Drafted by: Oklahoma City Thunder, No. 21 overall
After a strong finish to his freshman year at Michigan, Mitch McGary's sophomore year was marred by injury, and then his collegiate future was interrupted by an impending suspension. Despite the turbulence to end his career in Ann Arbor, he remains one of the most promising big-man draftees in the 2014 crop.
His past two years have been a roller coaster. It started with his strong play in 2012-13, which was capped by several impressive performances in the NCAA tournament.
Early in his sophomore year, however, his back gave him a lot of trouble, and his season was all but nixed by back surgery in January. He declared for the 2014 draft in April, as he tested positive for marijuana and would have had to sit out the entire 2014-15 season, per Jeff Goodman of ESPN.com.
His back issues are a concern, but if he stays healthy, he'll be a valuable frontcourt asset.
McGary's length isn't remarkable for the center position, as he stands 6'10" in shoes and sports a 7'0" wingspan. However, his 260-pound physique should fare well during the heat of battle.
While his leaping ability is modest, his lateral mobility and end-to-end agility are more than adequate to play the 5. He can run the floor extremely well and can adjust his dashes quickly according to the play.
The good news is he'll move smoothly in pick-and-roll scenarios, slide well on defense and run baseline to baseline with ease. The bad news is he won't challenge high-fliers at the rim or do much acrobatic scoring of his own.
The worse news is that his back is a risky variable. It could make or break his career.
Craftiness/Feel for the Game
Even during his freshman year, McGary displayed superb instincts and decision-making within Michigan's system.
He has a great feel for where his teammates are and where he should be in relation to the opposing defense. Good timing and footwork on pick-and-rolls and dives to the rim allow him to sneak into the paint for high-percentage opportunities.
He also has promising high-post potential. He can catch at the elbow or free-throw line, shoot, dish to a cutter or drive to the bucket. He had 2.4 assists per 40 minutes during his sophomore year, per Sports-Reference.com, and shot 59 percent from the field over his two seasons with the Wolverines.
The high IQ also helps him defensively, as he anticipates rotations, pokes the rock loose with quick hands and occasionally jumps passing lanes.
Strength and Hustle in the Paint
We mentioned McGary's sturdy frame earlier, and it will help him fight for position on every possession.
Coupled with an energetic playing style, he will box out opponents with his size, post them up and play respectable interior defense. Bleacher Report NBA Lead Writer Jonathan Wasserman focused on McGary's rebounding prowess:
He's a natural rebounder, a skill that typically translates for those physically fit to man the interior. McGary only logged 30 minutes in a game once during the regular season of his freshman year, but in the NCAA tournament, he got 30-plus minutes against VCU, Syracuse and Kansas, and he averaged 13.3 rebounds.
We don't know how much he will improve from a skills standpoint, but one thing is certain: When he's in the game, adversaries will feel his presence early and often.
Foot Speed and Agility
McGary's transition mobility and foot speed in the half-court setting shouldn't be underestimated. Just because he's an underwhelming leaper doesn't mean he won't athletically challenge opponents.
Traditional centers will have some trouble keeping up with him for extended sequences, as he fills the lane expertly during fast breaks and secondary breaks.
In five-on-five situations, he's not as elusive, but he has solid foot speed to attack as a cutter or cover ground as a help defender. His speed won't dominate games, but it will give him an edge in certain matchups.
The most disconcerting thing about McGary (by far) is his recent back trouble. His surgery was in early January, and while he resumed some activities in March, he sat out the NBA Draft Combine.
We can't be entirely sure whether this is a completely resolved issue or something that could come back to haunt him in the future.
Aside from that, the only other concerns are relatively benign. As previously noted, he's not a show-stopping athlete, and he may struggle to keep up with the top-tier athletes in the Association.
In addition, his short collegiate career didn't feature much back-to-the-basket offense. He may not be able to create scoring chances for himself deep on the block, and at 22 years old, it's unlikely he'll drastically improve in this department.
Provided his back is up to the task come October, McGary should be a contributor from day one. He has enough size and feel for the game to crack the rotation.
Wasserman explained that his role is well-defined: "McGary has a very specific skill set and identity. And though there isn't much upside attached to it, his strengths are highly likely to translate in a specialist role."
Although his tools and skills may not translate to stardom, he could be one of the best role players in the league.
His NBA comparison is a poor man's David Lee, after all. Even a less-productive version of Lee is still the type of player any coach would want on his team—especially if his defense is a tick better than Lee's.
Like any player with an injury history, McGary's pro outlook hinges on his durability. If he can stay on the court, he'll enjoy a prominent place in the league as one of the best frontcourt players on his club. Most importantly, he's a playoff-caliber rotational big man.