- Scoop Jackson, ESPN.com columnist
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A text came through from a basketball writer friend of mine who'd somehow heard (damn social media) that I was doing a story on Doug McDermott.
"Know what angle you're taking?"
My reply: "How he should be the No. 1 (or No. 2) pick in the NBA draft."
His reply: "I wouldn't have agreed with you two months ago. But he's done some things recently that completely changed my mind."
Where does recently begin?
Since Jan. 4, 2014, Doug McDermott has jumped from 51st on the NCAA all-time leading scorers list to currently No. 7. In that short, six-week period here are people he's passed: Elgin Baylor, Bill Bradley, J.J. Redick, Sean Elliott, Stephen Curry, David Robinson, Jimmer Fredette, Joe Dumars, Calbert Cheaney, Don MacLean, Keith Van Horn, Otis Birdsong, Austin Carr, Hank Gathers, Wayman Tisdale, Tyler Hansbrough, Elvin Hayes, Larry Bird, Danny Manning, Oscar Robertson and Hershey Hawkins.
And, as it widely became known and reported over the weekend, he became only the eighth player in NCAA history to score 3,000 points.
He is without question the best player in college basketball. He's leading the nation in scoring. He's 6-foot-8 with a shot that might be purer than Steph Curry's. He's clutch. He's a senior. He has a better chance of being the next Kevin Love than Andrew Wiggins does of being the next LeBron James.
He said coming back for his senior year helped him. "A lot of people questioned [it] from a draft standpoint, like, there's no way I would go higher than I would have [after last season]," McDermott said. "But I feel that I've shown I can play with these athletes, I can play against longer defenders; I'm starting to prove people wrong."
So why aren't NBA teams sacrificing wins for his services?
• • •
That 45 points he just dropped Saturday should have been expected. After ESPN.com ran a package on him, after Warren Buffet came to see him play, after coming off one of his worst games of the year and after his team having back-to-back losses, he stepped up the way "for real" ball players seem to.
He's been scoring more than 20 ppg since 2011-12. Since he entered college, he's grabbed more than 7 rebounds a game and never shot worse than 50 percent. So this season that he's having -- 26.5 ppg (leads the nation), 7.2 rpg, .522 percent field goal, almost 90 percent free throw, 44.7 percent 3-pointers -- is really nothing new.
After his clinic at Villanova, the nation seemed to wake up a bit. It was his ninth 30-point game this season, his second time being one point away from 40 (he scored 39 against St. John's in late January). Even as his team just recently lost two games in a row after earning a top-10 ranking, his status as the "one-man Wichita State of college basketball" remains intact. Simply put: McDermott has been doing to the NCAA all season what Kevin Durant did to the NBA in January.
Just about every college hoops expert from ESPN's Seth Greenberg ("No question, Wooden Award winner. Forget about it. Everyone else is playing for second.") to Sports Illustrated's Seth Davis ("He will be the National Player of the Year, you can write that down.") claim McDermott is the best non-NBA player alive. But somehow his name is absent when people talk about which players NBA teams should lose games for to try to grab in the draft. And there's no talk of McDermott being the No. 1 pick on June 26.
Does it make sense to McDermott that everyone is talking about someone else first? "Those guys are 17, 18 years old," McDermott said. "I'm a senior. I'm not the most flashy guy out there. I'm not dunking on guys, I'm not jumping out of the building. I just try to contribute, try to get things done. Put the ball in the basket, rebound the ball. So, you know, I'm not going to let that bother me. "
On many levels, it should. Yet, the fact that McDermott refuses to let it get to him says just as much about him as it does about those who don't feel he's worth a No. 1 pick and the mindset of some of the teams who will eventually pass on him come draft day.
The foundation of why he should be the No.1 pick is Kevin Love -- and Chandler Parsons and Gordon Hayward and Dirk Nowitzki, to a lesser degree. They are the new trend in the NBA, very rare and proven commodities. Big (6-foot-8-plus) white guys who can shoot and score is the new prototype. They used to come once every generation. First Larry Bird, then Nowitzki. But now with Love, followed by Hayward, then Parsons -- all entering the NBA within four years of each other -- a trend seems to be forming.
One that needs to be taken seriously.
The Love comparison comes more with McDermott's ability to score more than anything. In college, Love proved he could rebound (10 RPG), but he was still three per game off what he's recently been doing in the NBA. If Doug shows a similar improvement, which is possible, then at 10 RPG in the NBA the comparisons are valid. At no point did we know Love could score at the rate he's scoring now. He averaged 17 in his single year at UCLA. The last time McDermott had an average that low was his freshman year (14.9 PPG). If we look at potential growth and compare it to Love's current growth, it's plausible that McDermott could be "next."
More to his upside remains the fact -- and I say that word with emphasis -- that at the time all of the aforementioned NBA players were coming out of college, none were being talked about or considered as college basketball's POY. And there wasn't this much uncertainty with how the player who will be selected at No. 1 will eventually turn out. Parsons, who was a second-round pick, doesn't undermine the point, because I'm speaking about the type of player McDermott can become once he gets into the league, and how, if they looked at the value of someone like a Parsons (or a Love or a Dirk), general managers might think about Doug differently.
Ask yourself: How often do white guys at 6-foot-9-plus with range and scoring ability like Bird and Dirk and Love come along? By adding Hayward and Parsons into this mix, it becomes more about prototype and trend. McDermott fits that profile as a player who can be the foundation player for a team. With all he's showed over a period of four years, he has a better chance of being the "next" one to fill that role than Jabari Parker or Aaron Gordon or Julius Randle or Wiggins has at being the "next" LeBron/Kevin Durant/Anthony Davis/Paul George/Blake Griffin et al. Or than Marcus Smart, Tyler Ennis, Gary Harris being the next Chris Paul or Kyrie Irving. (Kansas center Joel Embiid could be the next Roy Hibbert, but is Hibbert someone to build a franchise around the way Love is?)
Because of NCAA rules, anyone officially affiliated with an NBA team is not allowed to comment on prospective draftees. And although there are legit questions from NBA scouts about whether McDermott can rebound at Love's 13 to 14 rpg level, there isn't a question that the 8 rpg McDermott's been hovering around in college should transfer to the league.
But McDermott knows a draft pick at one, two or three will never happen for him. So do I. GMs and owners don't think like that. The last white American player to be selected at No. 1 in the NBA draft was Kent Benson in 1977. And as great as they were coming into the NBA, Love was a fifth pick, Hayward a ninth pick, Parsons went 38th and Nowitzki (although not American) was the ninth pick when he entered in 1998. (Larry Bird, who like McDermott was the best player in college basketball when he was drafted, had one more year of college eligibility in 1978. He was drafted sixth by the Celtics because the other teams that were drafting ahead of them couldn't convince Bird to pass up his senior season. The Celtics played it smart, drafted Bird and then simply waited a year for him to come into the NBA. And you wonder why Red Auerbach is considered a genius?)
Yet, instead of looking at the possible next coming of Love or Nowitzki or looking at this recent great "trend" of white scoring forwards, most NBA execs are going to stay traditional in thought, mind and practice. But they're missing the fact that with this is not the next coming of Fredette, Adam Morrison, Hansbrough or Luke Harangody. McDermott is a different beast. Teams would be smart to not "sleep" on this trend or sleep on Doug. Because outside of Bird, McDermott, at least coming out of college, is better than all of the players mentioned.
Remove the racial profiling, and what you have in McDermott is actually -- and maybe more accurately -- a Carmelo Anthony who plays better defense.
Historically, the No. 1 draft pick is a hit-or-miss. Just as many players chosen at No. 1 have made the pick look brilliant as have made an organization look imbecilic. A team can get Anthony Davis one year and Anthony Bennet the next. Literally.
It's not an exact science. It is an exact risk.
• • •
"I see a competitor," McDermott said when asked how he views himself. "It's not all about scoring, you know. A lot of people think I'm just a scorer. I try not to be selfish, I try to get my teammates involved and be real unselfish and fully compete every play out there."
When he is open, his shot is like watching a pool shark shoot on empty red felt. After I watched in person Parker, Wiggins, Embiid, Randle, Gordon and others who are projected to be drafted ahead of McDermott this season, it seemed evident that McDermott is that much better and far more consistent and efficient than anyone else playing basketball at this level.
Six years ago, he was coming off of the bench of his high school team in Iowa. The only other player in the game who has improved this much over a similar amount of time might be Anthony Davis. Davis went from not making the all-state team his junior year of high school to winning an NCAA championship, making the Olympic team, being No. 1 pick in the NBA draft and recently being named an NBA All-Star in a span of five years.
This alone makes McDermott's progression eerie. Corollary. And he knows he's improved.
"The game has gotten easier for me over that time period," McDermott said. "I feel so much more comfortable in so many different spots. I used to shy down a little down the stretch [of games], and now I'm stepping up making big plays. Just confidence at an all-time high. And I feel that I can make any shot on the floor."
This upcoming NCAA tournament could prove to be his showcase -- the proof the NBA needs to see his light.
So maybe he really isn't the next Kevin Love. Maybe at the rate he's been getting greater, Doug McBuckets is the next Anthony Davis. Just a little shorter with a bit less arm span, less physically gifted, but with an unequaled, unparalleled, unmatched, unlimited gift to score.
Then again, no team with the top pick will see it quite like that.