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Lessons from tracking JaVale McGee's defense: It's not good

When I first saw the stat sheet from yesterday's Summer League game, the most ridiculous stat I saw was that JaVale McGee, our first-round pick who was praised as being a legitimate big man on draft day, had zero defensive rebounds.  I knew he was not much of a rebounder in college, but that's pathetic.

So I decided to tape the rebroadcast of yesterday's game for one purpose.  Track what JaVale McGee was doing defensively to have not grabbed a single rebound. 

To be fair, the purpose of taping the game was broader than that.  I was curious about McGee's inability to rebound, but I was also curious about his entire defensive game.   Is he closer to the first-team all WAC defender that he was, or is he really "light years away" from being a NBA-level defender?  From the first viewing, it seemed like his length was bothering people even if he looked silly on pump fakes a few times.

But I wasn't really watching McGee closely, so I decided to take note of everything McGee did on every single defensive possession.  I'm not going to post everything, since tons of the possessions were pretty inconsequential, but here are some of his most important defensive sequences.  Pretty soon, the conclusion will become obvious.

First Quarter

9:20 - It's Portland's first possession, and there have already been an offensive rebound because Andray Blatche decided he didn't want to box out.  Jerryd Bayless eventually gets the ball and drives past Nick Young.  McGee should be cutting him off, but instead, he stays where he is, hoping his wingspan will allow him to block the shot.  Bayless floats up a shot, McGee swats at it and misses, and the shot goes in. 

4:20 - The Wizards get caught in transition, and McGee is forced to guard Nicholas Batum.  He forces Batum into a tough jumper that misses, but McGee doesn't even bother to contest it.  Worse yet, he starts running up the floor instead of going for the rebound, and Batum gets it back.  Batum drives on McGee, and McGee, instead of moving his feet, reaches in and pokes it away.  Batum gets it back, but McGee goes into the paint.  Bayless gets the ball and makes a sharp move down the middle.  He's heading right for McGee going full-speed.  McGee should take the charge, but instead, he throws his arms in front of him and doesn't really do anything.  Bayless jumps through him, scores, and McGee is called for the foul.

Second Quarter

5:28 - This isn't completely McGee's fault, but he is partially to blame.  Bayless takes the ball and drives past the entire defense coast-to-coast.  The last guy who can stop him is McGee.  A good defender would cut him off and draw a charge or force Bayless to move back.  McGee doesn't do that.  He hangs back, trying to time it for the block.  Bayless, though, is too quick.  He accelerates down the lane and flips up the lefty layup before McGee can swat at the ball.  McGee misses the block and Bayless scores easily.

3:55 - Bayless and Ellis run a high pick and roll, and Bayless spins back left to find a drive to the lane.  Dee Brown looks like he cuts him off, but McGee is behind Ellis on the right side.  Bayless pump fakes and draws a foul, but that's not the significant part.  McGee looks like he wants to challenge the shot, but Ellis is screening him out of the play right in front of Bayless.  McGee likely would have had another block, but he allowed himself to be screened.

Third Quarter

8:02 - Up until the fourth quarter, McGee's pick and roll coverage was a mixed bag, but there were a few plays where he sagged back enough to use his length to recover when the guard shot the jumper.  Here, however, is an example of him sagging too far.  Petteri Koponen comes off an Alexis Maric (sp?) screen and hits a wide-open shot as McGee stands in the middle of the paint with his knees completely straight.

7:30 - Koponen sets a vicious cross-screen on McGee, and he can't recover in time.  He goes for the steal on Maric, but misses it.  Maric hits a bank shot, but somehow McGee hustles back and leaps high enough to literally take the ball off the cylinder for a goaltend.  Just goes to show you how high he can jump.

Fourth Quarter

9:38 - J.R. Pinnock gets by Nick Young, and McGee needs to cut off the lane.  Instead, he moves sideways so he's right underneath the rim.  He leaps away from Pinnock, but because we're talking about J.R. Pinnock, he still got a hand on the ball and slapped it out of bounds.  He's hitting down, though, instead of putting his arms up.

8:13 - Koponen darts past Brown, and again, McGee stays underneath trying to block the shot.  Koponen floats it over his outstretched arm.  On first view, it's a phenomenal shot, but it never would have happened if McGee stepped up.

7:06- Same as above, except with Pinnock. 

6:38 - Maric catches and throws a half-hearted pump fake that McGee does for.  McGee recovers, but fouls Maric.  Terrible discipline. 

3:52 - Maric backs in and misses a jump hook long.  McGee is in good position to challenge, but for some strange reason, he jumps to block the shot.  As he's in the air, the ball comes out and a Portland player is able to tap it back it out.

Maric and Koponen run a pick and roll, and McGee sags back, leaving the entire lane open.  Koponen flips it up, McGee jumps, but this time Koponen misses.  Once again, because McGee jumped, Portland taps the rebound back out.

Koponen eventually hits the game-tying three.  All this in one possession.

1:52 - Maric backs McGee in easily and flips up a lefty hook.  It misses, but again, McGee jumps to block it when simply raising his arms will do.  Portland taps out the rebound.  Later, Bayless goes down the lane and McGee is very late rotating.  He eventually fouls Bayless.

24.3 seconds - We all know this one.  Portland up three.  McGee has the rebound, but jumps too early and loses it out of bounds.

5.8 seconds - Bayless misses the second free throw with Portland up three.  Maric pushes McGee completely underneath the hoop to get the offensive rebound. 


In short, not good.  I counted 12 times when McGee should have cut off the lane, but instead tried for the spectacular block.  I counted zero times when McGee really cut off the lane (I'm not talking about him failing to step up on a pick and roll), and only twice when he cut off the baseline.

But there's more.  He twice jumped to block hook shots when he didn't need to do so, allowing Portland to grab offensive rebounds that he should have corralled himself.  I counted three times when he failed to hedge and committed a foul on a pick and roll.  He was killed on pump fakes twice more, committing fouls on both those possessions.  He caught caught on a cross-screen once and committed a goaltend.  He was shielded out of the play three times, if you count the last possession where Maric shoved him out of the way.  There were also three possessions where he didn't get back on Portland's fast break. 

That's 26 possessions right there where McGee completely messed up.  I counted 52 possessions that occurred when McGee was in the game, so essentially McGee displayed awful defense that killed the Wizards on half of his defensive possessions!  That doesn't even include the many possessions where McGee didn't really make much of an impact.  You could count the number of possessions where McGee played solid team defense with your fingers. 

Not exactly the best start in the world, to say the least.  McGee really needs to learn from Brendan Haywood.  Haywood's just as long, but uses it so much more effectively.  I have no doubt that McGee has the body to be a difference-maker defensively, and he has a good mentor in Haywood.

But if the first game is any indication, he still has a ways to go before he even gets in Etan Thomas' stratosphere.