NBA Draft Analysis: Mitch McGary

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By Daniel Feldman, Daily Sports Writer
Published June 25, 2014

You know the story by now. Michigan wasn’t supposed to have as much success as it had last season without sophomore forward Mitch McGary. It wasn’t supposed to win the Big Ten regular-season title, it wasn’t supposed to make the Elite Eight and it wasn’t supposed to have an even more productive offensive team than its 2012-13 runner-up squad.

What seemed possible, though, was McGary returning for his junior year and raising his draft stock that seemed to fall last season. But then McGary failed a drug test in March and would have faced a year-long NCAA suspension if he returned. So, he ultimately decided to enter the 2014 NBA Draft weeks after sophomores Glenn Robinson III and Nik Stauskas declared.

With everything that unfolded, McGary can’t be faulted for leaving Michigan early. But you can speculate as to whether his short college career — 47 games, 12 starts — and his talent and athleticism will translate to a lengthy NBA career, or even a first-round selection.

With Thursday’s draft fast approaching on Thursday, the Daily broke down the speculation regarding McGary’s potential landing spot before doing some speculation of its own.

WHAT WE KNOW: McGary may not have played in as many games as he would have liked to in his Michigan career, but he made his minutes count.

After starting just two games in the regular season his freshman year, McGary exploded on the national scene in the 2013 NCAA Tournament, averaging a double-double with 14.3 points and 10.8 rebounds. His play earned him a spot on the All-South Regional team and All-Tournament team.

Though it was possible McGary could have been a lottery pick last year thanks to his play in March, the Chesterton, Indiana native began his second season at Michigan by winning a bevy of preseason awards and honors: AP All-American, Sporting News All-American first team, All Big-Ten and named as a candidate for Naismith and Wooden Award.

But then the back injury sidelined him for Michigan’s first two regular-season games before he came back for the Wolverines’ next eight. Those eight games were all McGary would play for Michigan before undergoing season-ending surgery.

Now, the bulk of McGary’s draft stock is built on his athleticism, strength and potential. Clearly, McGary has the résumé of a player who could be a lottery selection. But his lingering back problems might scare away teams from taking a chance on a player who could either play like he did last March, or sit on a bench for a long stretch like he did this past season.

WHAT’S POSSIBLE: In recent days, a lot of news has circulated around McGary. From older mock drafts, McGary was projected to the Miami Heat at 26, the Los Angeles Clippers at No. 28 or the San Antonio Spurs at No. 30.

Meanwhile, the big man has only participated in one known workout — last Friday with the Milwaukee Bucks, who hold the first pick of the second round.

Some media members have speculated that the reasoning behind McGary not participating in workouts could be health-related, as evidenced by his refusal to take a pre-draft physical to run tests on his lower back. Others see the move to indicate McGary has a guarantee from a late first-round team to take him.

The most recent rumor from ESPN analyst Chad Ford predicts that McGary will land at No. 24 to the Charlotte Hornets. Sporting News NBA writer Sean Deveney reported Wednesday that according to a source, McGary “has been all but assured” that he will be picked in the first round.

Though the 24th pick would be lower than where McGary could have been selected last year, it’s still high for a player who last played in a game in late December.

POTENTIAL LANDING SPOTS The most likely landing spots for McGary are the Hornets, Heat, Clippers, Spurs and Bucks. Additionally, the Phoenix Suns have been mentioned as a potential destination because of their three first-round picks, including two late ones, No. 18 and No. 27.

Miami Heat: With LeBron James opting out of his deal and Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh possibly following suit, the Heat could have a very bare roster heading into the offseason. With upwards of $50 million in cap space available and plenty of roster spots open on a veteran-heavy team, the draft represents a market for the Heat to improve in a number of areas.

One place the Heat could look is the backcourt. With inconsistent play from Mario Chalmers, who will be a free agent this summer, and Norris Cole, Miami could go for a proven college player like Connecticut’s Shabazz Napier.

At the same time, the Heat’s frontcourt is thin. Miami has Udonis Haslem, but he’s not getting any younger, nor are his minutes increasing.

With speculation of Bosh, Wade and James returning to Miami, McGary could fill the rebounding void of the Heat. He wouldn’t have to start, but McGary would supply much-needed youth and energy off the bench.

Los Angeles Clippers: For the Clippers, it’s very simple. They have the shooting — Jamal Crawford, J.J. Redick, Jared Dudley. What they lack off the bench, though, is rebounding, or in simpler terms, a true power forward or center.

Yes, the Clippers have Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan as starters, but behind them, they don’t have much. Glen Davis? Matt Barnes? Hedo Türkoğlu? Ryan Hollins?

The Clippers can space the floor. They can rely on shooters off the bench for instance offense. But they can’t seem to find that third big man to spell Jordan and Griffin. Could McGary be that guy? He would be in a perfect situation in Los Angeles.

San Antonio Spurs: Well, they’re the defending NBA champions, Tim Duncan just announced he’ll be returning for his 19th season and Gregg Popovich will be back as well.

For a team that plays in a system that focuses on patience, selflessness and passing the ball to find the best shot, McGary would fit right in.

Unlike a place like Los Angeles or Miami, McGary could grow into his role, learning from one of the best in Duncan. Given the Spurs’ depth, McGary would be able to learn the system at a slower pace, while still getting some minutes in blowouts or when Popovich decides to rest his starters.

Though it appears McGary may be gone before the Spurs’ selection, McGary’s best shot at adjusting to the league could be in San Antonio.

Charlotte Hornets: The Hornets’ interest in Stauskas has been known for a while. But their interest in McGary has only recently been reported.

Ford wrote that the Hornets fell victim to McGary’s hesitance to work out for teams, but interest still remains.

The main reason behind the Hornets’ interest is their lack of height. Despite being their starting center, Al Jefferson stands just 6-foot-10, a bit undersized for a center. Though they hope to resign forward Josh McRoberts to help Jefferson in the paint, it’s still unclear what to expect from Charlotte’s 2013 first-round pick, Cody Zeller.

With that in mind, there’s no harm in selecting McGary. Plus, it would make the transition to the NBA a lot easier for both Stauskas and McGary if they can pair up in Charlotte.

PREDICTION: As tantalizing as it is to have Stauskas and McGary stay together in Charlotte, I don’t see it happening. The Hornets can afford to wait to draft another big man until the second round and draft the best available player with their second first-round selection.

That’s why I see the next interested team, the Heat, taking McGary. In that way, McGary will still be reunited with a former Wolverine — in the form of Heat assistant coach Juwan Howard instead.