Prior to last week’s Wizards-Mavericks summer league game, in what had to be one of the shortest, most unconventional interviews ever, I talked to Omar Samhan about his matchup with JaVale McGee. I knew that Samhan was stronger and more skilled in the low post, but I also understood that McGee was longer, more athletic and more experienced in terms of how the NBA game is played.
I asked Samhan, via Blackberry Messenger of all places, what his approach to guarding McGee would be. He typed:
“Try to outsmart him. Be physical with him.”
Unfortunately for Samhan, me, and the fans who watched both on television and in person, that classic, low-post type battle never materialized. And McGee took full advantage.
McGee finished with 18 points on 9-of-10 shooting, most coming via alley-oop dunks. Offensively, he and John Wall seemed to really connect for the third consecutive game. However, McGee only had four rebounds (three offensive), and he failed to make an appearance at the free throw line.
Samhan never got the opportunity to outsmart or be physical with McGee. On the offensive end for Dallas, Dominique Jones (28 points) and Jeremy Lin (13 points) dominated the ball for much of the game and did not look for Samhan in the post. On the defensive side of the ball, McGee was simply too quick, and Wall’s passes were too high and precise, for Samhan to put up any type of resistance. Still, he finished with a respectable 12 points on 6-of-9 shooting, grabbed eight rebounds (five defensive), and blocked two shots.
I counted only one possession where McGee and Samhan went head-to-head in the post, and that came with eight minutes left in the fourth quarter. McGee, who rarely displays his low post repertoire, caught the ball near the left block, drop-stepped toward his right shoulder, and laid the ball off the glass over Samhan with his right hand. The whole sequence was over and done with in five seconds, and Samhan was powerless. That concluded the battle of the centers.
More observations of Samhan:
- I find it very hard to believe that he cannot find a place on a NBA roster. When he gets the ball in the post, he scores, and doesn’t take very long to get into his low post routine. And the last time I checked, the NBA still drools over centers who can consistently score in the paint.
- I didn’t see this from him in college, but during the summer league, Samhan consistently hit the outside jumper. He hit a contested one over McGee, and at least two others when he was left wide open. If he can knock that shot down (think Big Z in Cleveland), he can make himself that much tougher to guard.
- He really struggles with weak side and help defense, and that’s where the criticisms of his quickness and lateral movement come into play. There were several plays when a Wizards player had gotten in the lane, and Samhan could only position himself for the rebound, instead of making a good, solid defensive play. All he has to do is ask McGee, who was frequently yanked by Flip Saunders for bad defensive rotations last season, how that could affect his playing time.
Some McGee observations:
- After watching McGee lose stamina a bit too prematurely in his first two seasons with the Wizards, it’s nice to see him seemingly play through that fatigue this summer. He runs up and down the floor with ease, and he doesn’t seem to lose energy on the defensive end of the floor. That alone could get him more minutes when the regular season starts. In fairness, I should mention that McGee’s battles with asthma were not diagnosed until late last season, and part of his increased stamina this summer could be because he now knows how to cope. I emailed the Wizards PR staff to see if the team trainers/doctors had done anything to help this along, but they had no official statement on this matter.
- I want to say McGee has developed a top-notch chemistry level with Wall, but McGee develops that chemistry with everyone including Antonio Daniels, Randy Foye, and Gilbert Arenas. He just has that knack of making eye contact with his guards, and then taking that perimeter pass and throwing it down in one fluid motion. And even when that motion lacks fluidity, McGee has the presence of mind to come down and go right back up and score.
- McGee still needs to work on being aggressive on the defensive boards. One defensive rebound in 26 minutes, for a long, athletic player like McGee is just not acceptable, especially when Wall and Cartier Martin had seven and five rebounds respectively. Again, McGee can get by in spurts without rebounding, but for him to stay on the floor longer than 15 minutes, he has to put it all together.
All in all, as much as I enjoyed watching McGee and Samhan individually, it would have been nice to see them go head-to-head in the post a little more. McGee is guaranteed a roster spot and playing time, but Samhan is not, so this could be the first and last time we see them on the court together.
In the next game, McGee scored 29 points and grabbed eight rebounds (and had a monstrous dunk) against the New Orleans Hornets. The Wizards coaching staff shut him down for the last game against the Knicks. His averages of 15.9 points and 9.5 rebounds in the Vegas Summer League likely helped him earn an invitation to the USA Men’s National team training camp. Robin Lopez (back) and Amar’e Stoudemire (insurance) were also last minute subtractions that made room for McGee.
Samhan played one more game after meeting McGee, and that was against DeMarcus Cousins and the Sacramento Kings. He only had eight points and five rebounds, but played a role in holding Cousins to just six points and six rebounds. And while he didn’t have a flashy dunk in his highlight reel like McGee, he did block Cousins’ shot as he tried to shoot from the free throw line. At the present time, he has not received an invitation to an NBA training camp, but he has signed to play professionally in Lithuania.