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Oklahoma City Thunder: Thunder places its trust in No. 1 pick Mitch McGary

In the spring, while his Michigan teammates were competing in the NCAA Tournament, an injured McGary tested positive for marijuana. Both issues, as far as we know, are foreign to the Thunder.
by Darnell Mayberry Published: June 27, 2014


photo - Sam Presti introduces Thunder draft pick Mitch McGary at the Oklahoma History Center in Oklahoma CIty,  Friday, June 27, 2014. Photo by Sarah Phipps, The Oklahoman
Sam Presti introduces Thunder draft pick Mitch McGary at the Oklahoma History Center in Oklahoma CIty, Friday, June 27, 2014. Photo by Sarah Phipps, The Oklahoman

Mitch McGary isn’t the prototypical Sam Presti draft pick.

He missed most of his sophomore season with a bum back, and he’s got baggage.

In the spring, while his Michigan teammates were competing in the NCAA Tournament, an injured McGary tested positive for marijuana.

Both issues, as far as we know, are foreign to the Thunder.

Throughout the league, they’re red flags.

But in selecting McGary 21st overall in Thursday night’s NBA Draft, Presti placed his trust in the burly 6-foot-10 power forward.

From here, it’s up to McGary to make it pay off.

“It means everything,” McGary said at an introductory news conference welcoming him and No. 29 overall pick Josh Huestis to town Friday afternoon. “For a team to take a chance on me after all the adversities I went through and the way I ended my collegiate career, it really shows a lot about them and shows that they saw past the adversities and know that I can overcome them.”

McGary already sounds like a young man who’s left his problems in the past.

Grinning uncontrollably and laughing giddily as he stared out at his family while seated next to Presti, Huestis and Thunder assistant general manager Troy Weaver, McGary came across not as an injury-ridden player with a sketchy past but a contrite, determined and eager rookie who just can’t wait to get started.

He missed all but eight games this year due to a nagging back ailment that ultimately required surgery. His last game for the Wolverines was Dec. 14. He underwent back surgery on Jan. 7.

With limited data to analyze McGary as a prospect, and even fewer details available regarding the status of his back, McGary’s draft stock sunk. He went from a potential top 10 pick after a promising freshman season to a projected second-round selection this year.

Presti ignored projections and stuck to his and his staff’s scouting.

The reason?

Value.

Rather than viewing McGary as a risk, Presti saw him as a potential gem, one that the Thunder wouldn’t have had a chance at selecting had McGary declared for the draft following his freshman year or simply enjoyed an injury-free season this year. Landing a lottery-type talent with the 21st overall pick, Presti figured, was a rare opportunity that the Thunder just couldn’t pass up.

It’s one of the reasons why the Thunder didn’t risk trading back to take McGary with its second first-round selection, the 29th pick. Other teams could have shared the same thinking.

“We try to get the players where we have them on the board. And we felt like the opportunity to add him to the team is valuable,” Presti explained. “I can’t project what happens behind us, but when you have a player that you think fits not only your playing identity but also kind of fits into your roster-building construction as you look forward, I think he was not only a playing addition but also a strategic roster-building addition as well.”

In other words, McGary can eventually replace Nick Collison, who will turn 34 days before the start of next season and is entering the final year of his contract. While Collison continues an unavoidable downward trend, McGary is now in place — grooming while on a vitally inexpensive rookie deal — for at least the next four seasons.

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by Darnell Mayberry
OKC Thunder Senior Reporter
Darnell Mayberry grew up in Langston, Okla. and is now in his third stint in the Sooner state. After a year and a half at Bishop McGuinness High, he finished his prep years in Falls Church, Va., before graduating from Norfolk State University in...
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