OKLAHOMA CITY —
Oklahoma City doesn’t often follow conventional wisdom on draft night. From selecting shooting guard Russell Westbrook to play point guard to taking unheralded Steven Adams, the Thunder go by their own rules.
That was evident again Thursday night during the 2014 NBA Draft. Despite other needs, the Thunder selected 6-foot-10, 250 power forward Mitch McGary out of Michigan with the 21st pick in the first round.
The Thunder then added Stanford’s Josh Huestis with the 29th selection and picked up point guard Semaj Christon in a trade with Charlotte.
None of the players are considered glamorous and arguably get them no closer to an NBA title, but general manager Sam Presti was high on the franchises draft.
"We really are excited to welcome Mitch and Josh to the organization," Presti said. "We think both of those guys fit the profile of the type of players we're looking for. We're really excited to watch them grow within the organization."
McGary’s college career was almost like a soap opera. He joined the Wolverines as a highly touted forward from Indiana. He was part of an impressive freshman class that made it to the final four.
A lower back injury ended his sophomore season in December. Then he failed a drug test. If he returned for his junior season, he was looking at a year-long suspension. He entered the draft instead.
Presti said he was not scared away by the back injury or the drug issues.
"How he handled that situation quite frankly, he took accountability," Presti said. "He showed that he was remorseful. And he said publicly that he's really learned from it. We've done an incredible amount of due diligence on him... If I wasn't comfortable with the work he's done the last three years, then we wouldn't have moved forward."
McGary had only one known pre-draft workout going into the draft. That was Friday with Milwaukee. At that time he spoke to media about his coming off off-season surgery.
“I talked to the (Bucks’) GM and the assistant GM, and they’re very interested in me,” McGary told Bucks.com. “Hopefully, I showed them something on the court today. And I had a meeting with them and, hopefully, I’ll show them what kind of character I have, too.”
Instead, the Thunder snatched him up before he could reach the Bucks.
“He’s a good passer,” college basketball analyst Jay Bilas said. “He has a really good feel for the game. An excellent rebounder. He’s very, very productive. He played in only eight games because of that back. I rated him a little further down in the draft, but this is a good pick. He’s not a skilled scorer with his back to the basket. That’s something he has to improve upon.”
In the 6-7 Huestis, Oklahoma City picked up clones of current Thunder players Perry Jones III and Andre Roberson. Huestis is an athletic wing-man who can run the floor and play tough defense.
In four years at Stanford, his highest scoring average was 11.2 points during his senior season. He also averaged 8.2 rebounds and 1.9 blocks as a senior. He is expected to spend much of his rookie year with the Tulsa 66ers in the developmental league.
"One of the things we identified after watching him is he's a low mistake player on the defensive end," Presti said. "This is a guy as we look out and look forward, he has the size, but also the speed to deal with a lot of different situations on the floor."
With the selections of McGary and Huestis, the Thunder will have seven players on next year’s team that will be playing on rookie contracts next season.
The Thunder haven’t announced what will happen with free agents Thabo Sefolosha and they could add more veteran players once free agency starts.
But the night belonged to the Thunder's newest additions.
"Some of the best calls you get to make are draft night calls," Presti said. "Because it’s a culmination of a lot of hard work and sacrifice to these player's careers. You can hear it in the background most of the time, excitement from family members and things like that. It makes you realize these guys only get drafted one time. It only happens once. To be able to welcome them into professional basketball is a great thing."
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