As many 30-somethings can openly attest to, there's little in the "real world" that remotely approximates the fun that can be had on and around a college campus.
So, on some level, it was easy to comprehend why Michigan center Mitch McGary chose to stay in Ann Arbor for another year mere weeks after his debutante-like showing during the 2013 NCAA Tournament (14.3 PPG, 10.7 RPG). Returning to school fresh off of a Final Four appearance as (literally) the BMOC is a pretty big feather in one's cap, even if that cap could be sitting on the head of a man who is actually getting paid to ply his trade.
Then again, there is something to be said for striking while the iron is hot. The 20-year-old big man virtually played himself into the lottery last year during the Wolverines' run to the national title game, and it was highly unlikely that McGary was going to improve on his soaring draft stock as a sophomore.
One year later, McGary and Oklahoma State guard Marcus Smart became the latest cautionary tales in a system that all but penalizes players who decide to stay in school longer than others think that they should. McGary's decision gave scouts and personnel directors that much more time to critique his game, and given the advanced age of the former Parade All-American (he turned 22 earlier this month), it's fair to question how much space there is between his current talent level and his potential ceiling.
Unfortunately for McGary, he wasn't able to make much of a case for himself over the past 12 months. Several injuries - most notably, a bad back that required surgery in January - limited McGary to just eight games this season. All signs were pointing to him returning to Michigan for his junior year, but a positive test for marijuana brought with it a one-year suspension, all but ending McGary's collegiate career.
While the NCAA saw fit to bring the hammer down on McGary, the incident will likely be seen as a minor transgression in NBA circles. Basketball ability often negates all but the reddest of flags, and the 6'10", 250-pound McGary has been firmly entrenched on the radar of many talent evaluators for quite some time.
As a top-30 recruit coming out of high school, the book on McGary read that he was "a high energy player who loves contact" who also happened to be "a good ball handler and passer." Not much has changed in the nearly three years since he signed his letter of intent: McGary's biggest asset is his high motor, and that - combined with his willingness to bang in the paint - should be enough to slot him on most teams' draft boards somewhere around the end of the first round. Classic big men who can pass the ball just as well as they can hit the glass (12.5 rebounds per 40 minutes as a freshman) are rare and intriguing, and McGary's skills are perfect for a Los Angeles Clippers team that likes to get up and down the court.
McGary shined during the 2013 NCAA Tournament thanks to his rapport with Trey Burke, and the Clippers just happen to have one of the best playmakers in the game in point guard Chris Paul. More importantly, Clipper Darrell's favorite team has exactly one center under contract for the 2014-15 season (DeAndre Jordan), and the cupboard behind Blake Griffin at the 4 spot is relatively bare as well.
McGary's back is a question mark, and the fact that he just began working out for NBA teams after five months on the shelf is a bit concerning. Even so, there are few team/player/selection fits in Thursday's draft as ideal as Mitch McGary joining Lob City with the No. 28 pick.
But you don't have to take my word for it: Steve Perrin of Clips Nation is also a big fan of McGary late in the first round:
As it happens, I picked McGary for the Clippers in a mock draft myself, so I guess I can say I think it's a good pick. The problem with 28 of course is that you don't know who is going to be available, but the Clippers need a big, and McGary seems likely to be there, while others probably will not be. With [Walter] Tavares signing an extension in the ACB, that's one fewer big who's likely to be available to help soon.
The Clippers return all five starters from their 57-win team and several key reserves. However, the team made do with the likes of Ryan Hollins and Byron Mullens and mid-season acquisitions like Glen Davis and Hedo Turkoglu for front court depth last season, and the front court remains their most significant area of need (starters Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan are the only players over 6'8" currently under contract). McGary could have been a lottery pick after his break out performance in the 2013 NCAA tournament as a freshman at Michigan, but a back injury along with a failed drug test cut his sophomore season short, and his draft stock took a big hit in the process. He's got legitimate NBA size, good skills, a great motor and a high basketball IQ. He's not a Griffin/Jordan type athlete, but he'll fit right into the Clippers attack nonetheless. He'll run hard to fill a lane on the fast break and he's solid in the pick and roll, plus he's an above average passer for a big. He's also a very good rebounder, and the glass was a problem for the Clippers last season. If he can add a bit of range to his face up jumper he could be a very good fit in Doc Rivers' system.
Make it happen, Clippers.