2008/09 Player Evaluation: JaVale McGee


Previously: Oleksiy Pecherov, Juan DIxon, Etan Thomas, Javaris Crittenton.

STATS

Per-game: 15.2 minutes, 6.5 points, 3.9 rebounds, 1 block

Per-36 minutes: 15.4 points, 9.3 rebounds, 2.4 blocks

Percentages: 49.4 FG%, 66% FT%, 53.4 TS%

Advanced (explanations): 17 PER, 15.1 REB%, 11.7 TO%, 20.7 USG%, 107 ORtg, 110 DRtg, 2 WSAA (win score above average)

Mike Prada: JaVale McGee was absolutely fantastic as a rookie, exceeding all our wildest expectations and making a lot of us (including myself) feel stupid for doubting whether there was any ability in his lanky frame.  Unfortunately, McGee's splended season left just as many questions as answers, due mostly to the mismanagement of his minutes by Ed Tapscott and the long-term roster imbalance going forward.

Jake, Truth and Rook collectively do a great job of summing up JaVale's season below, so I won't go into too much detail there.  He clearly demonstrated that he has the potential to be an absolute force on both ends, provided he learns how to play.  The last clause of that sentence is best evidenced by his dreadful on/off numbers.  According to 82games.com, the Wizards were outscored by nearly 13 points per 100 possessions with JaVale in the game.  That probably is one reason why he only played about 15 minutes a contest.

But, you know what, that's okay when you're limping to a 19-win season anyway.  McGee is a project.  Sure, he's already 21 (look how ridiculous that sounds), but he's also a late-bloomer that is still growing into his body and has spent most of his career playing as a small or power forward.  He's so physically unique that he doesn't really have a handle on what his own body can do.  After draft day 2008, I hated the pick because I didn't like that we drafted another project instead of trying to get a contributor that could play a role right away for a small price, but a project with tons of upside becomes preferable when you fade into oblivion like the Wizards did last year.  Surely Ernie Grunfeld didn't plan on the Wizards winning 19 games, but the pick of McGee certainly now looks like a great investment into the team's future. 

That's why it was so frustrating to see him play so little under Ed Tapscott.  We rail on here all the time about Eddie Jordan's poor development of our young players, but to his credit, he saw he had something in McGee and gave him the necessary time.  McGee's best month of the season clearly was November, when EJ was still the coach.  He got more minutes than any other month (20.1 per game), shot a high percentage and made his biggest difference on the glass and on defense.  For some reason, despite showing a ton of promise in November, he never topped more than 18 minutes a contest in any month going forward.  He also picked up seven DNP-CDs, which is pretty unacceptable for a team that is both going nowhere and hit with a ton of injuries.  It got so bad that he got just 11 minutes in a game against Chicago in December despite blocking three shots in that time while playing against the legendary Aaron Gray.

The arguments for not playing McGee go along these lines: 1) he makes too many mistakes and is too weak to warrant big minutes; 2) we don't want to hurt his confidence by setting him up to fail; and 3) you can learn a lot by practicing and watching anyway.  In response to the first argument, the Wizards were 19-63, not 63-19.  The games McGee could conceivably "cost" were not important ones anyway.  Ed Tapscott tried to frame the McGee issue in terms of of effort, morphing it into something about not destroying "the fabric of the team."  The only problem with this line of thinking is that McGee isn't a loafer, to the best of my knowledge.  He may be ridiculously out of control and he may lack concentration, but you can't tell me he doesn't try hard.  

The second argument may hold some water if it wasn't being made against McGee specifically.  As mentioned earlier, McGee's biggest problem is not confidence, it's awkwardness.  He's still learning how to best use his late-blooming body, which is now suited for playing inside rather than outside.  To learn best, he needs more in-game practice to hone those instincts against NBA-quality competition.  Last year was the perfect chance to develop those, when the actual stakes (in terms of wins and losses) were non-existant.  Going forward, the stakes become even higher.  

The third argument is one that has a bit of merit.  It's true, there's a lot to development we don't see, and watching can help sometimes.  Practice is also a major place to develop that none of us are really able to see.  However, that doesn't mean that the coach and player shouldn't also complement that experience with in-game experiences.  More in-game experience means more chances to learn lessons that are actually meaningful.  All those times that McGee gets steamrolled by bigger players can also be motivation for McGee to really bulk up down the road.  He had far too few of those experiences last season.  

Finally, the last unanswered question has to do with what McGee's rookie season means for the long-term future of both him and Andray Blatche.  Blatche and McGee are both extremely talented players with vastly different skill sets, but were pretty terrible playing with each other last year.  The Blatche/McGee player pair had an on/off rating of -7.8 last year.  The only players with which Blatche was worse were Mike James and Javaris Crittenton.  Without any other reserves in the frontcourt, we're probably going to have to see those two play together again.  I'm worried because, for all the talk about how Blatche belongs as a power forward because his size and skill set is prototypical for that position, Blatche has historically been pretty bad as a power forward.  This season, Blatche had a PER of 19.6 as a center, compared to 12.9 at power forward and 10.3 at small forward.  McGee belongs inside, so that leaves Blatche to play the perimeter, where he too often commits terrible turnovers, shoots poor jumpers and stops rebounding.  Either the two need to figure it out or one has to be dealt, because they have a ways to go before they become a viable tandem.   

The bottom line, though, is that these problems with McGee are good ones to have because they all result from him exceeding expectations last year.  McGee deserves a shot at minutes next year and probably will get it because of the loss of Darius Songaila.

JakeTheSnake: When I'm evaluating a project, there's three things that I'm looking for to determine whether or not they'll pan out.

1. Is the project's name Kwame Brown?  I don't think I need to explain this one.

2. Has the project ever been called "The Next Larry Bird?"  This is even worst than getting stuck with "The Next Michael Jordan" tag.  At least some of those guys went on to have decent careers.  Unless you count Dirk Nowitzki (who I don't remember being compared to Bird until after he was drafted), I don't think there's really anyone that's even gone on to have a solid career in the NBA.

3. Can they be productive on the court right now?
  I know, with a project it's all about what they can do later down the road, but at least for me, I'd like to see that the project is capable of doing something productive on an NBA basketball court before I'm sold that they can be something good.

Thankfully, JaVale proved over and over again this season that he can do some quality things when he's on the basketball floor.  His SCHOENE projections are still murky, but at least the worst case comparisons are of players that were able to hang around the NBA for a decent amount of time.

I'm confident that he'll project closer to best case scenario than the worst one, based on nothing more than being a Wizards fan and having little else to have hope in.  But seriously, he seems to have all the skills necessary to be a good big man in this league, whether it be at the 4 or the 5.  My only concern going forward is whether he'll be able to bulk up so he can play a little more physically with his opponents.  At this point in his career he's still relying more on his jumping abilities to snag rebounds than boxing out.  He's also still a very poor screener, which hurts his ability to get good looks near the basket and create opportunities for others.  And as we all know, the more physical centers in the league can still move him around quite easily.

There's still a lot of work that needs to be done, but I'm glad that I was able to see that JaVale is capable of doing some good things on the basketball floor.  As he continues to grow, I know the good will continue to make itself more and more evident as he works on diminishing his weaknesses.

Truthaboutit: I've long thought that it was Ernie Grunfeld who made me eat crow after NBA Draft night 2008. But really, it was JaVale McGee. Ok, Grunfeld had big hand in serving what was fed to me. That's why he's the general manager with a team of trusted scouts and we are the blogger/fan people. But it was JaVale McGee who made the meal, proving us all wrong.

On that June 26 evening, positive comments about McGee were virtually non-existent. I was immediately calling him Patrick O'Bryant Part Deux, but later calmed down, thinking that I'd found some sort of positive in his bloodline.

Still, the next day, over 55% of us (on Bullets Forever) were giving the Wizards' draft a D or an F (the sale of Billy Walker to the Celtics also having some effect on opinions). We all wanted a player who we thought could come in and contribute right away ... a Darrell Arthur, a Mario Chalmers. Those guys had decent rookie seasons, especially Chalmers who was voted second team all-rookie, but I'm glad we got the 7'1" kid (in socks) with helicopter arms, pogo stick hops, and a willingness to hustle.

When initially assessing McGee's season, most are probably thinking, "Aww man, McGee should have played a LOT more ... that damn Ed Tapscott, and to some extent, Eddie Jordan. How DARE they play the likes of Darius Songaila or Etan Thomas (when healthy) over McGee?"

Well yea, Epic Vale aka The Choppa aka Lemon Head could have played more, and I wouldn't have minded. But c'mon guys ... 1) There are many things the coaching staff observes beyond the games which we aren't privy too, and fans don't always respect that enough; 2) McGee was getting pushed around in the paint, a lot. You can't just throw a guy into the fire and let him get burned over and over again. McGee did not have NBA conditioning. His high energy was better released in spurts, not necessarily all at once; and 3) Playing time is great, but believe it or not, many things can also be learned by observing from the bench ... especially by a guy new to the league.

With McGee, we've gone from assumed draft night bust to a piece that's fairly close to untouchable (and now right back in the draft, 13 picks higher, and yearning for the same need of immediate veteran help and not another project). We're a fickle bunch, aren't we?

The positives we take are that after receiving more playing time than expected, McGee is ahead of schedule. The two biggest areas he needs to work on is strength and feel for the game .... commodities easily earned with time served. All we can hope for is that the kid continues to stay hungry, turning all that potential into a force to be reckoned with.

Rook6980: So what do I most remember about JaVale McGee's rookie season?  The Dunks!

Even with limited playing time, JaVale McGee managed to average just over a dunk a game. He was 29th in the League in Dunks with 80; behind guys like Shaq (180), Dwight Howard (202) and LeBron James (128), but also behind fellow rookies Brook Lopez (130), Greg Oden (99), Jason Thompson (91), and Marreese Speights (81). But to be fair, McGee played fewer minutes than those other rookies.  Perhaps a better gauge of McGee's dunkage is that he finished 8th in the League in Dunks per minute in 14.65 minutes. 
 
As a big man, at least on Offense, JaVale seems to "get it." He took most of his shots inside (62% of his shots from inside) with a shooting percentage of 63%.  That compares favorably to Dwight Howard, who shot 83% of his attempts inside and had a shooting percentage of 62% on those inside shots.  JaVale's got much better footwork and post moves than I was led to believe. He's also got pretty good hands, and a fairly good handle for a big man. When JaVale did venture outside the lane, he didn't fare as well.  Although he looks like he has a nice jump shot, with good mechanics, he hit a dismal 26% of 2-point jump shots; but because he has such good mechanics, it's only a matter of time (and repetitions) before that jumper becomes a steady weapon.
 
Some have compared him to Dwight Howard when he first came into the League, and perhaps that is one model that JaVale can follow.  Hit the weight room, and shoot 80-85% of his shots from inside. But I like the fact that he has that nice touch from outside, and I feel like he actually may be ahead of Dwight's development in that regard.

Defensively, JaVale was a mixed bag. He blocked a lot of shots. Spectacular blocks. But he was equally spectacular flying through the air after going for pump fakes. His slim frame allowed bigger, stronger players to back him down, and he was frequently out of position on Defense.

JaVale needs to add muscle and strength, work on that mid-range jump shot and continue to get better with his defensive awareness. The tools are all there. The sky's the limit. Now it's all up to McGee.

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