Mitch McGary looked pretty impressive in his NBA debut, doing a little bit of everything — 14 points on 50 percent shooting, four rebounds (two on the offensive glass), two steals and two assists in 36 minutes of work — in stepping in for the likes of Serge Ibaka, Nick Collison and Kendrick Perkins for the Oklahoma City Thunder's preseason-opening loss to the Denver Nuggets on Thursday. But the 2014 first-round draft pick's performance came at a heavy price — a fracture in his left foot that will keep him sidelined for "approximately six weeks," the Thunder announced Thursday.
The team didn't specify when the 6-foot-10 former Michigan standout sustained the fracture to the second metatarsal on his left foot, but as Darnell Mayberry of The Oklahoman notes, "McGary was seen suddenly limping during an offensive possession in the second half." You could certainly see him moving a bit gingerly after Nuggets rookie center Jusuf Nurkic snagged a rebound to run out the clock in the final minute of the fourth quarter:
The injury puts a disappointing stop to what had begun to look like a promising transition to the pro game for McGary, who became one of college basketball's rising stars as a freshman during the Wolverines' run to the 2013 national title game before back surgery and a marijuana-suspension-evading decision to turn pro ended his time in Ann Arbor.
The 22-year-old showed a good feel for the game in his preseason debut, moving well in half-court sets, defending ably at both frontcourt positions, and displaying a facility with both dirty work (setting screens, boxing out) and more skilled labor (handling the ball, passing with touch and knocking down midrange jumpers). He had also flashed signs of sharp big-to-big chemistry with rising sophomore Thunder center Steven Adams and, as ESPN.com's Royce Young notes, earned praise for his work in training camp from no less an observer than Oklahoma City star and reigning league Most Valuable Player Kevin Durant.
"He's such a great teammate and you want to do as much as you can for him," Durant said Monday. "I love playing with him. He plays extremely hard. He listens. He wants to get better. He helps us get better as well. He's a smart basketball player."
For the time being, McGary will have to be content with learning from the sidelines, an unwelcome bit of news for a Thunder team that's already dealing with a spate of frontcourt injuries. Ibaka and Collison both missed the preseason opener with sprained ankles — the 34-year-old Collison also had arthroscopic surgery on his left knee this summer — and longtime starting center Kendrick Perkins has been sidelined since the start of training camp with a strained quadriceps muscle.
If McGary misses the full six weeks laid out by the Thunder, that'd peg his return date at Nov. 23, keeping the 21st pick in the 2014 draft out of Oklahoma City's first 14 games and putting him behind the 8-ball as he makes the adjustment to full-tilt regular-season action. Not an ideal start, to be sure, but still plenty of time to get up to speed and into Brooks' rotation in time to give the Thunder a more versatile frontcourt come what's likely to be another brutal trip through the Western Conference playoffs.
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