NBA Draft Notebook: Why Mitch McGary Could Be a Steal in 2014 Class

Jonathan Wasserman@@NBADraftWassNBA Lead WriterMay 1, 2014

Nov 29, 2013; Ann Arbor, MI, USA; Michigan Wolverines forward Mitch McGary (4) is defended by Coppin State Eagles forward Zach Burnham in the second half at Crisler Arena. Michigan won 87-45. Mandatory Credit: Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports

Instead of entering the 2013 NBA draft as the trendy riser, Michigan's Mitch McGary will enter a tougher 2014 draft without that same luster or allure.  

And it's probably going to benefit one lucky team.

He's gone from a potential lottery pick to a fringe first-rounder, having played just eight games since his stock had peaked following the 2013 NCAA tournament. 

For the most part, when McGary was healthy this year, he looked like the same player as his freshman campaign. Still, his stock has fallen.

There are a number of reasons behind that, with a stronger field to compete with being the most significant. Last year, we were almost looking for someone to emerge from the shadows, given how weak the field looked—and McGary's timely breakout put him in position to capitalize in the draft. Only he didn't, by choosing to return to school. 

DURHAM, NC - DECEMBER 03:  Mitch McGary #4 of the Michigan Wolverines pulls down a rebound against the Duke Blue Devils at Cameron Indoor Stadium on December 3, 2013 in Durham, North Carolina. Duke won 79-69.  (Photo by Grant Halverson/Getty Images)
Grant Halverson/Getty Images

This year, you can pretty much put the yellow caution tape around the lottery and call it off limits. Relative to the field, McGary can't compete with the upside shared by the majority of the projected first-rounders. 

And under the new circumstances, it would be hard to imagine a team reaching on McGary, who missed the last 27 games of this season to surgically fix a nagging pain in his back. Not only should the back injury be on the minds of executives, but at this point, McGary just hasn't given them much of a sample size to evaluate from. 

To top it off, McGary tested positive for marijuana toward the end of the season, and though I doubt it's going to weigh into a general manager's final decision, it's not exactly the best look just a few months prior to the draft. 

However, while these are all reasons for his stock to fall—reasons that could potentially push McGary into this year's second round—none of them have anything to do with his basketball ability. 

ATLANTA, GA - APRIL 06:  Mitch McGary #4 of the Michigan Wolverines reacts in the first half against the Syracuse Orange during the 2013 NCAA Men's Final Four Semifinal at the Georgia Dome on April 6, 2013 in Atlanta, Georgia.  (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Gett
Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

Of course, that ability is pending the results of a predraft physical, but until we hear of any setbacks, let's assume the back surgery was successful and he'll be ready to roll next year. 

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. At 6'10", 255 pounds, McGary is an end-to-end big man with quick feet, soft hands and a nose for the ball on the glass. He probably won't be receiving any All-Star invitations over his career, but I'd be willing to bet it's a career that extends well into his 30s.

This reputation held value in last year's draft, when teams were just worried about finding a contributor, as opposed to searching for upside that didn't exist. 

Unfortunately for McGary, that reputation won't carry him up the 2014 board.

Picture this year's first round as a 30-car parking lot with two-thirds of it already reserved. McGary is going to be fighting for one of the last spots in the lot, where he'll have plenty of competition. There are just too many names with higher ceilings and more production to show for it. 

And whether McGary goes late first round or early second, based on the player he projects as and the certainty tied to his strengths, he's going to end up being a steal that deep in the draft.

Charlie Neibergall/Associated Press

We toss the term "steal" around pretty loosely in the draft conversation. A steal is all about getting much better value than your draft position suggests you should get. And as a pick in that 25-40 range, McGary potentially offers tremendous value as a guy who can fill a specific need. 

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.

In eight games as a sophomore, he averaged 8.3 boards in just 24.8 minutes, or 13.3 per 40.

He's also a heads-up player with a great feel for the game as a passer and finisher. It was just a small sample size, but McGary's 12.6 assist percentage was higher than any of the top-five ranked power forwards in Bleacher Report's NBA draft list. McGary drops dimes from that high post, where he shows excellent vision.

As for that feel for the game, McGary isn't quite skilled enough to feed as a post scorer, but he's got great instincts finishing plays off the ball, whether it's via a pick-and-roll, drive-and-dump or offensive putback. 

Defensively, though he lacks explosiveness and length, he's been a pretty disruptive playmaker. McGary averaged 1.1 steals in less than 20 minutes a game as a freshman, and he was averaging 1.9 in less than 25 minutes as a sophomore (or three per 40). He'll even get you the occasional block—he had 30 of them in limited action over his 47-game career at Michigan.

Throw in a nonstop motor and the ability to beat defenses down the floor, and McGary projects as your textbook energy big man who can make things happen with hustle, persistence, brains and activity. 

If McGary ever does polish up and eventually add to his offensive game, we're probably looking at a ceiling that approaches David Lee's. Worst comes to worst, you're looking at a scrappy, do-it-all man in the middle like today's Anderson Varejao or yesterday's Brian "The Janitor" Cardinal. 

Either way, McGary's services could be used in a number of different lineups, and it's highly probable he'll be available fairly late in this draft. 

McGary might not offer that can't-miss upside, but he can help fill a specific need in the right team's frontcourt. And if you can find help 25-40 picks deep, where you're paying less than $1 million a year in salary—now that's value. 

2014 NBA Draft Big Board
1Joel EmbiidKansasCFreshman
2Andrew WigginsKansasSFFreshman
3Jabari ParkerDukeSF/PFFreshman
4Dante ExumAustraliaPG/SG1995
5Noah VonlehIndianaPFFreshman
6Julius RandleKentuckyPFFreshman
7Marcus SmartOklahoma StatePG/SGSophomore
8Aaron GordonArizonaSF/PFFreshman
9Dario SaricCroatiaSF/PF1994
10Gary HarrisMichigan StateSGSophomore
11Tyler EnnisSyracusePGFreshman
12Nik StauskasMichiganSGSophomore
13Doug McDermottCreightonSF/PFSenior
14James YoungKentuckySG/SFFreshman
15Elfrid PaytonLouisiana-LafayettePGJunior
16Cleanthony EarlyWichita StateSFSenior
17Zach LaVineUCLAPG/SGFreshman
18Jusuf NurkicBosniaC1994
19Rodney HoodDukeSFSophomore
20P.J. HairstonTexas LegendsSG
21Adreian PayneMichigan StatePFSenior
22Clint CapelaSwitzerlandPF/C1994
23Kyle AndersonUCLAPG/SFSophomore
24Shabazz NapierConnecticutPGSenior
25K.J. McDanielsClemsonSFJunior
26T.J. WarrenNorth Carolina StateSFSophomore
27Mitch McGaryMichiganPF/CSophomore
28C.J. WilcoxWashingtonSGSenior
29Vasilije MicicSerbiaPG1994
30Jordan AdamsUCLASGSophomore
Bleacher Report

Update Abroad 

Dario Saric, Croatia, 6'10", SF/PF 1994

Dario Saric continued to make his case for lottery consideration with a spectacular showing in the Adriatic League final, where he earned MVP honors after taking over the game. 

Saric finished with 23 points, 11 boards, seven assists and five blocks, after going for 21 points, 15 boards and six assists three days earlier. 

Just saying he's versatile offensively doesn't do him justice—at 6'10", Saric was running the point, facilitating from the post, creating with the ball, scoring from the wing and dominating the boards. He's got a natural feel for the game, and he plays with high intensity. 

"All guys that are in this draft, Parker, Wiggins, etc., would not be able to do with this team, what I did this season," Saric told DraftExpress' Jonathan Givony. 

Saric has entered the draft and has until June 16 to withdraw his name. His stock might come down to his willingness to come over right away, something he hasn't committed to.  

"In 3 to 4 weeks, approximately, I will know where I will play," Saric told Givony. 

Kristaps Porzingis, Latvia, 7'0", C, 1995

A highly rated 1995-born prospect from Latvia, Kristaps Porzingis made a surprise move by putting his name in the draft after playing just 14 minutes a game for Cajasol Sevilla in the Spanish ACB. 

Porzingis is a skilled 7-footer who moves well and can play out on the perimeter, having hit a respectable 13-of-39 three-point attempts this season.

Defensively, he covers a ton of ground with his foot speed and size, showing potential as a rim protector and pick-and-roll defender.

He has to get stronger to consistently score and bang down low, but there could be first-round upside here for a patient team. 

Fourth-Quarter Thoughts

  • After originally hinting he'd be returning to UCLA for his junior year, Jordan Adams changed his mind last second and decided to enter the 2014 draft. As good of a player as Adams is, this was the wrong move from a stock perspective. Next year, with Zach LaVine and Kyle Anderson out of the picture, Adams would have had the chance to put up monstrous numbers. And he'd be able to do it in a draft that looks much weaker on the surface. Adams will be fighting for a first-round bid this year. If he returned, he'd be fighting for the lottery.
  • Croatia's Mario Hezonja, an eye-opening talent, has decided not to enter this year's draft. This is good news for next year's lottery participants, as the 2015 class might have needed a little boost. Look for Hezonja to be in that top-10 conversation next year. 
  • With the early-entry withdrawal deadline now in the past, the 2014 field is pretty much set, except for the international guys, who still have about six weeks to pull out. And overall, this looks like a really strong class. There's upside at the top and depth leading into Round 2. There really could be some high-profile names available in the second round, like potentially Michigan's Glenn Robinson III, UCLA's Jordan Adams, Washington C.J. Wilcox and McGary
  • From here on out, we've got the NBA combine May 14-18 and the lottery May 20. Individual and group workouts will be starting up soon as well. It's officially draft season. Expect to hear plenty of rumors and gossip moving forward—just pick and choose what to believe. Teams purposely leak information to blow smoke. 


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