Why Mitch McGary Can Be the Oklahoma City Thunder's Next Breakout Player

Dave Leonardis@@FrontPageDaveContributor IIIMay 31, 2015

DALLAS, TX - MARCH 16:  Mitch McGary #33 of the Oklahoma City Thunder at American Airlines Center on March 16, 2015 in Dallas, Texas.  NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)
Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

Mitch McGary didn't play much as a rookie, but there were enough promising signs to believe he could be a breakout player for the Oklahoma City Thunder next season. With his special blend of size, speed, power, energy and an emerging mid-range game, McGary could be a real asset on the team's second unit. 

Injuries hindered what could have been a promising 2014-15 campaign for the former No. 21 overall pick. After playing in just eight contests as a sophomore at Michigan, a one-two punch of a fractured foot and tibia inflammation caused the forward to miss 50 games in his rookie season. Despite struggling to stay healthy, he still managed to contribute 6.3 points and 5.2 rebounds in 15.2 minutes per game. 

"Overall, I thought it was a great first year. Obviously, a little disappointed it's over a little sooner than we expected, but I learned a lot," McGary said during his exit interview. "Thought I did a decent job of coming back in the season and trying to give us that spark that we needed."

McGary's second season is flush with opportunity to make another lasting impression. With Scott Brooks out and Billy Donovan in as head coach, McGary gets another clean slate to work with. Additionally, veteran forward Nick Collison will be 35 in October and underwent offseason arthroscopic knee surgery, leaving open the possibility of the 22-year-old McGary overtaking him in a deep frontcourt rotation that already includes Serge Ibaka, Enes Kanter and Steven Adams. 

With very few reliable scoring options on the second unit, the Thunder could use McGary as a frontcourt presence off the bench. However, for McGary to play a bigger part in 2015-16, he must first prove he can stay healthy and show some improvement at the defensive end. 

What McGary Brings to the Table

Matt York/Associated Press

The most noticeable attribute of McGary's game doesn't appear on a stat sheet, but it can be found on YouTube or Vine. 

No, it's not his outstanding bench celebrations. It's the energy he displays when he's on the floor. 

For a man who stands 6'10" and weighs 250 pounds, McGary has a knack for turning on the jets and racing down the court like his feet are on fire. In this clip below, you'll see McGary is in full sprint mode while the rest of the offense is leisurely bringing the ball up.

In his grading of McGary's season performance, Darnell Mayberry of the Oklahoman gave the big man an A+ for energy:

He dove on the floor and out of bounds for loose balls. He ran the floor like a deer. He kept plays alive by getting his fingertips on rebounds he had no business getting. All of it was contagious. On several occasions, McGary used his relentless energy to fire up his teammates and the Chesapeake Energy Arena crowd. There are a lot of energy guys in the NBA. But McGary looked to be a cut above the rest.

When McGary isn't busy hustling, he's showing off an impressive array of post moves such as this imitation "Dream Shake" he put on Chris Kaman en route to a 20-point, nine-rebound performance against the Portland Trail Blazers on Feb. 27. 

Judging by his shot chart (courtesy of Vorped.com), a majority of McGary's offensive contributions came around the rim.

Mitch McGary's 2014-15 shot chart
Mitch McGary's 2014-15 shot chartVorped.com

However, his mid-range jumper has the potential to be an asset, as well. According to Basketball-Reference.com, he shot 40 percent from within 10 to 16 feet, albeit on only 25 attempts. By continuing to utilize his lefty stroke, he can become a more well-rounded scorer, which will make him harder to defend. 

Another area where McGary excels is on the glass. His 5.2 boards per game weren't anything special, but when expanded per 36 minutes, that number jumps to 12.2 rebounds per contest.

McGary also posted solid advanced rebounding numbers despite his limited time on the floor. His defensive rebounding percentage of 24.4 percent led all Thunder players while his 18.2 percent on total rebounds was second only to Kanter's 19 percent, per Basketball-Reference. McGary also finished third in OKC on the offensive boards at 11.9 percent

Outside of Oklahoma City, McGary's rebounding percentages matched closely to some of the league's best rebounders. The chart below shows how McGary compared to Pau Gasol, Nikola Vucevic, Zach Randolph and Anthony Davis, who finished fourth, sixth, seventh and eighth, respectively, in rebounds per game during the regular season. 

McGary Vs. Top Rebounders
NameRPGOff. Reb. %Def. Reb. %Total Reb. %
McGary5.211.924.418.2
Gasol11.89.227.618.6
Vucevic10.910.426.018.1
Randolph10.511.225.818.5
Davis10.28.024.116.1
Basketball-Reference

That's not to say McGary is on pace to be the next Unibrow or Z-Bo, but he has a chance to be a poor man's version of David Lee. Like Lee, McGary is an offensive-minded forward who gets after it on the boards. McGary may never be a starter or two-time All-Star like Lee once was with the Golden State Warriors, but he has the skill set to be a similar kind of weapon off the bench.

Where McGary Must Improve

Sue Ogrocki/Associated Press

McGary still has plenty of work to do to become a complete player. His first order of business this offseason should be to get himself in the best shape possible. As exciting as his bursts of energy were this season, they only came in spurts because injuries limited his conditioning. 

Having played a combined 79 games since graduating high school, McGary still needs to adjust to the grind of an 82-game NBA season. Even if he manages his fatigue issues, he'll have to also prove he isn't as injury-prone as the past two seasons would suggest. 

Unfortunately, durability isn't the the young forward's only concern. When asked for the biggest area McGary needs to improve next season, three writers from the Oklahoman pointed out defense, with Anthony Slater adding this:

Everyone talks about Enes Kanter’s deficiencies on that end. And those are clear. But McGary has similar issues. He needs to learn the team coverages, get a better feel for the pro game and work through some clear physical limitations. He’s a power forward-center combo who will never be a rim protector. Which means he needs to be a Nick Collison type on that end. To get there, he has a long way to go.

According to NBA.com, the Thunder posted a defensive rating of 102.8 with McGary on the floor. The good news is McGary's offensive contributions culminate in a net rating of plus-four. The bad news can be found in Mitchy Hustle's defensive shooting percentages.

McGary's Defensive Percentages
AreaMcGaryNormalDifferential
Overall50.246.3+3.9
Two-Pointers53.149.6+3.5
Less Than 6 Ft.63.659.8+3.8
Less Than 10 Ft.63.955.2+8.7
NBA.com

To his credit, McGary acknowledged the need to be a better defender during his exit interview"I made some strides, definitely, especially in my post defense. But not anywhere near where the coaches or the team needs me to be. I just think I need to get in better shape and it will all take care of itself."

The Thunder don't need McGary to be the second coming of Draymond Green, and they could hide some of his flaws by pairing him with a stopper like Ibaka or Adams. It's a strategy the team has employed before with another defensive liability in Kanter. However, for McGary to earn an increased role going forward, he can't give back everything he puts up on the offensive end. 

A potential frontcourt tandem of McGary and Adams could be solid on the second unit, but it will be even more formidable once the former proves he can hold his own against opposing scorers. 

INDIANAPOLIS, IN - APRIL 12: Mitch McGary #33 of the Oklahoma City Thunder warms up before the game against the Indiana Pacers during the game on April 12, 2015 at Bankers Life Fieldhouse in Indianapolis, Indiana. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges
Ron Hoskins/Getty Images

When given meaningful minutes as a rookie, Mitch McGary responded with impressive performances, including back-to-back double-doubles in his first two games back from injury. An inability to stay healthy kept outings like that from happening on a consistent basis. 

With an entire summer to get himself into better shape and an understanding of what he needs to do to improve, McGary has the chance to emerge as the Oklahoma City Thunder's latest NBA draft steal.  

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