By Randy Renner
The Thunder generally plays it pretty safe when it comes to bringing new players into the organization, whether in the draft or free agency.
GM Sam Presti tends not to roll the dice on health issues or character issues but he appeared to do both with his selection of Michigan forward/center Mitch McGary.
McGary played just eight games last season for the Wolverines before he had to have season ending back surgery and to top that off he tested positive for marijuana during the NCAA Tournament and faced a long college suspension had he not decided to turn pro.
But Presti clearly believes in McGary and has scouted him for the last three years or so. Presti stressed on draft night that he and his staff have fully vetted McGary's issues and believe he will be healthy and they are confident he has learned his lesson and responded appropriately to his lapse in judgment over the wild weed.
McGary is grateful for the confidence.
"For a team to take a chance on me after all the adversities I went through the way I ended my collegiate career, it really shows a lot about them," McGary said Friday during a welcoming news conference. "It shows that they saw past the adversities and know that I can overcome them."
Maybe McGary already has. He said on Friday, "My back’s doin great, just recovering, rehabbing every day just trying to get better each and every day. I feels great, Ive been back on the court and I would like to play in the summer league and I plan to."
The Thunder will make that decision and so far they haven't decided for sure. As for the positive marijuana test?
"Every day you learn something new and everything’s a teaching moment," McGary said. "Sometimes you make some bad decisions that you might regret but it’s how you respond to em and how you take responsibility."
And McGary has fully admitted his mistake and has taken full responsibility.
"Mitch is a guy we’ve followed for quite some time," Presti said. "He plays with tremendous energy and passion and has a great basketball IQ and he brings a toughness that we value."
"I like to bring a lot of toughness," McGary agreed, "and I know this team’s tough but everybody needs a little extra edge and I definitely like to bring energy both on and off the court. On the bench I'm up on my feet almost every possession so whatever it takes for the team to win I'm gonna try and bring to the table."
If McGary had come out of college the year before he might have been a lottery pick, likely even a top 10 pick so the Thunder believe they've gotten themselves a steal and filled a need.
McGary can play both power forward and center. This season both Thunder center Kendrick Perkins and power forward Nick Collison will be playing the last season of their current contracts and who knows whether either one will still be with the team when the 2015-16 season rolls around.
In college McGary focused his the offensive part of his game on pick-and-roll plays, grabbing offensive rebounds and getting out in transition. He was the second-best offensive rebounder in the DraftExpress.com Top 100 after his freshman year when he pulled down 5.1 offensive rebounds per 40 minutes. In the eight games he played in his sophomore season he was on a similar pace (4.9 per 40 minutes).
McGary was pretty solid finishing at the rim converting 62.3 percent of such opportunities his freshman year, and 61 percent as a sophomore, according to Synergy Sports Technologies.
He's not the most athletic guy but he uses bursts of speed and quickness to get down the floor surprisingly fast.
Fast-break opportunities made up 10.5 percent and 11.5 percent of his possessions as a freshman and sophomore according to Synergy and he was often the first big man down the court. Scouts say his effort level is terrific and that's something else that kept bringing Presti and the Thunder back to Michigan games to watch McGary.
"When I get in here Im gonna work hard and try to play my way into the rotation and do what I can to help the team win."
McGary won't back down from a challenge and he knows if he can impress this coming season then he will have a great shot at solidifying a spot in the rotation perhaps as Collison's successor.
And like Nick, Mitch McGary views himself as a blue collar, glue guy ready and willing to do the dirty work like setting solid screens and taking charges.
"Everybody likes playin' offense but to get on offense you gotta play defense and whether it’s taking charges or grabbing rebounds which is something I really like doin' just whatever it is to get the team the possession and then go on offense and try to score that’s something I like doing."
And something the Thunder likes enough to look past McGary's past and focus instead on the future.