Can Mitch McGary and Josh Huestis Play Big Roles for OKC Thunder This Season?

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Can Mitch McGary and Josh Huestis Play Big Roles for OKC Thunder This Season?
Sue Ogrocki/Associated Press

Five guys who are 6'9" or taller make up a lot of man, and the Oklahoma City Thunder have to deal with that whole crowd in their frontcourt.

OKC has a smorgasbord of big men, yet is thin on the wing, after drafting Michigan's Mitch McGary and Stanford's Josh Huestis with the 21st and 29th overall picks, respectively, in June.

Kendrick Perkins, Steven Adams, Nick Collison and Serge Ibaka will all welcome in McGary, who may struggle to jump any of those bigs in the rotation as a rookie. Huestis, though, could force his way onto the court if only because of the void the Thunder have on the perimeter. Derek Fisher has signed up to become coach of the New York Knicks, Thabo Sefolosha has left for the Atlanta Hawks, and Caron Butler is still lingering in free agency. 

McGary's best chance to see the floor on any sort of consistent basis will be if the Thunder's big-man rotation thins, either because of injury or because of the organization's own doing.

Perkins' contract has finally exited the albatross landscape and entered expiring status. His $9.4 million is movable to a team that wants to create some cap space for the summer of 2015. If the Thunder want to make a deal, they might have to spread a future pick on it, but they can.

Nati Harnik/Associated Press

Similarly, it wouldn't be shocking to hear that Oklahoma City general manager Sam Presti was shopping Collison, who has one year and $2.2 million remaining on his deal. After falling out of Brooks' rotation during the postseason, it would make sense for the Thunder to capitalize on the value the 33-year-old could bring another team.

OKC has a fair amount of bigs. The problem is they all bring about the same attributes: defense, some rebounding and no offensive help.

Adams is becoming a defensive specialist and rebounder, and while he's still just 20 years old, his game is yet to develop outside the paint on the offensive end. Perkins' 10 thumbs make him entertaining but ineffective with the ball, and Collison, though he's accurate from mid-range, doesn't like to shoot.

Really, the only big man who can act as a threat offensively is Ibaka, and though he is one of the absolute best pick-and-pop bigs in the league, he doesn't create for himself. And like with Ibaka, McGary's skill comes as a pick-and-roll screener.

The former Wolverine played in only eight games as a sophomore before back surgery ended his season, so we didn't get to see exactly how much he improved in his second year at Michigan (or if he even improved at all). As a freshman, though, he got most of his points in two ways: putbacks and pick-and-rolls.

Layne Murdoch Jr./Getty Images

McGary averaged 1.10 points per pick-and-roll play when acting as the screener during his first collegiate season, according to Synergy Sports (subscription required). That put him in the top 30 percent of the nation's bigs. Of course, those numbers could've been inflated playing with Trey Burke, the country's best point guard and Wooden Award winner.

The good news is that there were some positive signs in the short time we saw McGary last year. Unlike most young players, he does finish his screens, and he is powerful when he gets a head of steam toward the hoop. Still, it's hard to say McGary is a fully known product, especially because we don't know how he will recover from his surgery. Back injuries aren't necessarily good ones.

Huestis, meanwhile, doesn't have the sort of scoring numbers McGary did. But he can fill a different role.

With Thabo Sefolosha off to Atlanta, Oklahoma City could use a wing defender, and at just 6'7", Huestis will have to become a more perimeter-oriented player in the pros. If he can fill that role effectively, maybe he ends up seeing the floor more than McGary if only because of need.

If Jackson and Adams enter the starting lineup next season (which should be expected), there isn't going to be much rebounding in the second unit. That's where Huestis can help.

Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

Collison had a slightly below-average-for-a-power-forward 12.2 percent rebound rate last season. Perkins is hardly acrobatic on the glass. Huestis, though, pulled down 14.4 percent of available rebounds in his four-year career at Stanford, elite for a 3. 

Even at 6'7", Huestis' 7'1" wingspan gives him the length to defend on the wings. Though Stanford does play some zone at times, it plays a man-to-man defense for the majority of its sets. And Huestis understands those principles. 

He's too small to play down low like he did in college, but Huestis' understanding of how to defend on the ball makes his transition to the wing more encouraging. Opposing offensive players who isolated against Huestis during his four years as a Cardinal shot under 30 percent from the field, per Synergy.

Sue Ogrocki/Associated Press

The offense isn't really there yet. Maybe it won't develop, considering he's already 22 years old. 

Huestis never sunk more than 34 percent of his threes in a single season at Stanford. He made a mere 33.0 percent of his catch-and-shoot attempts last year, per Synergy. To be an effective three-and-D player in the NBA, you can't really ignore the "three" part. But again, his chance at playing is more about a need on the perimeter than anything else.

If Huestis could give OKC 10 to 15 minutes of solid defense, we could see him earn more minutes than McGary purely on that skill alone, depending on how the rest of the Thunder's offseason plays out.

Coach Scott Brooks has never exactly been one to give the benefit of the doubt to the younger guys. 

Reggie Jackson didn't break the rotation consistently until his third year. Jeremy Lamb's leash is shorter than his jumpers that bounce off the front rim. Adams had to outplay Perkins all year before Brooks finally gave him enough burn in the playoffs.  

So, can McGary and Huestis earn some time next year? It seems Huestis' chances would outweigh McGary's, but realistically, with a coach who doesn't like to play rookies, it would be safe to expect both of those projects will be sitting on the bench for much of the season.

 

Fred Katz averaged almost one point per game in fifth grade, but he maintains that his per-36-minute numbers were astonishing. Find more of his work at RotoWire.com, WashingtonPost.com or on ESPN's TrueHoop Network at ClipperBlog.com. Follow him on Twitter at @FredKatz.

*Unless otherwise noted all statistics are current as of July 9 and courtesy of Basketball-Reference.com and NBA.com.  

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