McGary Showing Value of the Blue

By Nick Gallo | Thunder Basketball Writer | mailbag@thunder-nba.com

On Saturday afternoon, as soon as Oklahoma City Blue Head Coach Mark Daigneault received word from his Thunder colleagues, he knew he had only a few minutes to get a hold of Mitch McGary.  

The Thunder rookie forward was needed in Oklahoma City on Sunday morning to be available for a home game against the Los Angeles Clippers. There was just one problem – McGary was with the Blue in Reno, Nev. Daigneault frantically dialed McGary’s cell phone, but got no answer. McGary was asleep, deep into a long nap after the Blue’s six-hour overnight bus ride from Bakersfield, Calif., to Reno turned into nine hours due to snow and a detour.

Daigneault tracked down McGary’s hotel room number, finally reached his groggy power forward on the other end and told him he needed to be at the airport immediately. His flight to Oklahoma City left in 90 minutes. McGary raced to his plane, caught a connection and finally made it back home around 10:30 p.m. Saturday night, completing his crazy day of travel.

Bright and early Sunday morning, McGary was at Chesapeake Energy Arena, going through his normal pregame routine. This time, however, Thunder Head Coach Scott Brooks popped his head into the locker room and called McGary back to meet with him. An hour later, the burly forward, who had only played eight total minutes in two previous games with the Thunder this season, was thrust into action against the Clippers in a nationally televised game. As if he had been playing with the Thunder all along, McGary went on to register 19 points and 10 rebounds and was clearly prepared for the moment.

“You better be ready,” McGary said. “You don’t get second chances in this league. When Coach Brooks called my name, I was ready. My nerves were a little shaky, but as soon as I got in there, I was cool. I was just ready to go out there and do what my team needed me to do.”

It’s no coincidence that even after two tough injuries that sidelined him for most of the season, McGary was both physically and mentally equipped to perform at a high level. In two games earlier in the week, on Feb. 4 and Feb. 6, McGary played 41 total minutes, racking up 24 points, 13 rebounds, four assists and six steals for the Blue. Those performances helped McGary get back into basketball shape as he returned from a recent leg injury, but more importantly put him in a familiar position that allowed McGary to play the same role that he would eventually be in for the Thunder on Sunday.

“Our D League program does a great job of getting all of our guys when they play down there to integrate into their system, which is exactly what we do,” Brooks said.

“Their staff and Mark have done a great job of building their team day by day, just like what we do,” Brooks continued. “It gave Mitch an opportunity to get some practice reps and get some game reps. He came up and it was seamless because of all of the work he has put in.”

Although McGary’s ultimate goal is, of course, to be with the Thunder as much as possible, he has attacked his playing and practice time with the Blue with the utmost sincerity, intensity and commitment to the group. Daigneault was complementary of the fact that McGary has been completely invested in the Blue during his time there, even when he knew he would be returning to the Thunder soon. McGary has clearly seen the value of both the playing time and skill development aspect of the Blue experience and is using the time to hone his craft.

“There have been a lot of teaching moments. I’m really learning how to be a professional, even down at that level,” McGary explained. “It really makes you think and it really makes you want to work harder to get back up to this level.”

“I’m pretty good at running the floor,” McGary said. “(Daigneault) just really has tried to get me in better shape, really stay low on defense and do the little things that I’m capable of doing to make myself a factor in the game.”

McGary has certainly been a factor for both the Blue and the Thunder in the moments when he has been available this season. In eight games with the Blue, the University of Michigan product has scored 16.4 points, grabbed 7.6 rebounds and added 1.9 steals and 1.1 blocks in 24.2 minutes per game. On Monday night in Denver with the Thunder, McGary put together his second consecutive double-double, racking up 17 points and 10 rebounds.

The reason McGary has been productive is that he hasn’t tried to do anything outside of his role or natural abilities. He has a nice feel for the game but hasn’t gone overboard in trying to force the issue. What he has done, however, is dive to the rim on pick-and-rolls, run the floor to get easy buckets and try to be a force on the glass. That’s been the recipe for success for McGary since he was at Michigan and in his time with the Blue. All of the work he has put in with Daigneault and his staff, along with those lessons to be himself and perfect his craft, are paying early dividends.

“The thing that we try to hammer home with all of these guys is just understanding their identities, especially the youngest players, the guys who are right out of college,” Daigneault said. “It’s understanding what their identity is and how that translates to the NBA, and focusing solely on that.

“That’s what we’ve tried to focus on with Mitch, to just be great at what you’re good at,” Daigneault continued. “That is to run the floor, be reliable on defense, playing with a motor and just being the team guy that he is.”

Moving forward, McGary may continue to be called upon by Brooks and the Thunder, and he also may spend more time with the Blue. Because of the cohesion, communication between coaches and philosophies the two teams share, McGary’s development will stay on the same track no matter where he’s getting minutes.  

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