Rodney McGruder didn’t make many waves on or off the court this season. He only saw 194 minutes on the floor, and he remained his quiet, hardworking self in the practice gym and training room. For a guy who went undrafted in 2013 and spent years overseas and the G League before clawing his way into NBA rotations, McGruder knows nothing is promised as a pro player.
The Pistons reportedly traded for McGruder with the intention of stretching and waiving his contract as part of their intention to open up the salary cap space necessary to sign Jerami Grant and Mason Plumlee in the offseason. The final year and $5 million of McGruder’s contract is fully unguaranteed, which would allow Detroit to stretch his deal for three years at a $1.7 million hit per season.
Other moves made that unnecessary and so McGruder stuck with the team. Who knows if he would have caught on elsewhere if he was released. He’d done little the previous season as a Los Angeles Clipper, and he was certainly at the end of the bench in Detroit.
In the end, though, he made the most of the opportunities he was given.
In the nearly 200 minutes McGruder found himself on the floor, he performed admirably. When injuries forced him into action for a stretch in February, McGruder, known most as a defensive specialist, scored in double figures four times in a five-game stretch including a 20-point, five-assist showing in a blowout victory against the Raptors.
He found effectiveness both with his 3-ball and when driving the lane for the Pistons, shooting 45% from distance and 72% from within three feet. As an undersized shooting guard, he was typically giving up quite a bit of heft to his defenders, so he would often try and slither his way around the defense and has a few patented circus shots at the rim he can convert and a solid rate. Also, for being a career 34% shooter from deep, his 3-ball looked surprisingly smooth in Detroit.
Then, of course, there was the one time that McGruder made headlines for unfortunate reasons.
After a late-January loss to the Warriors, McGruder took it upon himself to confront Juan Toscano Anderson. Apparently, Toscano-Anderson said something to or about Wayne Ellington earlier in the game that McGruder didn’t appreciate and wanted to stick up for his teammate.
This happened within view of Klay Thompson during a post-game interview and when asked about it, Thompson decided to punch down and joke that Rodney was probably upset because he might be out of the league next year. Draymond Green, never shy, took it a step further in a profanity-laced post-game presser asking why McGruder was being a “fake tough guy.”
It was immediately after that McGruder was able to appear in 11 of the team’s next 19 games, including his strong stretch in February. The basketball gods, and the Pistons coaching staff, at least allowed the 29-year-old to show people that, yes, he does have a little something to offer in the NBA.
It was too bad, because McGruder is all about getting down to business, and as a guy who scratched and clawed his way to earn everything, he deserves better than to get dunked on from the safety of post-game interviews by two future Hall of Famers who have earned north of $200 million.
It’s hard to say anything McGruder did was bad this season because he really did take advantage of every opportunity thrown his way. Unfortunately for him, he injured his elbow in March and missed the team’s final 30 games.
He’s a light-scoring deep reserve so even when he couldn’t really provide anything on the offensive end, he did what his coaches asked of him on defense.
Does He Stay Or Does He Go?
McGruder is almost certainly done in Detroit. With investments in the backcourt coming via the No. 1 overall pick (either Cade Cunningham or Jalen Green as the most likely options), continued development and commitment to Killian Hayes and Hamidou Diallo and the emergence of Frank Jackson, McGruder is simply the odd man out in Detroit. But I hope he’s able to find some playoff-bound team that wants to add a solid character guy and defense to their backcourt depth and he is able to see the court again next year. I’d hate for Klay Thompson to be right.