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Bulls roll to victory in summer league opener

Bobby Portis and Doug McDermott turn in impressive debuts in 84-71 win over Minnesota

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By Sam Smith | 7.12.2015 | 9:00 a.m.

Doug McDermott shot a 20 footer the first time the Bulls had the ball in what would become an 84-71 Bulls summer league victory Saturday in coach Fred Hoiberg’s debut. McDermott missed. The second time the Bulls had the ball, McDermott put in a floater to tie the score.

McDermott would go on to score 20 points while Bulls No. 1 pick Bobby Portis in an impressive start against No. 1 overall pick Karl-Anthony Towns had 23 points.

Though it was just two early attempts for McDermott, it was significant because the Bulls are hoping McDermott can shoot himself into a regular rotation spot this season.

And McDermott says he’s ready; no kicking sand in his face this season.

“I have that mindset not to back down,” said McDermott, who also had five rebounds and shot nine of 16, mostly inside. “Go right back at them. I’m excited for that. Last summer and last year I was too nice, almost. Now after last year and how frustrating it was I feel I have more edge to me and I’m excited about that. I was accepting of it. Now I know what I am capable of. I play my best when I have that edge. That’s what I played with my four years in college and feel I can build on that again.

“We were laughing about that in the weight room,” said McDermott. “Last year I was squatting about 50 pounds; (Now) I’m squatting my body weight. Last summer I was sore after I barely squatted 50 pounds. I was a toothpick. Today I was doing 245. It’s completely different. I feel great. I’m 225; last summer I was 215. I don’t feel it’s affected me at all. I feel I’m in a really good spot right now.”

It showed in an impressive summer league start in Las Vegas for the Bulls with basically a wire to wire domination of the Timberwolves and the No. 1 overall pick and last year’s dunk champion, Zach LaVine. The Bulls aggression on defense, often with McDermott helping off to double team Towns, held Minnesota to 31.6 percent shooting while the Bulls also had a 42-30 edge in inside scoring.

“Doug was great,” said Hoiberg. “We had two scrimmages (before leaving for Las Vegas) and Doug hit 10 of 15 from three. He’s so unique because he can score from the outside, mid range and he was pretty darned good today shooting those floaters in the lane. I love working with him, great kid, willing to work. He took what the defense gave him. He’s so smart. I thought we even missed him a few times when he created separation.”

Hoiberg was similarly pleased with the initiation of rookie Portis, who made three of four three pointers and outscored Towns 23-9. Several times Portis beat Towns down court for alley oop dunks.

“He was awesome,” Hoiberg said of Portis. “He plays so hard. The thing I was really encouraged was three times he had to come out of the game because he was playing with so much energy and effort. I love that when guys are so tired they have to come out. He ran the floor extremely well, read when we were denied on the perimeter, had a great feel when to flash to the ball, looked for back door cuts and stretched the floor knocking down three of four threes. He played the No. 1 pick in the draft and didn’t back down at all.

“I really like our big guys shooting threes,” Hoiberg added as Cameron Bairstow made one after not attempting any last season. “Obviously they have to have the ability to shoot them. But anytime you can stretch the defense and get the big players away from the rim, I think that opens up the paint. We also outscored Minnesota in the paint pretty significantly. I think a lot of that had to do with getting the bigs away from the rim. Those guys went out there, shot it with confidence.”

It was an all around encouraging start, though Hoiberg said there was no Gatorade bath for his first NBA win.

“It was fun,” said Hoiberg, who sat throughout the game, frequently talking with his assistants. “I really enjoyed our mini camp back in Chicago and getting back on the floor and putting in an offense. You can’t throw too much at them, but you can be effective, play with pace and great spacing. The big thing for us is we (also) are using this as an opportunity to build chemistry with our staff. We’ve gotten along well together, shared a lot of ideas. And with the guys who will be on our roster next year getting them out there to gain some experience and build confidence, and I think we accomplished some of that today.”

The Bulls did with a 21-14 first quarter start. Portis stepped easily into a three even though he didn’t shoot many in college and McDermott finished on a nice left handed drive. Portis did have a sharp postup score on Towns, but mostly scored from outside. It was McDermott scoring more inside, slipping screens nicely on the pick and roll in an interestingly inverted offense with Hoiberg having the big men outside passing.

“This gives us an opportunity to experiment with different things,” Hoiberg said. “The way the game is going now you have to have guys to space the floor out there. Obviously, there will be times you have to punish a team inside, but you want versatility and I believe this roster has that.”

Bairstow also was active with three blocks and nine rebounds. Minnesota closed the half down 42-37 after trailing by 15 as LaSalle guard Ramon Galloway, who has played overseas, had the highlight play with a driving, hanging athletic score. He added 17 points and nine assists. Vander Blue had nine points.

The Bulls were making an effort to get the ball in quicker and into the front court, and it seemed to have an effect on the Timberwolves, who did play Friday. The Bulls pulled ahead 61-47 after three with a big third quarter from McDermott, sealing and taking an interior pass for a score, finishing a fast break and another with a soft touch inside. Minnesota closed within eight in the fourth quarter, but Portis and McDermott then made back to back threes and the Bulls coasted to the finish.

But there’ll be no coasting for McDermott, who had a disappointing rookie season after being a lottery pick. He had meniscus surgery and then never got back into the rotation and basically watched from the bench the last four months of the season. McDermott is determined to make it impossible to keep him out of the lineup again. And at different positions as Hoiberg used small lineups several times Saturday with McDermott at power forward.

“I think I can play stretch four in the NBA,” said McDermott. “I played a lot of four in college and I think it’s something that can work because I am really comfortable with it. We have guys like Niko (Mirotic) and that’s his place. But I also think we can play together and do pick and pop type stuff.

“Watching the Finals, watching high school teammate Harrison (Barnes), I’d never have guessed he’d be at the four,” said McDermott. “But there he is out there starting in the Finals at the four. That gave me a lot of confidence because he’s a guy who played the three his whole life and would never want to go to the four. But he was almost liking it more because of the matchups. I feel I can do the same.

“I would say I’m a lot more aware now and mature,” said McDermott. “I think I really grew up and learned the NBA game. I didn’t get a whole lot of experience (last season), but I got a lot of experience watching guys like Mike (Dunleavy) and Jimmy (Butler), guys who have played in the NBA for awhile. I feel I picked up on little things they did and I feel that will give me a lot of momentum going into the season. I look at (last season) like kind of a red shirt year. I got a lot of time in the weight room, a lot of stuff on the floor. I feel my game is really sharp right now. I think I have a lot more confidence in myself.

“Watching Fred’s teams at Iowa State, it’s a dream to play in that system,” said McDermott. “We have a lot of guys on our team who will thrive under him. I worked my tail off and my shot feels better than it ever has. It’s just a matter of getting an opportunity to really show it on a consistent basis.

“(Last season) was really hard because you go from being at an all time high in college and you get humbled,” observed McDermott. “I think it was a really good thing for me. It tested me mentally. I really had not gone through a whole lot of adversity. I had a great summer league, was feeling great and real healthy and then get that injury, get off to a rough start and never getting a chance to fight my way back in. I feel like I took a step back toward the end of the year and accepted it. I was on a great team last year; not a lot of rookies played on teams in the playoffs. I kind of looked at it that way. But I feel I can give so much more and everyone really hasn’t seen my game yet. That’s been motivation for me this summer and I’m excited to show that.”