While Rodney McGruder went without being drafted during the 2013 NBA draft last week (he was considered a ‘bubble’ candidate for the second round), last Friday he signed a free-agent contract with the Orlando Magic and will play in the NBA Summer League this July. A tremendous shooter and defender who never truly demonstrated his ball-handling skills at K-State, he still faces an uphill climb to make the final roster. So where exactly does he fit on the team?
I don’t purport to follow the NBA that closely, and can’t tell you much more about Orlando than they traded away Dwight Howard and a couple other players last year in exchange for five young guns and like six more draft picks. Except for this: they’re suddenly loaded with young talent and appear ready to contend for a playoff spot this year. Take into account that the Magic took 6’5″ Victor Oladipo from Indiana with the second pick of this year’s draft, and you quickly begin to understand how few spots there are for a rookie to break through onto the roster.
McGruder has two things going for him. The first is that Orlando’s two biggest needs coming into the draft were at point guard and shooting guard. And while McGruder simply doesn’t have the ball-handling ability to fill the point guard spot at the NBA level, he’s quick shooting and willing to contend for every rebound. Additionally, as a K-State product, you know he’s a great defender (and seriously, he was).
The problem with everything McGruder brings to the table is that his scouting report reads something akin to Oladipo’s – the Hoosier brings the same skill set to the table, but is just a little taller and is considered to have more upside as a deep threat. The team’s second round pick was Romero Osby – a 6’8″ forward who does nothing to solidify the guard position. Therefore, McGruder must demonstrate that he brings enough to the team to justify the release of someone or for Osby to not be kept on.
In a sense, McGruder shouldn’t bear any surprises – we know what he brings to the table. He led the Wildcats in numerous categories, including scoring (15.6 ppg), rebouding (5.4 rpg), free throws attempted (117), and minutes per game (33.5). He was the most athletic player and best scorer on a team that shared the Big 12 Championship, and named an honorable mention All-American by the AP. He’s the perfect player to bring in for a few high-intensity minutes each game to lock down an opponent’s star player and hopefully knock down a three or create a couple other scores.
As stated earlier, Oladipo is also the perfect player for this role. Yet watching him at Indiana, he wasn’t just a role player – he was built to start in the NBA. McGruder won’t be winning a roster spot over him in the Summer League. Is there anyone else he could replace on the roster? Hedo Turkoglu is a bit of a household name, but only played in ten games last year. The 6-10 SF will turn 35 this year, and the Magic don’t have much need for the slower forward despite his production during his peak.
Another target to replace could be Doron Lamb. Last year’s second round pick by Milwaukee, the former Kentucky Wildcat was traded to Orlando back in February. Lamb signed a new contract on July 11, 2012 for an assumed $2,354,115 over 3 years, but shows some cracks in his game. According to Basketball-Reference.com, Lamb only grabbed 4.4 percent of the available rebounds on the floor while he was playing and only 1.5 percent of available offensive rebounds. Rebounds are among McGruder’s specialties. Lamb averaged 4.5 minutes per game last year, had double the turnovers (0.6) than steals (0.3) per game, and struggled with his accuracy.
Orlando is unlikely to part with one shooting guard for one another in known quantity (Doron Lamb) versus unknown (McGruder). However, there’s a chance the Magic front office continues shuffling the roster in order to bring on another guard it knows can lock-down opponents in a reserve role and won’t be a liability on offense. If McGruder doesn’t earn a spot with the Magic this summer another team will also have the option of picking him up, and we’ll be monitoring his progress throughout the season in the hopes he finds a home at the next level.