JaVale McGee and United Lessons with Team USA
[Team USA Men’s Basketball played an intra-squad scrimmage on Saturday night. Below is a recap/assessment of the instances where JaVale McGee had an impact on the game.]
JaVale McGee’s presence at USA Basketball camp hasn’t come without skeptics, mainly Rob Mahoney of ProBasketballTalk and the ESPN TrueHoop Network Dallas Mavericks blog, The Two Man Game.
Mahoney also contributes to Hardwood Paroxysm, a general NBA blog on the TrueHoop Network. On Friday, Mahoney wrote on HP:
Honestly, I’m not sure what JaVale McGee would bring to the World Championships. McGee, impressive Summer League dunker though he may be, isn’t a very good rebounder, defender, or even a consistent offensive threat. He can’t create his own shot, and aside from picking up blocks, really isn’t to the point where he can contribute defensively against top-flight competition. McGee may be a center, but it’s not like he’s going to be some great interior defender. He’s still a bit too lean and too jumpy for that.
Worth noting that Mahoney doesn’t endorse Tyson Chandler either, instead advocating for Brook Lopez as ‘the’ center on Team USA and smaller support (Kevin Love, Lamar Odom, and even Gerald Wallace) — the path of the unconventional in trying to orchestrate the composition of a jigsaw puzzle to display a unique, winning work of art without all the pieces.
Before the game on Saturday, Mahoney picked on McGee a little bit more. He wrote on Hardwood Paroxysm:
Plan A was Dwight Howard with help. Plan B was some combination of Chris Bosh and other bigs. Plan C was Amar’e Stoudemire. Plan D was the Lopez twins. Now that we’re going to Plans E and beyond, is it perhaps time for us to admit that there are greater forces of chaos at work here, pining to see Lamar Odom and Gerald Wallace play center? Have we really come all this way just to see Team USA trot out JaVale McGee?
It was never my intent to turn McGee into a scapegoat, but in this scenario, his positioning is far too convenient. In truth, JaVale is growing as a player, and one day he may be a fine part of a complete starting lineup. He’s just not there yet. That’s not a problem in itself (How many players on this year’s Team USA roster have actually come close to fulfilling their potential?), but with the pool of players given, the team seems to have better options. Even if they aren’t centers.
Mahoney brings up valid points about McGee that are tough to argue against. JaVale has shown himself as a supreme talent clientele of America’s basketball future, yet is often stubborn and fails to do so many little things right that it’s unimaginable to think he will actually make a Coach Krzyzewski led team of 12 players … despite the likelihood that he will make the cut to 15 players from Camp Vegas to Camp New York, according to Jerry Colangelo via Tweet by NBA.com’s John Schuhmann.
Let’s check a couple McGee (#14) highlights and lowlights from Saturday night’s game.
McGee played the least minutes of anyone, 9:24, and went 3-6 on FGs, 1-2 on FTs, scoring seven points, pulling down three rebounds (two defensive) and blocking one shot. Also worth noting that McGee’s 22.98 field-goals attempted per 36 minutes in the game was second highest to Jeff Green’s 26.22 FGA/36, and above Kevin Durant’s 21.18. JaVale loves him some field goal attempts.
McGee checked in for the first time on the Blue squad to start the second quarter with his team down 29-23. He was joined by Russell Westbrook, Chauncey Billups, OJ Mayo and Jeff Green. McGee matched up against Lamar Odom, playing center for the White squad.
McGee tried to snare a clear-path defensive rebound with one hand instead of two. He bobbled the loose ball that almost went to the White team, but Billups was there to recover. Nerves, I get it, McGee probably had them … but always secure that rebound with TWO hands.
But JaVale ran the floor well, right down the middle as Odom tried to screw around and steal the ball from Billups. The White team, already a man down and obviously playing small, did not communicate to pick up McGee. Billups passed the ball forward a couple feet before crossing the half-court line. Jeff Green received the ball at the 3-point line, took one dribble, and fired a shovel pass to McGee for the easy transition dunk.
This one was all Russell Westbrook. Green slipped and faded on a screen, and Westbrook used his speed to split Derrick Rose and Gerald Wallace. Westbrook attracted a crowd, including McGee’s man, Odom. JaVale simply had to turn, square his shoulders to the passer, and get ready to receive the ball. With the weak-side help being Eric Gordon, there was no chance for the White team to stop the finish by McGee courtesy of Westbrook.
Odom was clearly sleeping on McGee on the defensive end (hopefully not indicative of how Odom will treat the real games), and of course he slept on McGee on the offensive end too. One pass was made by the White team in the half court, to Odom, and he took a one-dribble, step-back jumper right inside the FIBA 3-point line. Yes, a very inefficient shot AND the laziness got blocked by McGee.
McGee stepped out to set a screen for Westbrook between the 3-point line and the right elbow. He didn’t really stay set on the screen, but judging by how quickly he slipped it, I have to assume it was by design … then again, assumptions with young players aren’t always the best things to make.
Odom doubled the ball off the screen and Danny Granger came in from the weak-side corner the cover the diving McGee. Odom, however, was rather nonchalant in his recovery. He turned his back on the ball, barely jogged back to place, and the bounce entry pass from Westbrook to McGee went right by him.
McGee caught the ball, and with Odom and Granger completely out of position and seemingly non-communicative about their defense, he took one power dribble toward the middle and threw up a running, left-handed scoop/hook shot over both players. Normally, I would say this was a less than ideal, weak attempt. But the more I see of what McGee can to athletically, along with the touch he has, I’m thinking this was a decent attempt — after all, he was in the paint and no one was going to block his shot.
At this point, McGee scored six points in a minute and a half. He may not always make the right decisions, but the ability to impact a game with his simple presence is clear. It’s hard to tell exactly what Chauncey Billups said to McGee going into the subsequent timeout — Billups looked to be telling him not to even dribble the ball when he catches it so deep … just go up and make a move.
Whether right or wrong (perhaps McGee really needed the power dribble in that instance to gain his balance and get past defenders … but yea, overall he should not be dribbling in the paint), the mentorship is available and hopefully does not go lost on young JaVale.
Derrick Rose got the rebound and turned on the jets for a White team fast-break. McGee ran back on defense like he was going up hill. If you’ll remember, a prevailing theme with both JaVale and Andray Blatche last year was that they loved to run downhill in offensive transition, but the climb the other way seemed to be too much at times.
McGee had no chance to catch Rose … but the Chicago Bull did miss the transition layup attempt and his teammate Kevin Durant was right there to get the offensive rebound and draw a foul. The running track for both offensive and defensive transition needs to be more level for McGee.
Similar defensive transition woes happened here. Andre Igoudala beat Mayo down the court, received a long pass, and was eventually fouled and put on the line by Mayo. The supposedly out-of-shape Tyson Chandler, once behind McGee in the transition attempt, ended up beating him down the court by the time the whistle was blown. If there was a turnover, blocked shot, or anything else which would have lead the play not to be blown dead, Chandler would have been there to pick up the loose ball instead of McGee.
Derrick Rose tried to run a left side P&R with Chandler against Billups and McGee. But the lob pass was foiled by McGee who showed good recognition and spacing. He was able to use his length to bat the lob attempt out of Chandler’s hands and his team recovered the ball. Good defense.
Brook Lopez checked back in for McGee.
McGee started for the Blue team in the third quarter with Russell Westbrook, Jeff Green, Chauncey Billups and Rudy Gay.
McGee played decent help contain defense on an pick and fade set by Lamar Odom for Derrick Rose. Westbrook was allowed to recover without Odom being much of a threat (McGee guarded the passing lane well).
McGee caught the ball in the left, low trapezoid post area against Odom. He took two dribbles that went away from the basket, threw a long jab step, reverse pivoted and shot a fading turn-around jumper. Miss.
Very wrong. 1) McGee was playing against the shorter Odom and could have easily gotten a closer shot. 2) Odom was initially giving up baseline all day, but McGee doesn’t have the footwork to spin and dribble drive to his left. He needs to work on that, a bunch. This was not an offensive move that any coach would ever ask of McGee.
The White team performed some improvised zone switching on defense. This, of course, allowed McGee to roam the offensive boards relatively unchecked. If Team USA sees a lot of zone, that could nullify some of the disadvantages that McGee has against the strength and toughness of international play.
Here, McGee did a great job of securing the offensive rebound with two hands and then going straight back up, drawing a foul.
Westbrook ran the break, got past his man after the free-throw line and threw a bounce pass past Odom and to McGee. But the pass was a little bit behind — a lob might have been nice — and instead, McGee tried to perform a right foot drop-step from the left block. Turning to his right shoulder, McGee didn’t make contact with Odom first, got pushed by Odom (nothing a ref would call), and lost ground, finding himself under the backboard. JaVale tried a right-handed finger roll, but it got stuffed by Danny Granger like turkey.
McGee saw that Danny Granger had gotten past Rudy Gay and was heading baseline …
Yet, he failed to cut Granger off, rather giving him the one-armed matador defense. Granger easily slipped by for the reverse layup.
McGee checked out.
The television commentators were wondering what one could really gauge from individual players after watching the Team USA intra-squad scrimmage. But in many ways, how McGee fared actually represented the epitome of his game.
His athleticism provides for amazing options, provided he finds himself in the right place, runs the floor in both directions, and pays attention to the basics.
McGee doesn’t work out so well in that his decision making can’t be trusted on a world stage, and he will be a prime target of physical, chain smoking European-style big men with more hair under one armpit than McGee has on his entire body.
It’s not about if McGee will make the final roster of 12 going to Turkey. He won’t. It’s about if he’ll get taken to New York in case another big gets hurt in the meantime as part of the next cut of 15, or if he’s left home immediately after Las Vegas cuts in order to let a couple talented perimeter players to battle it out for the final spot.
Either way, Wizards fans hope lessons drawn from the experience do not go lost when the real season comes around.