Why isn’t Mac McClung in the NBA? Size, defensive limitations among biggest concerns for Dunk Contest champion

Mac McClung has done everything that he possibly could to show that he deserves a roster spot in the NBA.

The 25-year-old guard was a good scorer out of Texas Tech, averaging 15.5 points per game as a junior. After going undrafted, he won the G League’s Rookie of the Year award. He’s averaging 21.3 points per game for his career in the G League and has greatly improved as a playmaker, averaging 6.4 assists per game. 

It’s not as if McClung is an unknown either. He burst onto the NBA stage by winning the 2023 Slam Dunk Contest, showing that he is an A+ athlete. 

Despite all of those successes, McClung has gotten nothing more than a few cups of coffee in the NBA. He’s played in only four games for the Bulls, Lakers and Sixers, logging 65 career minutes. He’s been fairly productive in those stints, shooting 46.2 percent from the field and 35.7 percent from 3 while averaging 18.3 points and 5.5 assists per 36 minutes. 

So, why has McClung still not received a fully guaranteed NBA contract? 

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Mac McClung can score against NBA players but lacks size

McClung’s offensive ability is certainly high enough to warrant a spot on an NBA bench. He’s a good 3-point shooter, he can create his own shot and those high-flying dunks translate to real games. 

One of the knocks against McClung was that he was more of a shooting guard than a point guard. He’s silenced those critics, improving as a playmaker and passer in the G League. 

Part of the reason for McClung’s difficulty in transitioning to the NBA is that his role would be completely different. He’s been the primary playmaker for his G League teams, getting to take control of offenses. He would have to be more of an off-ball player in the NBA, and his shot-creation skills would not be as valuable. 

The main thing holding McClung back is his size. He’s just 6-2 and 185 pounds. Of the 299 players who played at least 500 minutes this season, only 30 are 6-2 or under. Many of those players, such as Stephen Curry, Kyrie Irving, Damian Lillard, Jalen Brunson and Tyrese Maxey, are so dynamic offensively that their defensive limitations aren’t enough to keep them off the floor. McClung isn’t quite at that level. 

Mac McClung has defensive concerns

Teams are picking on small defenders more than ever, and McClung’s size makes him a target every time he’s on the floor. His NBA minutes have not been pretty. When he’s gotten switched onto bigger forwards and centers, he’s had no chance of stopping them. And other bigger guards have overpowered him 1-on-1

McClung is further hurt by a poor 6-2 wingspan. Even if he gets good contests on shooters, he doesn’t affect their shot at all. He’s not great at screen navigation, which is a necessity for him given how teams will attack him. 

He does do some things well on defense, though. He gives good effort and he has played the passing lanes well in the G League, averaging 1.0 steals per game

McClung is one of those players who is too good for the G League but doesn’t seem to have quite the physical abilities to stick in the NBA. While he has put in a ton of work to improve his game, there’s not much that he can do about his lack of size. 

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