold a 2-1 edge in games this season. So Tuesday sets up as the potential tiebreaker. Though that should hardly be an issue for the Bulls, who are 18-13 at home and 19-10 on the road. Plus, this season it’s presumably a playoff series with Rose.

Though the Bulls are third in the Eastern Conference now a half game behind the Toronto Raptors, it figures with the injuries it will be tough to pass Toronto or stay ahead of the Cleveland Cavaliers. The Cavs are a half game behind the Bulls. Then comes Washington, which is three games behind the Bulls in fifth. Plus, the Wizards are in their poorest stretch of the season, losers of 11 of their last 14.

So does it really matter with the Wizards beating the Bulls without home court advantage last season and the Bulls with their best game of the series in Washington?

The Wizards don’t seem to much care, and don’t be surprised if they play some creative rotations late in the season to assure a series with the Bulls. Though a team struggling like that shouldn’t be too confident against anyone, the Wizards privately have identified the Bulls as their favored playoff opponent. They believe they are best suited to play the Bulls with their power and size lineups and basic lack of athleticism other than John Wall. They don’t shoot many threes, 27th in the league in attempts while the Bulls are 16th. And even with Wall, their pace of play is in the bottom half of the league along with the Bulls’.

The Wizards believe their bigs can beat the Bulls bigs and Wall and Bradley Beal will offset Rose and Butler.

Plus, there’s even some rivalry as Nene has been suspended twice against the Bulls, in last season’s playoffs for head butting Butler and for getting off the bench in a preseason game when Noah and Paul Pierce got into an altercation. Nene has since verbally menaced the Bulls and Monday at Wizards practice, Beal told media Nene can’t wait to get at the Bulls. Beal also got into a confrontation with Hinrich in that playoff series.

"Nene, he doesn't like Chicago," Beal said. "He hates Joakim. It's good and it's scary, too, because you never know what you're going to get out of Nene. You don't know if you're going to get the Nene that's going to go out there and put people in headlocks or get Nene that's going to give you 30. It's good and bad. I wish we could play them every day. We just always get up for Chicago. We're always locked in, we always play pretty much our best game. Chicago has a lot of guys out, an opportunity for other guys to step up. It's going to be a chippy game, I think. We really play physical whenever we play them. Everybody is on edge whenever we play Chicago."