College basketball fans may have forgotten about Mitch McGary last season as he sat out with a back injury, but NBA scouts surely didn’t. The Oklahoma City Thunder proved that Thursday when it made the Michigan product the No. 21 overall pick in the 2014 NBA draft.
New teammate Kevin Durant congratulated McGary on being drafted:
McGary took an unusual path to this point, as he sat out all but eight games during his sophomore season thanks to a back injury in the 2013-14 campaign and then declared for the draft after a positive drug test. He would have faced a year-long suspension had he returned to school at Michigan.
To McGary’s credit, he handled the situation with class and was straightforward in a statement he released through the University of Michigan, via Brian Hamilton of Sports Illustrated:
My family and I want to thank everyone for giving us privacy and the time to make this decision. As you know, it was important for us to weigh all the factors that go into something like this. With that being said, I am ready to move on to the next stage in my life and enter the NBA Draft.
Being a part of a program that values integrity, it is important to let everyone know of a poor decision I recently made. I tested positive for marijuana during the NCAA Tournament. We were notified of that result after the Final Four. I regret thoroughly disappointing my family, coaches and administration. Despite all of this they have been understanding and helpful over the last couple of weeks.
Although there were certainly some unique circumstances surrounding McGary’s journey to the NBA, it was his NCAA tournament performance as a freshman that caught the attention of scouts and set up his rise as a highly regarded prospect.
He helped lead the Wolverines to the national title game alongside Trey Burke by posting 21 points and 14 rebounds against VCU in the round of 32 and 25 points and 14 rebounds against Kansas in the Sweet 16. The fact that he performed well under the bright lights of the NCAA tournament as a freshman is an encouraging sign for Oklahoma City fans who hope to see similar production in the NBA.
McGary will now join Durant and Russell Westbrook on their quest to go from a Western Conference team to an NBA title contender. While there is some risk involved with this pick for the Thunder because of McGary’s recent injury history, if he can stay healthy, he is one of the most legitimate double-double threats in the entire draft.
He averaged 7.5 points and 6.3 rebounds a game as a freshman behind 59.8 percent shooting from the field. He followed that up by averaging 9.5 points and 8.3 rebounds per game behind 54.5 percent shooting from the field in limited action as a sophomore.
McGary is 6’10” with a high motor, so those rebounding numbers should translate well to the next level. There is no better area in college basketball to prepare for the grueling battles down low in the NBA than the paint in the Big Ten.
Many of his scoring opportunities were created by Michigan’s excellent ball-handlers over the past two seasons, though (Trey Burke, Tim Hardaway Jr. and Nik Stauskas come to mind), so it remains to be seen whether he can create his own shot at the NBA level. Fortunately, he'll be playing with talented players that will ease his transition.
On the back of his rebounding ability alone, expect McGary to crack the Thunder’s rotation as a rookie. If he can prove himself as an offensive weapon, his minutes will gradually increase as the season progresses.