As the free agent forwards fly off the market, it's looking more likely that the Wizards will enter next season with Dominic McGuire as the backup small forward. That's not to say that he's the only guy currently on the roster that can fill the role, as Andray Blatche and Antawn Jamison can play the small forward position in a pinch, but he's the natural fit. If he could provide solid backup minutes as early as next season, it would allow Caron Butler to get much-needed rest and could allow Ernie Grunfeld the luxury of dealing someone like Darius Songaila to free up the frontcourt logjam.
To fill the role, however, McGuire is going to have to be a lot better than he was last season. The signs were there, but there are several areas of his game that need improvement from last year's regular season. We identified most of them in his player evaluation, but to reiterate, here they are:
- Outside shooting, particularly spot-up shooting
- Moving without the ball
- Fouling on defense
- Playing to his strengths, not his weaknesses
It sounds like a lot, but some of these things (e.g. fouling on defense, playing to his strengths) will improve over time no matter what. He'll get fewer fouls called against him as his reputation grows, and he's already learning how to play to his strengths. It's the other skills that need to be developed.
So with that in mind, here are some notes I took while tracking him during the game against the Rockets. I chose this game for several reasons. First, I think the consensus here is that McGuire had a good Summer League overall, and it's clear that his best overall game was against Houston. Second, I wanted to see how he was getting his points and rebounds, and because he scored and rebounded well in this game, it afforded me a larger sample size. Finally, defensively McGuire was switching between defending the burly Mike Harris and the perimeter-oriented Donte Greene. If McGuire's ceiling is truly a Swiss Army Knife-type of defender, this was the perfect opportunity to see how he could guard different kinds of players.
As you'll probably see, the report is mostly positive. Keep in mind that we are talking Summer League, and this is his best game, so expectations should be tempered. Still, we definitely saw his all-around game on full display.
We're going to organize this by skill rather than chronologically. Like the McGee evaluation, the time codes are not exact.
Throughout the Summer League, McGuire showed that he was working on his jumper. In this game, though, he showed more success shooting off the dribble than he did spotting up. I counted McGuire attempting four jumpers in this one. Two were spot-up shots, meaning McGuire didn't dribble before attempting them. The other two were pull-up shots, where McGuire dribbled once to get closer to the basket. He hit both of his pull-up shots and missed both of his spot-up attempts.
Here's more detail on the four attempts:
5:41, first quarter: Andray Blatche is holding the ball with his back to the basket out on the left wing. McGuire, in the weakside corner, makes a "V' cut off a screen from Gary Forbes, going from the right block to the left elbow. Blatche finds him and McGuire is wide open.
But he misses the shot. He misses it pretty badly, actually, as it clanks off the left side of the rim and ricochets off the backboard. When pausing the tape, you can see that McGuire's clearly fading away on his shot. The momentum that he used making a cut from the basket area to the elbow continues into his motion. It's no secret why he missed.
5:49, second quarter: The shot clock runs under 10. Jonathan Wallace feeds McGuire on the right wing outside the three-point line, and McGuire needs to make a play. Donte Greene, however, stupidly plays way off McGuire. McGuire takes one step in and shoots at the college three point line. The shot spins in.
McGuire's jumping straight up here. It's no secret why the shot went in.
3:13, fourth quarter: This is probably the closest to a spot-up shot McGuire got in this game. Nick Young comes off a high screen and is double-teamed. The defender rotates in to cover Blatche, leaving McGuire wide open on the left wing. Young feeds him, McGuire is one step inside the three-point line. His balance looks fine, but the shot is just short and spins out.
45 seconds, overtime: The biggest play of the overtime. Young posts up Aaron Brooks, and the Rockets double-team. Young kicks out to McGuire at the top of the key. Rockets point guard Gustavo Barrera nearly gets the steal, but McGuire catches it. He takes one dribble, pulls up just in front of the foul line, and spins the shot in.
The issue here is McGuire's balance on his shot. He releases pretty high over his head, so it's natural for him to fade. He really shouldn't do that. That's probably why he shot better off the dribble. His body motion is already going forward, so his balance is better.
One part of McGuire's game that disappointed me during the season was that he was content with hanging around on the perimeter. He didn't seem to take advantage of open spaces, which is bad because his perimeter shot is the weakest part of his game. How else was he supposed to score if all he was doing was playing on the perimeter?
In this respect, however, McGuire showed extremely well against the Rockets. He displayed a savvy with his cuts that I hadn't seen from him before. He hooked up with Andray Blatche on a number of strong cuts to the basket, especially at the end of the game. Here are some moments that stood out to me.
2:55, fourth quarter: The Wizards are in transition, with Andray Blatche leading the break for the umpteenth time this Summer League. (Don't get too comfortable, 'Dray, because if you do that in the regular season...). Blatche is dribbling up the left wing, McGuire is on the right side, with Taj McCullough near him. Donte Greene is standing near both of them. McGuire, seeing the opening in the middle, cuts there, hoping to draw Greene and give McCullough open space beyond the arc.
Instead, Greene, who cares not for anything but scoring (very glad we didn't pick him, is slow to pick up McGuire. Blatche waits until the opportune moment and feeds McGuire on the left block. McGuire, who has the step on Greene, turns back the other way and scores with the right hand as Greene reaches in.
I loved this play because it showed remarkable court awareness. McGuire wasn't cutting for himself, he was cutting for McCullough, yet he was also ready to receive the pass.
1:49, fourth quarter: McGuire lobs it into Blatche on the right wing. (An aside: McGuire throws good entry passes). He circles back to the top of the key as Blatche holds it on the block. Then, suddenly, as all the Rockets are watching the ball, McGuire cuts sharply down the middle of the lane. Before Aaron Brooks, Marty Leunen or Mike Harris can react, Blatche zips a pass to him and McGuire has a layup.
1:45, overtime: I'm still amazed by this one. McGuire again throws it into Blatche, this time from the left corner. Initially, he stands around, allowing Blatche to be double-teamed in the deep corner. But just as I'm about to sigh in disgust, McGuire tiptoes around the baseline. Nobody picks him up, Blatche delivers an insane pass, and McGuire hits a reverse layup (it didn't even look like he looked at the rim). My favorite part about this play is that he waited to make his move until he saw which side Marty Leunen, his man, double-teamed. Leunen went to the high side, so McGuire cut around the baseline.
If McGuire can display this court sense when making cuts next season, it'll make him so much more difficult to guard offensively. To put it simply, it'll do wonders for his offensive game. Within the framework of the Princeton, he'll have plenty of opportunities, and though the defenders will be more aware, the spaces will always be there.
Well, you already knew he rocked at this. For reference, though, check out the 5:15, 2:52 and 1:00 mark of the second quarter.
For McGuire to stick in this league, defense is going to have to be his calling card. In particular, we have visions of him locking down top perimeter threats like LeBron James and Dwayne Wade. Nobody shuts down those guys, but McGuire can hopefully come close.
The problem is that McGuire's best skill coming out of college was his help defense, not necessarily his man-to-man defense. He's such a good weakside shot-blocker, but how is he as a man defender?
It all depends on who he's playing. When matched up against a bulkier player like Mike Harris, McGuire struggled. Overall, Harris had a strong game, with 16 points and 11 rebounds. Lots of that came in the first quarter. At the 7:38 mark, McGuire, taken out of the play, does very little to keep Harris off the glass, allowing Harris to convert an And-1. At the six-minute mark, McGuire completely sags off Harris, who hits the baseline jumper over him. If Harris had more of a post-game, he could have taken advantage of McGuire like Marreese Speights did in the loss to Philadelphia.
McGuire did a much better job on Donte Greene, however. Greene had been doing a great job in Summer League, but McGuire really took him out of the game in one stretch in the third quarter. Here are the two plays that stand out.
4:44 - Greene posts up McGuire on the left block. Greene wants to get to the middle, but McGuire slides over perfectly and cuts him off. McGuire knew that's where Greene wanted to go and he took it away from him quite easily. Greene then halfheartedly spins and tries a baseline fadeaway, but McGuire is right there in his face. For good measure, once Greene jumps, McGuire goes with him, totally blocking his vision.
The result? Air ball.
3:05 - You probably didn't notice this the first time around. I sure didn't.
Houston tried to circle Greene from the right corner to the top of the key, where he'd receive a hand-off from Mike Harris and go to work isolated at the top of the key or off a high pick and roll. Harris got the ball from Brooks, who tried to set a screen for Greene. No luck, McGuire came off it.
But that wasn't a problem for Houston, since Greene would get the ball from Harris, right?
Nope. McGuire, anticipating the play, beat Greene to the spot and cut in front of Harris. At the same time, though, he was right with Greene, preventing the backdoor possibility.
Greene continued his cut, and McGuire stayed right with him all the way until the left corner. Houston was forced to change it's offense. Harris fed Russell Robinson, who missed a contested three from the left wing.
The key thing about these two plays is how McGuire totally outwilled Greene. He didn't let Greene do what he wanted offensively, instead forcing Greene into his weak areas. At a certain point, Greene got frustrated and didn't try hard enough off the ball. McGuire, even though he spent very little time on Greene during the game, played a huge role in Greene's struggles.
It's clear watching this game that McGuire has the ability to be a fundamentally sound helpside defender. He has great timing on his shot-blocking and he is quite athletic.
Sometimes, he goes for the spectacular block instead of getting in good position. He's not as bad as JaVale McGee or Etan Thomas, but he does get a little over-excited about the big play.
That said, here are example of both good and bad help defense.
4:52 and 4:21, second quarter: On both these plays, McGuire picks up Greene on a switch. The first is on the right wing, when Gary Forbes is picked off. Greene appears to get the step on McGuire going to the basket, but McGuire cuts off the angle and forces Greene into a turnover without reaching in.
On the second play, the same thing happens, but on the left side. Nothing fancy, just great lateral movement.
26.3 seconds, fourth quarter: Probably the biggest play of the game for the Rockets. Aaron Brooks got around Dee Brown and had an opening in the lane. McGuire is the guy to beat, and he is slow to step up. Perhaps it's because Mike Harris would be open if he did, but Nick Young is in pretty good position to steal a potential bounce pass. Because he waits too long, McGuire allows Brooks to attempt a floater, and to add insult to injury, McGuire fouls him trying to go for the shot block. Brooks gives Houston the lead with the free throws.
1:32, overtime: Donte Greene is really pressing now. He puts his head down and spins into the middle. McGuire, who picked up Brooks on a switch, sees this and rotates down to get a piece of Greene's shot. McGuire then knocks the ball away and allows the Wizards to recover.
Overall, McGuire has shown the ability to make the spectacular play and the smart play, but he needs to be sure to know what to do when. He's getting better, but isn't there yet.
Check the 8:10 mark of the third quarter for an unbelievable McGuire full-court pass to Young
McGuire's defense in this game reminded me a lot of James Posey's. Like Posey, McGuire's strength isn't necessarily his man-to-man defense, at least in the sense that you can't stick him on a star for more than a few minutes at a time. During those few minutes, though, he was enough of a pest to take one of the Summer League's top scorers out of the game.
Granted, Donte Greene is no LeBron James, and we're talking about one game in Summer League, so don't interpret this as saying that he's just as good as James Posey. I'm just saying the potential is there.
What I'm most impressed by, though, is his improved offensive game. We talk about wanting him to be a spot-up shooter, but I'd rather not see that. The Princeton doesn't really allow for spot-up shooters, not in the sense that everyone's supposed to be constantly moving. McGuire's problem offensively last year was not necessarily that he couldn't shoot, but that he couldn't do, well, anything. That's because he wasn't moving without the ball like he should have. If this game is any indication, he's much-improved in that area.
If that carries over, he's ready to be the backup right now. And truthfully, I'm much more confident in that possibility today than I was even two weeks ago.