**Cue the ESPN 30 for 30 voice**
What if I told you that two seven-footers battled this summer for a chance to play center for Team USA at the FIBA World Basketball Championships in Turkey? That the older one coming off surgery made the team, while the younger, healthier one was cut? Those same two players met earlier this year, and the one who got cut from Team USA was again dominated by the older, wiser center. Would it be a surprise if I told you that these same two centers squared off Saturday night, and again the younger center came up short, partially because the older one beat him at his own game in running up and down the court, catching alley-oops and making highlight dunks?
This is the story of Tyson Chandler’s dominance over JaVale McGee.
Chandler came into Saturday’s game against the Wizards averaging 10.7 points an 9.5 rebounds and proceeded to score a season-high 23 points to go along with his 13 rebounds. He also had a key offensive rebound and put back over McGee with 1:36 left in the game that put a stop to a furious Wizards’ comeback run and gave the Mavericks the lead for good. In contrast, McGee, who had a monster game the night before against the Miami Heat with 18 points and 17 rebounds, had just six points to go with his 11 rebounds against Dallas. To make matters worse, most of Chandler’s dunks came as a result of McGee’s defensive negligence. McGee often got caught watching the ball while Chandler consistently and easily rolled to the basket.
The brilliance of Chandler’s performance did not just lie in his ability to dunk the deft passes he received from Jason Kidd, but he was able to do the little things that elude the ever-expanding box score. One of those duties was to keep a high defensive awareness and limit the ability of John Wall to get into the lane at will. Prior to the game, Mavericks coach Rick Carlisle stressed the importance of slowing down Wall’s fast-breaking ability and how his team would go about doing that:
Chandler’s role in limiting of Wall was to stand on or near the foul line when the Wizards attempted a fast-break in order to thwart Wall’s penetration. This worked to perfection in first half, as the Mavericks limited the Wizards to just three fast-break points (Wall was not to be denied in the second half, however, as he scored 16 points and the Wizards tallied 10 fast-break points). In terms of offensive little things, Chandler also set several hard screens to free up both Kidd and Jason Terry on the perimeter.
Whether he was screening smaller players like Wall or Mike Bibby, or slightly larger players such as Nick Young or Josh Howard, his technique was the same. Chandler would put his hands in front of him and solidly stand in front of the person he was screening until his man was freed. This may sound a simple task, but if you observe any given NBA game with a close, watchful eye, you’ll see so many players go through the motions when it comes to setting a good, solid screen. Chandler did the exact opposite, and Carlisle made a point to mention after the game:
“All night long [Chandler] ran the floor well. He defended the basket well, he made his free throws, he’s just really important to us. Down the stretch he was big, and his screens will be something that is overlooked, but he set good screens and made a lot of good things happen.”
Kidd also took time to observe that Chandler was the Jerry Rice to his Joe Montana on offense:
“The big thing was he was running. We knew they were coming off a back-to-back, and we needed the tempo to get in our favor and Tyson was out running. He can run with the best of the bigs. He runs routes as a wide receiver, and he dips in, and the he goes to the rim. As a big, if you respond to him dipping in, then he has the advantage.”
The whole time I was listening to the Mavericks coaches and players rave about Chandler’s feats both big and small, I could not help but wonder why JaVale McGee could not assume that same type of role. Like Chandler, McGee is athletic, he runs the floor well, and also runs routes to the basket like Chandler does for Kidd, being the beneficiary of many Wall assists. Unfortunately, McGee, who is just 23 and in his third year (and first as a full-time starter) has not been consistently great — often more style over substance, as Flip Saunders likes to put it. And against the Mavericks, McGee struggled. As the Wizards coach told it afterward:
“Tyson’s killed JaVale both games, last game I think he had 18 and 18, tonight he ends up with 23. JaVale was really tired tonight. He had problems running tonight, and had problems just as … as soon as you get tired, you lose some of your mental quickness. But he tried to compete…”
McGee will have games like he did Friday night against the Heat, where he is a dominating force on both ends of the floor; however, he’ll also follow those games up with an inconsistent performance or two. These are usually highlighted when he dribbles incessantly, racks up goal-tending calls, misses defensive rotations, ultimately drawing the ire of Saunders and/or Randy Wittman and finding a spot on the bench.
Chandler weighed in on McGee’s game and was asked if he thinks their games are similar:
“Yeah, I hear that a lot. He’s more athletic than I was, he just has to understand how he can be effective, and it takes awhile. It takes him being around good players to understand that. Not saying that the [Wizards] players aren’t good, but it takes getting in a good system and understanding what you’re able to do out there.”
I followed up by asking Chandler how long it took him to have that understanding of what he could and could not do:
“I kind of started understanding and learning my latter years in Chicago, and then when I got to New Orleans, I really understood.”
During Chandler’s latter years in Chicago, where he spent his first five season in the NBA out of high school (2001-02 to 2005-06), his starting point guard was the recently traded Kirk Hinrich, and in New Orleans, All-Star Chris Paul was delivering him the ball. Considering McGee had the services of Hinrich briefly and Wall full time, perhaps he too will start to really understand. Until then, he can just study the tapes of Chandler, who has thoroughly dominated him in their eight head-to-head match-ups.
Chandler has averaged 11.1 points and 9.5 rebounds during that eight-game span, and McGee has averaged 4.6 points and 5.4 rebounds. This season alone, Chandler has averages of 20.5 points and 15.1 boards against Washington, while McGee has managed just four points and seven rebounds in return. But the most glaring disparity in the Chandler-McGee matchup lies in the victory column. Chandler’s teams (New Orleans, Charlotte and now Dallas) have eight victories, while McGee’s Wizards have none.
It’s the little things that Chandler does as a veteran center which help his team win. As soon as McGee starts playing more within his role and really works to limit his mistakes, the Wizards will be in a much better position to win.