ORLANDO, Fla. - Here’s how long it took Mitch McGary to announce his presence in his summer league debut.
On his first possession in the Thunder’s 84-63 loss to Memphis on the opening day of the Orlando Pro Summer League, the 21st overall pick out of Michigan inbounded the ball from the sideline, just past halfcourt, by tossing a pinpoint lob pass to Jeremy Lamb, who finished the play with a two-handed dunk.
Just like that, McGary put the passing skills he’s been so effusively praised for on display.
The rest of his night was filled with a beautiful blend of basketball basics that McGary makes look easy, a mixture of skills that someday could make the big man a steal.
Two minutes after throwing that pinpoint pass, McGary pulled down an offensive rebound in between two Grizzlies. When he couldn’t squeeze it in, he dove on the floor to save it as the ball squirted toward the baseline out of bounds line.
Say hello to his rebounding and hustle.
Still concerned about his surgically-repaired back?
McGary might have put those worries to rest midway through the second quarter, when he skied for another offensive rebound — notice a theme developing here — and was inadvertently undercut by a Grizzles defender. For a brief moment, McGary was horizontal, his back resting on the shoulders of said defender. McGary then hit the floor, but was able to brace himself before impact.
He sent a scare through the Thunder, as general manager Sam Presti and assistant general manager Troy Weaver, sitting side-by-side at the scorer’s table, ignored play as it went the other way and locked in on McGary as he rose to his feet. McGary stood, stretched and quickly shook it off before slowly retreating to the other end.
The old college injury, McGary said, never crossed his mind.
“My back feels great,” McGary insisted. “I only have one gear, and it’s all or nothing. So I’m just going to keep going. I didn’t feel anything in there that was holding me back or anything like that. I was just trying to help the team win.”
McGary hadn’t played in a real game since Dec. 14. He underwent back surgery on Jan. 7.
Under the circumstances, his summer league debut couldn’t have gone better. But maybe the layoff also explains McGary’s boundless energy.
Or maybe that’s just what we can expect of McGary every night.
“Hopefully every night,” McGary said, smiling. “I like to play with a lot of energy. I’m a hustle type of player. I like to pick the guys up, talk on defense and provide that extra bit of energy to get us going on offense.”
McGary scored eight points with three rebounds in 21 minutes, adding a steal and a blocked shot. Thunder summer league coach Darko Rajakovic said McGary isn’t under any restrictions but, like most every other Thunder player here this week, isn’t likely to play in every game simply to rest.
Another day of being forced to watch from the bench is the last thing on McGary’s mind.
“It feels really good,” McGary said of his long-awaited return. “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.”
The Thunder is not asking much from McGary. The goal for him is to run the floor hard, play solid pick-and-roll defense and learn the team’s terminology.
Teammates have no doubt McGary will be able to do those things.
“He’s very confident in himself,” said Thunder forward Perry Jones. “That’s something you need to be successful in this league. You need confidence. And that’s something I’ve seen since he’s been here. He’s been very confident. Hopefully we can push that a little more, make him even more comfortable.”
McGary moved his feet well on defense in the pick and roll, hedging out to wall off the ball-handler before scurrying back to his man underneath the basket. His lone blocked shot came with him as the weak side defender, the last line of defense that prevented what otherwise would have been an uncontested dunk.
Offensively, McGary looked extremely comfortable in the post. Throwing his weight around against fellow rookie Jarnell Stokes, a short but also stocky bruiser who, at 250 pounds, bullied opponents while at Tennessee, McGary had no trouble carving out space on the low block. On two possessions, McGary caught an entry pass and showed a quick and nifty spin off his man, dribbling once before finishing with a layup or dunk.
Aside from his non-stop energy, McGary’s power and physicality are what impressed the most.
“He’s just like another Steven (Adams),” Jones said.
Big. Strong. Physical. Skilled.
“He’ll do anything for the team,” Lamb said.