What about Mac McClung? Dunk champion's future growing with Osceola Magic

Mac McClung may not have a future with the Orlando Magic because of their roster needs. But the now-two-time Dunk Champion is inching closer to a full-time shot at the NBA. His development is undeniable.

Mac McClung continues to make a national name for himself as a dunk contest champion. But he is gaining ground with his exploits for the Osceola Magic too.
Mac McClung continues to make a national name for himself as a dunk contest champion. But he is gaining ground with his exploits for the Osceola Magic too. / Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

When the Orlando Magic convened their training camp in October, Mac McClung was a popular guy.

Last year, he became a household name for his surprise victory at the Dunk Contest. Or at least it was a surprise to anyone who had not watched him coming up through college, on YouTube or in the G-League.

McClung played coy that day on the prospects of returning to the Dunk Contest. He may have known that is what made him famous and put him in front of the minds of a lot of basketball fans. It was inescapable.

McClung wanted to get back to the business of trying to make his NBA dreams a reality. He had just won the G-League title with the Delaware Blue Coats. The Magic had an open two-way spot and at least an opportunity to give.

McClung would get his chance to prove his worth to the league on the court beyond his dunking.

But there McClung was back in February. He was in Indianapolis, representing the Osceola Magic. The final two-way spot went to Trevelin Queen (a G-League All-Star himself). McClung was still grinding to reach the NBA.

But he still had a show to put on.

McClung climbed back into the national spotlight and delivered again. He won his second straight Dunk Contest, astounding with his opening dunk when he grabbed the ball off someone standing near the rim and tossed it to himself mid-air before throwing it over his head.

His final dunk saw him scale Shaquille O'Neal with ease for a dunk and the only perfect score of the evening.

McClung was by far the best dunker of the night and a deserving champion. Every time he stepped on the floor, the crowd seemed to rise, anticipating what he could do. That is what happens when a dunker has the crowd in his hands.

Everything else in the dunk contest -- especially the judges -- let the competition down. McClung seemed to make it all worth it.

McClung will spend another year talking about his dunk exploits and whether he will try to be in the contest again. But among the spotty commentary, Kenny Smith or Reggie Miller did ask one question: Why isn't McClung in the NBA? Who is going to give him an opportunity?

McClung is deserving of a look at an NBA roster spot. He is not just his dunking.

He may have proven that with 13 points in the first Rising Stars game as he led Team Detlef over Victor Wembanyama and Team Pau in Friday's competition. McClung showed he could get into the lane and finish with some creativity while keeping the ball moving.

That is what he has done for the Osceola Magic all year.

McClung averages 23.6 points per game and 7.4 assists per game in the G-League's regular season. He is shooting 51.9 percent from the floor and 39.3 percent from three. He has a robust 3.5 turnovers per game. But the ball is in his hands and has been Osceola's driving force.

More importantly, Osceola is 10-7 and fifth in the G-League's Eastern Conference. The Magic are in the playoff race. They are winning at a relatively healthy amount.

That should get McClung some looks to fill in any remaining roster spots in the NBA for the rest of the season. He is among the best players in the G-League and has been knocking on the door for the NBA for several years.

Everyone should wonder why McClung has not gotten onto a NBA roster.

The Magic had their chance. They opted to keep Admiral Schofield on a two-way contract -- he is there more for his locker room presence and has not played in the G-League at all this season -- and had Kevon Harris on the second year of his two-way deal (even though he dealt with a knee injury in training camp).

The final two-way spot seemed to come down to McClung and Queen.

The Magic opted for Queen, likely because of his size and defensive aptitude. That came in handy during the team's illness-filled West Coast road trip. Queen played a critical role in the win over the Denver Nuggets.

McClung does not seem to have a future on the Magic. The size and spotty defense seemed like what ultimately cost him this opportunity in training camp.

Still, McClung continues to impress in the G-League. And he should be at the top of the list for any team that has a roster spot to fill if they need a guard. He is too good to be in the G-League for much longer.

The Dunk Contest at least serves as a reminder that he exists. Now the league has to watch the tape on him again. Or he could just be going team to team, building buzz for his dunking exploits but not for his actual game.

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McClung is a popular player for that reason. But he is an actual player. He is someone who should be getting a more serious NBA look.