On JaVale McGee For Derrick Williams

I'm beating a bit of a dead horse here, since the rumor Chad Ford floated about Minnesota potentially being "intrigued" by swapping their No. 2 pick straight up for JaVale McGee is a couple days old.  It's a rumor that may or may not have basis in reality, so let's not think anything is anywhere close to imminent.  Bullet Nation in Exile also provided his thoughts on the subject here.

But I've been thinking about this for a while over the past two days, since I think the ramifications of this deal actually being on the table (if it is, of course) are pretty immense.  After a couple days of thinking about it, I've decided that I would be in favor of straight up swapping JaVale McGee for Derrick Williams.  Any other incarnation of the deal, and I'd reject it, because this draft is too weak and the Wizards' existing parts are too important.  But if it's just McGee for Williams, straight up, then I'm doing it.

I'm doing it for a few reasons.  First of all, I really think many of you are selling Williams short, which is weird to me.  I'm reading a lot of stuff about how he's a tweenter with little upside and all that such, and my thought there is, really?

Let's snuff this tweenter stuff out first.  There's an argument out there that Williams doesn't have the size to be a power forward.  Here are the facts about his measurements:

Wingspan: 7'1.5.'' Guys with shorter wingspan at the combine include Joakim Noah, Nick Collison, Al Horford, Ed Ed Davis, Chris Kaman, Kevin Love and Blake Griffin.

Stand and reach: 9 feet flat.  Guys shorter than that: Horford, DeJuan Blair, Tyrus Thomas, Davis, Ekpe Udoh, Noah, Love, Griffin.

No-step vertical reach: 11'5''.  Guys shorter than that: LaMarcus Aldridge, Griffin, Greg Monroe.

Bench-press reps: 19. The only key PFs to exceed that are Griffin, Emeka Okafor and Horford.

Williams is a bit short, I guess, but to steal an old adage, you don't play basketball from your head to your toes. In every key measurement for a power forward, he's right there.  There is no doubt that he has the size to play power forward if he wants in this league.

Offensively, he's pretty awesome in so many different ways.  Sports Illustrated's Luke Winn broke this down beautifully, using Synergy to show that Williams is a tremendously versatile offensive talent.  He was the nation's most efficient major-conference forward in spot-up jumpers and as the roll man in pick and rolls.  He was third in isolation situations.  He was fourth in straight post-ups, drawing fouls on a staggering 37 percent of his opportunities.  He's great at many of the skills NBA 3s perform (spot-up shooting, isolations) and great at many of the skills NBA 4s perform (low-post scoring, pick and roll, pick and pop).  Combine that with his measurements, and he can play either forward position well offensively.  Or, to put it another way since we're projecting, there's less reason Williams can't do it than anyone in this draft.

The slight knocks on Williams are that his defense is so-so and his comments at the combine saying he wanted to play small forward were odd.  I wouldn't read too much into the latter.  Keep in mind that the top three teams in this draft (and by extension, the top four picks) are set at power forward, at least relative to their other needs.  Williams was trying to ensure he was still a desirable candidate to go that high.  

The defense thing is a little trickier.  David Locke, the wonderful play-by-play man for the Utah Jazzposted this video of him not giving great effort and not hustling back on defense at times during the NCAA Tournament.  It's true - Williams took a lot of plays off.  But Locke also shows that Williams is capable of being great on defense when he wants to be.  My caveats there are twofold.  First, not giving it all every possession is a relatively common problem with young players, as we see here with Enes Kanter.  It's definitely correctable.  Second, Williams carried such a huge load offensively for Arizona, one he won't have to carry in the pros.  I suspect he'll have more energy to engage himself defensively when he makes the NBA.  Maybe he's not Kevin Garnett, but the comparisons to Antawn Jamison on defense are ridiculous.

Williams is number one on our site draft board, and with good reason.  I think he's the best prospect in the draft, and I think he's a better prospect than Harrison Barnes, Jared Sullinger or Perry Jones, to be honest.  Why he's suddenly being criticized is very odd to me.

So that's Williams.  The next question is whether he's worth McGee.  This season was an interesting one for JaVale, one where he made improvements, but took a weird route to get there.  Many key numbers went up.  His rebounding, especially his defensive rebounding, improved.  His shooting efficiency improved.  His foul rate when down.  His defensive instincts, while still extremely raw, made some strides.  

Is there much more of a ceiling for JaVale?  That's a tougher one.  He'll definitely improve, and of the three holdovers from the previous regime (McGee, Young, Blatche), he clearly is the most valuable.  But a couple things make me think that his "limitless ceiling" isn't really there.  First, and most importantly, JaVale was channeled into being a role player this year.  His shooting efficiency went way up, but his usage went way down to just 16.3 percent.  This year showed promise that he could play his role effectively, but the sacrifice is that he's playing a role.  I think we can safely say he's not going to be a "future star."

The other thing is his coachability.  McGee certainly wants to be a good NBA player, working hard on his game and body.  But does he want to be the kind of player the Wizards need him to be?  I think that's a serious open question.  I really didn't like hearing McGee sound off about his lack of post touches at the end of the year.  Right or wrong, that's not something that should be said, especially because part of the reason McGee became a more effective player this year was because his share of the offense was reduced.  The dribbling exhibitions, too, are troubling.  Maybe they lessened over the course of the year, but the fact that it's taking this long is ridiculous.  

One of the feathers in McGee's cap to some is that his shot-blocking is extremely valuable.  My answer to that is: maybe, but not yet.  McGee has yet to have a single year where his presence on the floor dramatically impacted the Wizards' defensive performance (2.4 points worse in 20104.2 points worse in 2009), and that's with some bad players backing him up.  This year was the first year where he even got above being a net negative defensively, and the difference was just 0.25 points/100 possessions.  McGee was a net positive overall, but not because of his defense.  Is he making strides towards being a force?  Sure.  Is he there yet?  Despite the block numbers, no he's not.  So he's further behind than some people think.  

Also, there's an argument that a decent center is more valuable than an all-star wing, because there aren't many good centers in this league.  A couple things on that one.  First, as noted above, Williams isn't really a wing.  Second, while I acknowledge that centers are expensive, I think we're seeing a sea change in their importance.  The final four teams in the NBA Playoffs started centers with limited offensive games.  Of the final eight teams, only two (Los Angeles and Atlanta) had centers who were primary offensive options (and for Atlanta, it's debatable).  In fact, only two three of the 16 teams remaining in the playoffs (San Antonio, Orlando, Atlanta) had centers that were top-five picks and still with their original team.  The means for acquiring centers in 2011 are much different and easier than the means for acquiring centers five, 10, 15 years ago.  They're still expensive, but they're not quite as scarce.  

That leaves us to the final point, which I think is the most interesting.  McGee will be a restricted free agent after next season, which isn't hugely significant on its own.  The labor issues make it impossible to project his specific price tag, and at a certain point, every team has to pay their guys.  But given the state of the rest of the team, it does become extremely significant.

Here's why.  The Wizards right now are caught between two philosophies.  They could rebuild, or they could Rebuild with a capital "R."  The difference ultimately rests with the futures of Blatche, Young and McGee.  All three are holdovers from the previous regime, even if they are young.  When John Wall was drafted, all three were within two years of their existing contracts running out.  Management needed to decide whether they belonged in the future plans of the team.  If yes, they were going to collectively soak up much of the Wizards' cap flexibility and make this a quicker rebuild.  If no, this thing would take longer.

So far, the Wizards have re-signed Blatche.  In the next two years, they have key decisions to make on Young and McGee.  If they follow the first "rebuild" strategy, they keep all three and hope they develop.  That's one strategy.

Here's the alternative, though: what about completely starting over?  That's what Oklahoma City ultimately did when it drafted Kevin Durant, and now, the team that went to the Western Conference Finals has absolutely no resemblance to the team prior to Durant.  There's one holdover: Nick Collison.  Everyone else is gone, even though that team prior to Durant had some interesting parts.  The Thunder talked about a "culture change," and truly walked it.  

For the Wizards, this Williams-for-McGee offer, if there, is their chance to truly replicate the Thunder.  Now, granted, if the Wizards do that, they must then trade Blatche for anything (even an Arenas-like return) and rethink the role of Young in their future.  You can't deal McGee, who has the most upside of all the Holdover Three, and then keep the other two.  But once that happens, suddenly, the Wizards will have picks No. 2, 6, 18 and 34, plus cap flexibility, to join the young core they already have.  There may be short-term pain, but the long-term reward of changing the culture is really enticing.  

Frankly, I thought the rebuild with a capital "R" is what many of us wanted when Ted Leonsis took over.  If the chance to accelerate that and bring in the best prospect in the 2011 NBA Draft is there, I think it has to be taken, no matter how much short-term pain ensues.  

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