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Bulls' Doug McDermott trying to lighten up, and it shows in his play

Doug McDermott is "still a little bit too emotional from my perspective," says his dad and former coach Greg McDermott, but the second-year Bulls forward is working on it. Jeff Haynes/NBAE/Getty Images

CHICAGO -- As Chicago Bulls forward Doug McDermott tries to turn the corner in his second NBA season, there is one opponent that has repeatedly stood in his way more than anyone else: himself.

"I'm my biggest critic," McDermott said. "I'm really hard on myself. That can be a good thing, but it can also be a bad thing. I think in college it's a good thing because you have a week between your next game. In the NBA, you have a game, and then you have another game the next day. So if you're constantly down on yourself, being mad about a play the night before, it's going to affect the way you play the next night. So I kind of just let some things go, focus on the moment and just keep moving forward.

"Obviously, [I] want to start contributing to some wins, but I think I'm in the right direction with my game and hopefully it continues."

Confidence was never a problem at Creighton for the 2013-14 national player of the year and three-time All-American who averaged 26.7 points a game as a senior. Drafted by the Nuggets with the 11th pick in the 2014 NBA draft, McDermott was then traded with Anthony Randolph to the Bulls, who gave up two first-round picks -- which became Gary Harris and Jusuf Nurkic -- as well as three second-round picks to land the prolific college scorer.

After struggling to find minutes as a rookie under former Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau, McDermott was expected to thrive in Fred Hoiberg's system, but the progress was not immediate. Now the 24-year-old is in the midst of his best stretch as an NBA player. After perhaps his worst game of the season -- a 1-for-6 showing in a loss to the Cavaliers on Feb. 18 -- McDermott responded with a career-high 30 points in a win over the Toronto Raptors the next night. That began a stretch of seven straight games in which he scored in double figures.

McDermott's rise over the past few weeks has coincided with the fact that he has developed into more than just a 3-point shooter. He is shooting 56.1 percent from inside 20 feet over his past nine games heading into Thursday's matchup with the Spurs, according to ESPN Stats and Information data. That's a big jump from his first 52 games, when he was averaging 43.2 percent from the same distance.

"He's able to get you in a lot of ways. He added a dunk a couple games ago, a dunk shot. Where did this come from? I'm not sure. But all of a sudden he's attacking the basket too."

Kyle Korver on Doug McDermott

He is shooting 54.5 percent on midrange shots -- up from 40.7 percent during his first 52 games -- and he has become more comfortable moving all over the floor.

"He wasn't shooting 12- to 15-foot floaters in college; he didn't need to. He could get closer to the rim," said Greg McDermott, Doug's father and former coach at Creighton. "In the NBA game, he has to shoot those, and he's worked hard developing that part of his game."

The other noticeable difference in recent weeks is that McDermott has been more active attacking the rim. In his first 88 games as a pro, he had only six dunks. During his past nine games, he has thrown down six dunks, much to the amusement of teammates and friends.

"I think he's playing really well," said Atlanta Hawks sharpshooter Kyle Korver, a fellow Creighton alumnus and now NBA mentor to McDermott. "He's someone that, we're game planning for the Bulls, you've really got to lock in on what he's doing. He's able to get you in a lot of ways. He added a dunk a couple games ago, a dunk shot. Where did this come from? I'm not sure. But all of a sudden he's attacking the basket too."

Since that season-worst showing on Feb. 18, McDermott is averaging 14.9 points a game -- seventh best among NBA bench players with at least eight games played -- and he is shooting 49.1 percent from the field.

So why is McDermott finally showing signs of being the consistent shooter the Bulls thought they were getting on draft night in 2014?

It all starts within his own head. McDermott spent the better part of the second half of his rookie season nailed to the bench. Knee surgery kept him out for over a month, and he didn't get much of a chance to contribute, as second-year player Tony Snell passed him in the rotation.

"The challenge was that he'd really never been hurt at any point in his career," Greg McDermott said. "I don't know that he hardly ever missed a practice at Creighton. He just hadn't had to deal with an injury. Leading up to that injury, obviously your legs aren't right. And then coming out of it, it takes a while to get back into the groove, especially when you're a rookie."

McDermott worked hard on his game in the offseason, including spending time with Bulls teammate Jimmy Butler training in San Diego over the summer. But the other crucial component in McDermott's development is that he has grown more confident under Hoiberg's watch.

"Coach Hoiberg, he's good for all of us, but he's been really good for me this year just because he played in the league, was a shooter, went through a lot of ups and downs in his career," McDermott said. "So I can kind of relate to him a little more. And he definitely gave me some good motivational talks before the game, especially that Toronto game, it kind of got me going and I really haven't looked back. So it's been good, but I still got to build on every game and each game's a challenge."

For all his improvement offensively, McDermott knows he has to get better in other areas of the game. He grabs just 8.3 percent from the available defensive rebounds when he is in the game, the lowest average on the team. His 2.4 rebounds a game put him 47th out of 58 qualified small forwards. His defense, which was never a strong suit, continues to be a problem. His DRPM (Defensive Real Plus Minus) of -3.24 puts him 428th out of 446 qualified players. Out of 76 qualified small forwards, McDermott ranks 74th. The only two players rated worse than him are the Timberwolves' Shabazz Muhammad (-5.01) and the Lakers' Nick Young (-3.82). Even retiring Lakers legend Kobe Bryant has a slightly better clip at -2.96.

The Bulls, who have struggled mightily in recent months to put together solid defensive efforts, average 101.2 points per 100 possessions with McDermott off the floor, compared to 103.3 when he's on the floor. He has also struggled to set up his teammates for scores, averaging just 1.3 assists per 48 minutes, which ranks him 55th out of 58 qualified small forwards.

Despite the numbers, the Bulls still feel confident that better times are ahead for McDermott. The other aspects of his game must get better, but the Bulls traded up to get him for one reason -- to make shots.

And for McDermott, much of that means keeping his confidence up even when things aren't going well.

"He's still a little bit too emotional from my perspective," Greg McDermott said. "I think he gets a little too down on himself when things don't go well, and I think he's got to get past that. Also, when you have a great game you can feel good about it temporarily, but you've got to play another one the next night so you can't pat yourself on the back very long in that league either. I think Doug's learning the importance of moving on to the next play, moving on to the next game. And whatever happened in the last game, so be it.

"That league is such a grind and there's so many games that it's not always going to be perfect, and the fact that he's been able to put together a nice stretch the last week or 10 days is a credit to him and how hard he's worked at it."