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Mitch McGary Looks Like a Steal

Mitch McGary has had a rough go of it the last year, but has landed in a great situation and looks to be a potential steal for the Thunder.

John Zitzler

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It’s been a long wait for Mitch McGary to get back out on the basketball court, his last game prior to Summer League being on December 14, 2013 when Michigan played Arizona. McGary sat out the teams following game against Stanford and soon after announced his ailing back would require surgery. The ensuing surgery sidelined McGary for the remainder of his sophomore season. McGary played in only eight games in his second year for the maize and blue. There was little talk of McGary leaving Michigan for the NBA at this point, his stock down following his injury and subsequent lack of time on the court. Shortly after the NCAA tournament his situation changed considerably, McGary was informed that he had failed a drug test, testing positive for marijuana. Despite this being only his first failed test, the penalty it carries is harsh: a one year suspension. Rather than miss his entire junior season McGary made the leap to the NBA.

After his meteoric rise during the 2013 NCAA tournament McGary entertained the idea of going pro, of course before ultimately deciding to return to Michigan. In hindsight that’s a decision McGary may wish he had back. In the weak 2013 draft, McGary was a near lock to go in the lottery and with strong individual workouts and interviews, had the chance to crack the top ten. A much different narrative just a year later, the 2014 draft was loaded with talent and McGary now had questions surrounding his health and character. However, it didn’t take long into this year’s pre-draft process before McGary’s stock was back on the rise, viewed as late-first round to early-second round prospect, McGary was rumored to be highly coveted by both the Charlotte Hornets and Phoenix Suns, both teams possessing picks towards the bottom of round one, the Hornets at 24 and Suns at 27. Neither would get the chance to select McGary as Thunder pounced, grabbing him with the 21st pick.

Now nearly seven months after his last game at Michigan McGary is finally back on the court. In the Thunder’s first Summer League game he played just over 21 minutes, scoring eight points on 3-8 shooting and grabbed two rebounds. As you would expect McGary was happy was to back.

“It feels really good; it’s been a long time coming just to get back on the court. I was just doing everything I could to help the team win.” McGary said.

McGary was very active and didn’t show any signs of the back injury that caused him to miss much of his sophomore season. The Thunder surely did their due diligence in regards to McGary’s health prior to the draft, but seeing him be so aggressive in his first game back is certainly a welcome sight for the team.

“My back feels great,” McGary said. “I only have one gear, it’s all or nothing. I’m just going to keep going. I didn’t feel anything in there that was holding me back or anything like that. I wasn’t thinking about it, just trying to help the team win.”

McGary is has always been praised for motor and the energy he brings to a team and that has been on full display during Summer League. Despite coming off a significant lay-off McGary hasn’t seemed fatigued at all. He was his hard-playing physical self and appears to have worked diligently to maintain his conditioning. He still may have some work to do prior to the start of the season but for a guy who hasn’t been out on the court for quite some time he looks good.

The Thunder know at the bare minimum they’re getting a guy who will bang down low and wear out opposing bigs but McGary is more skilled than you might expect at first glance. He is good passer for a player of his size and more importantly a willing passer.

“I just always try to make a good assist or help the team any way I can. If I see an open guy I’m going to try to make the right pass.” McGary said.

The Thunder, without a doubt, have one of the strongest frontcourts in Orlando last week. Steven Adams proved to be a great pick in the 2013 draft and became valuable contributor for the team during the postseason. At 22 years old his future looks very bright. The team, this week, had the chance to see how McGary and Adams played together.

“Yea I like Steve,” McGary said. “He calls me his young fella, which I understand because I’m a rook. I’m over a year older than him or something; it’s all fun and games. I think we played good alongside each other, hopefully he can back out there this next week and we can get things going.”

After a tumultuous sophomore season things look like they are starting to fall into place for McGary. He has put on a strong showing during Summer League and will look to carry that momentum into the regular season.

This is John's second year with Basketball Insiders, after spending last season working as an intern. Based out of Milwaukee, he covers the NBA with a focus on the Milwaukee Bucks and the Central Division.

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