Back on Christmas Eve, when the story broke about Andray Blatche and JaVale McGee getting in a bit of a tiff at a nightclub, I was willing to give McGee a pass. Unlike Blatche, who has put together an (un)impressive list of brushes with the law, McGee has managed to steer clear of that type of trouble.
Sure, his lack of a go-to move in the post is maddening, and yes he falls for every eyebrow twitch of a pump fake, and I’ll give you the fact that he fouls more often than Ted Leonsis blogs. Still, McGee is relatively quiet off the court, and he plays hard on it, which is an enviable quality for a young player to possess, especially on a young team. He’s averaging career highs in every major category, and almost every opposing coach mentions him in their how-do-we-stop-the-Wizards pregame speech.
In a December 29 match against the Indiana Pacers, McGee totally flustered the improved Roy Hibbert. After the game, he sounded like a seasoned veteran when asked about his approach:
“I was watching film on him. So I was definitely just seeing what he does in the post, and I was trying to front him every time so he really didn’t have a lot of touches in the post. That was the game plan, just stop Hibbert and go out there and try to work as hard as we can on defense, and that’s what we did.”
McGee finished that game, the last Wizards win, with 16 points, 10 rebounds and four blocks in 22 minutes. Hibbert had five points, four rebounds, two blocks and five fouls in 15 minutes. But both during and after the Wizards’ loss to the New Orleans Hornets on New Year’s Day, there were some things that troubled me about young McGee. First there was this (although the matador defense by Blatche didn’t help things):
After that dunk, McGee was visibly irritated, and given that he got dunked on and his team was losing, that was totally understandable. But the frustration seemed to spill over into the postgame when, according to both Kyle Weidie of TAI and Michael Lee of the Washington Post, he sat slumped at his locker, his body turned towards the corner and a towel over his head, making it clear he did not want to speak with the media, and if approached, that it would be an awkward interview nonetheless.
Blatche also left without speaking to reporters, but with his inconsistent play, the club fight, and the undying trade rumors, that’s almost to be expected. McGee has been working hard on his game, working hard to be a better team player, and he’s even stepped up his interview game a bit by showing more personality towards the media. Not to mention, he had a stat-line of 12 points, 13 rebounds and six blocks against the Hornets. So, to hear that McGee’s frustration had rendered him reticent — whether it’s because of Ariza’s dunk, the loss or how he perceived his play that night — was disappointing.
It would be easy for me to say that McGee needs some post moves and selective-acting crazy glue to keep him from prematurely jumping and falling for pump fakes, but I’ll focus on the positive. He needs to focus on blocking shots, grabbing offensive and defensive rebounds, and taking the open shot (whether it be a short jumper or a swooping dunk down the lane) when it presents itself. Those are the elements of McGee’s game that have improved this season. Given that Blatche is struggling and Hilton Armstrong is a defensive center, the Wizards need McGee to consistently and confidently give that energy to the team.