Early in the season, when we were talking about whether it was best to tank or try to make it back up to mediocrity, I held up the difference between the No. 1 pick and, say, No. 14 in this draft as potentially a franchise-changing one. Wouldn't you rather be abjectly miserable for a year, go 20-62 and grab Andrew Wiggins than be mostly miserable, go 35-47, lose in four to the Heat and get Mitch McGary?
I was terrified of McGary as a prospect in the late lottery. Coming off a revelatory performance in the NCAA tournament--on a Michigan team I absolutely adored watching--McGary was being compared to David Lee, probably because they're both big, goofy-lookin' left-handed white dudes who can run. Even at his peak, David Lee wasn't all that great, and the idea of emerging from the best draft in a decade with the Safeway-brand David Lee made me quite unhappy.
But then McGary hurt his back and shut down his sophomore season after eight games, and he got dinged for smoking pot after the season. Thanks to the injury concerns, not seeing another year of development and (maybe? but who cares?) the Marijuana Incident, McGary is now projected to go somewhere in the neighborhood of the 30th pick. That means he's a possibility for the Sixers at 32, and there's a non-trivial chance he'll be around for the Sixers' second second-rounder at 39.
In the late lottery, I wanted no part of McGary. In the second round? I want to buy a convertible and invite him to take a cross-country road trip with me.
The major knock on McGary is that he doesn't have elite offensive skills. He's a deplorable jump shooter, an even worse foul shooter and when it comes to moves in the post, he's really the opposite of Kevin McHale or Hakeem Olajuwon--he doesn't have any moves and none of them work.
On the other hand, he's fucking enormous--6-foot-10, 265 pounds--and he runs the floor and throws his body around like he's trying to get a role in a kung-fu movie. He's got active hands on defense, and with his speed and his bulk, he gets to his spot down low before his man does, and once he's there, he's damn near impossible to move. As a freshman, he was one of the best per-minute offensive rebounders in the NCAA, and given that the Sixers play at the league's fastest pace and are one of its worst-shooting teams, there will be more than enough offensive rebounds to go around.
2014 NBA Draft
2014 NBA Draft
There's the injury factor as well. My favorite kind of draft prospect in any sport is the kind that falls because of an injury. Sure, back problems for guys that big are a red flag, but betting the No. 3 pick on Joel Embiid is different than betting the No. 32 pick on McGary. If McGary hadn't gotten hurt, he'd be a mid-first-rounder, and if you think you can manage his minutes and keep his back from becoming a debilitating albatross, you've got late lottery value in the early second round. Every year, in every sport, you'll see at least one quality player fall in the draft because of an injury he'll probably recover from, and the team that can snag him late and afford not to rush him back into action will reap the rewards. Second-rounders are lottery tickets anyway.
The other reason I like Mitch McGary in the second round is that if you have one bankable NBA skill, you can stick in the league. McGary can be a rotation big for the next 10 years, health permitting, because he's built like a mooring bollard and is both willing and able to move his body around the floor at high speeds. He can run and score on the break, crash the boards at both ends and set crushing screens--seriously, look at this DraftExpress video and ask yourself if you were ready for the concept of "highlight-reel picks."
McGary isn't going to be anyone's concept of a star, but at the bare minimum, you know he can run, rebound and on the defensive end, annoy the man he's guarding the way Russ Smith annoys humanity in general. Give him 15 minutes a game and tell him to just leave it in fifth gear and I bet you'll have a few second-chance baskets and transition buckets to show for it. That's all you want out of a second-rounder: a serviceable rotation big, which was impossible for the Sixers to find last year.