2020-21 Rewind: McGruder’s example of perseverance served the Pistons well

The No. 19 pick the Pistons used to acquire Saddiq Bey was the prize when they shipped Luke Kennard to the Los Angeles Clippers on draft night last November. Rodney McGruder came along for the matching salary to enable the trade.

But for a franchise going through the type of transition the Pistons were amid, McGruder brought a lot to the table – for the versatility he possessed, for the selflessness he’s exhibited throughout his NBA career and for the way his story of perseverance after going undrafted and grinding through three seasons in basketball’s hinterlands before getting his shot at the NBA meshed with the values Troy Weaver and Dwane Casey were seeking in rebuilding the Pistons.

Here’s a look at McGruder’s 2020-21 season:

PROFILE: 6-foot-4 guard, 29 years old, 5 NBA seasons2020-21 STATS: 5.7 points, 1.4 rebounds, 12 minutes per gameSTATUS: McGruder has one non-guaranteed season remaining on the free-agent contract he signed with the Los Angeles Clippers in July 2019

A LOOK BACK: McGruder grew up in Landover, Md., and was a four-star recruit who played his final high school season in Jacksonville, Fla. An AAU teammate of Michael Beasley in the Washington, D.C., area, McGruder followed Beasley’s path to play for Frank Martin at Kansas State. He came off the bench as a freshman, playing 12 minutes a game, but started 100 games over his final three seasons for competitive teams and averaged in double figures as a junior and senior. Beasley was honored in each of his final three seasons, voted to the All-Big 12 third team as a sophomore, second team as a junior and first team as a senior. McGruder’s Kansas State teams averaged 25 wins a season over his four years. Going undrafted in 2013, McGruder played in Hungary in 2013-14 before going the G League route the next two seasons. He caught on with the Miami Heat in 2016 and wound up starting 65 games for a team that went 11-30 over the first half of the season but 30-11 from there. Injuries limited McGruder to 16 games in 2017-18 but he bounced back to start 45 of 66 games for the Heat in 2018-19 before being waived a week before the end of the season to enable Miami to avoid paying luxury taxes. He was immediately claimed on waivers by the Los Angeles Clippers and played 56 games for them in 2019-20.

THE SEASON THAT WAS: McGruder came to the Pistons in a draft-night trade in November 2020 as part of a deal that sent Luke Kennard and four future second-second picks to Los Angeles in exchange for McGruder and the No. 19 overall pick in the draft used to select Saddiq Bey, who went on to be voted first-team All-Rookie. McGruder played 16 games and started two for the Pistons, pinch-hitting as the emergency point guard when Killian Hayes and Dennis Smith were injured. McGruder had a strong run in early March when he averaged 12 points over a five-game stretch, topped by a 24-point, five-assist outing in a win over Toronto on March 3. In mid-March, McGruder suffered an elbow injury that limited him to one cameo appearance for the remainder of the season.

A LOOK AHEAD: McGruder’s non-guaranteed contract makes it questionable whether he’ll be back for the 2021-22 season given the relatively few roster spots the Pistons figure to have available. It won’t be an easy call for the Pistons, though, as general manager Troy Weaver – who grew up with McGruder’s father in the same Washington, D.C., neighborhood – and Dwane Casey lauded his character and mentoring skills with the bevy of rookies and assorted other young players dotting the Pistons roster. McGruder’s defensive tenacity, selflessness and spirit are valuable ingredients brought to any locker room. And his versatility – the ability and willingness to fill in at point guard a prime example – is another club in McGruder’s bag. He’s the type of player organizations love having around to fill any role asked of him – and the type who figures to have a career in basketball after his playing days are over.

MONEY QUOTE: “Troy’s like an uncle to me. Grew up in the same neighborhood. I’ve known him all my life. That relationship, he’s family. We both want to see each other succeed. I want to see him do great as a GM for this organization and want us to have success as a team. I try to bring anything I can to the organization, whether I’m playing or not.” – Rodney McGruder in February on his relationship with Pistons general manager Troy Weaver and his place with the team