Is Mitch McGary worth a gamble for the Celtics?

Where did Mitch McGary’s career go wrong? McGary became a household name during the University of Michigan’s 2013 NCAA tournament run. As a freshman, McGary took over as the starting center and became a key piece on the runner-up team (losing to Louisville). If McGary had entered the NBA draft at season’s end, he would have been a potential first-round selection. 

Instead, McGary chose to return to Michigan for his sophomore season and was injured after just eight games. While his stats left something to be desired (9.5 points, 0.75 blocks), he showed the potential to run the floor, shoot the midrange jumper (54.5% from the floor), and bang down low (8.3 rebounds, including 3.5 offensive rebounds). 

This led to McGary being drafted 21st overall by the Oklahoma City Thunder in a stacked 2014 draft class (the video shows what scouts were seeing when he came out of the league). Oklahoma City selected McGary ahead of Rodney Hood, Clint Capela, Nikola Jokic and Jordan Clarkson, all who have become good NBA players. McGary came into the league with a ton of potential which has yet to be reached.

Since the end of this past season, McGary has racked up two separate suspensions for violating the NBA's drug policy, the latest one having been reported by Royce White of ESPN. Whether or not McGary begins the season in Oklahoma City, he will be forced to sit out the first 15 games (five for the first suspension, ten for the second). This off-court incident combined with his on-court lack of production may have opened up the possibility of the Thunder moving on from McGary. Would he be a good gamble for the Celtics?

Although McGary was hurt for a majority of his rookie year, playing in only 32 games, he again showed the promise that led to his high draft spot, averaging 6.3 points and 5.2 rebounds in only 15 minutes per night. Last year saw a huge drop in production. Again, McGary suffered through an injury-filled season, only taking the court 20 times. His averages dropped to 1.3 points and 0.9 rebounds in three minutes per game. While he did not get much playing time, McGary failed to make the most of his few opportunities. So why would this lack of production result in the Celtics taking a chance on him in a trade?

First off, McGary is still only 24 years old, meaning he is not even close to reaching his potential (see below video). In limited playing time, McGary has shown plenty of positive attributes that would help the Celtics. One of the team's biggest weaknesses is rebounding. During McGary's rookie year, in just 15 minutes per game, he was able to average more rebounds than guys like Jae Crowder and Kelly Olynyk did last year (5.1 and 4.1, respectively). Hustle is a trait that both Danny Ainge and Brad Stevens value in their players, meaning McGary could find a home on Boston's bench as an energy-big. 

Having only played in 52 career games, McGary has yet to come close to his ceiling. Also, he is on a relatively cheap contract of just $1.5 million next year. In order to match salaries, the Celtics would have to give up next to nothing to reach a deal for McGary.. Would a trade straight up for James Young get it done? Both McGary and Young have struggled with their respective teams, so maybe a change of scenery would help revive their careers.

Still, there are some concerns with McGary. The subsequent suspensions will force McGary to sit out the first portion of the season, and the drug violations do invite the question of possible off-court issues. Still, Danny Ainge is no stranger to taking flyers on players other teams have cast aside (Delonte West, Jordan Crawford). Potential character issues are unlikely to deter Ainge from pulling off a trade if he likes McGary.

The main obstacle stopping the Celtics from taking a chance on McGary might have nothing to do with his play on the court, or even his actions off it. Simply put, there is no roster space for McGary. Few Celtics fans would argue McGary has more potential than Jordan Mickey, our own young power forward/center prospect. This would leave McGary behind Al Horford, Amir Johnson, Kelly Olynyk, Jonas Jerebko, Tyler Zeller, and Mickey on the depth chart. McGary’s potential does not seem to be high enough to part with a player like Mickey, and his skill set seems redundant to the recently re-signed Zeller. Unless someone gets hurt or traded away, the addition of a player like McGary will not be Ainge’s focus.

There is no doubt that McGary has a future in the NBA. Players with his size, skill, and hustle do not grow on trees. While the Celtics may not currently have room for him on the roster, the possibility of adding McGary remains intriguing. McGary has many qualities that the Celtics look for in their players. His addition would add another talented young player for Stevens to help develop. If the Thunder do in fact make him available for trade, a McGary-for-Young deal could positively affect both teams. Although McGary is unlikely to be Ainge's first target, he is definitely a player to keep an eye on.

Photograph by Geoff Burke of USA Today Sports