Doug McDermott and the Sports Media’s Larry Bird Fetish

Doug McDermott is on his way to a well-deserved Wooden award as the best player in the country, a fitting end to an incredibly productive four year run at Creighton. McDermott is an unorthodox scoring juggernaut; a sharpshooter who also uses his big body and court awareness to get high percentage looks in the post. McDermott is the latest in the long line of tall, white shooters to be compared to Larry Bird. Let’s see how Dougie and fellow “next Larry Birds” stack up statistically with the real thing.

Player

FG%

3P%

REB

AST

STL

BLK

TOV

PTS

Doug McDermott

.525

.456

8.4

1.9

0.3

0.1

2.2

32.2

Adam Morrison (Jr.)

.496

.428

6.0

1.9

1.2

0.4

30.7

Wally Szczerbiak

.522

.356

10.1

3.4

1.4

1.2

3.7

28.7

Mike Dunleavy (Jr.)

.483

.378

8.9

2.5

2.8

0.9

2.2

21.4

Larry Bird*

.532

16.1

5.9

30.9

Danny Granger

.524

.433

11.9

3.2

2.8

2.7

3.2

25.1

*Adjusting for an estimated 37 mpg, which is about what he played his freshman year, the only year they decided to keep track of his minutes.

These kinds of comparisons tend to ignore the small fact that, in addition to being white and a scorer, Bird was a transcendent point forward who helped revolutionize basketball. Bird was also much more athletic than given credit for, if not in the traditional “run and jump” sense, as evidenced by his incredible rebounding numbers. College steals and blocks stats, the preferred indicators of NBA athleticism and overall skill, were not recorded in the late-70s. However, Larry averaged 1.7 steals and 0.6 blocks as an NBA rookie, so it is safe to assume that those numbers were very good playing against mid-major competition.

Doug McDermott and Larry Bird may look alike on the surface, but even a quick statistical comparison shows that they are not even remotely similar as basketball players. The same goes for Adam Morrison, Wally Szczerbiak, and Mike Dunleavy. For years, the sports media’s desire to see the next Middle American hoops hero has caused them to justify the lack of athleticism in white forward prospects with baseless Larry Bird comparisons, and the NBA has bought the hype. Morrison, Szczerbiak, and Dunleavy were all top six picks that collectively made one All-Star game appearance (Szczerbiak in ’01-’02). Dunleavy and Szczerbiak had long, solid careers, but their defensive numbers were vastly better than McDermott’s and both dished out more assists.

I included Danny Granger’s senior year stats at New Mexico to highlight the hilarious racial bias in these comparisons. Of the players in the sample, Granger was by far the most similar to Bird but, for some reason, never received any “next Bird” hype. Granger, who has had a better career than Morrsion, Szczerbiak, and Dunleavy, was taken 17th overall in 2005. Attention, sports media: If the next Larry Bird is out there, chances are he is not a white guy.

Player

2P%

3P%

REB

AST

STL

BLK

TOV

PTS

Larry Bird (Career Per Game)

.509

.376

10.0

6.3

1.7

0.8

3.1

24.3

LeBron James (Career Per Game)

.534

.340

7.2

6.9

1.7

0.8

3.3

27.5

McDermott’s closest statistical comparison is Adam Morrison, but there is reason to believe that Doug is the slightly better prospect. McDermott is a superior shooter and complimentary player, and I actually think Morrison would have been a decent scorer in the NBA had his career not been derailed by health and injuries. It can’t be overlooked, though, that Morrison collected four times as many steals and blocks as McDermott. McBuckets is a great shooter and a smart player, but the guy is helplessly un-athletic. I would not use a top 20 pick on him.

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