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20 Days, 20 Questions: JaVale McGee's Progress

With the first day of Wizards training camp coming, Bullets Forever is asking 20 questions about key issues with the team in 2010/11.

JaVale McGee's first two seasons in the NBA have brought a lot of promise, but looking at his statistics, not a lot of progress. We covered a lot in our end of season evaluation, but going into last season, Basketball Prospectus listed the following players as his closest comparables after 1 year in the league: Andray Blatche, Al Jefferson, Jermaine O'Neal, and Tyrus Thomas - an awesome list, but obviously no guarantee of stardom. With Brendan Haywood gone this season, the Veil of Cashmere is set for a dramatic increase in minutes and a full opportunity to show his skills. He has taken care of his asthma problem, and spent time with Team USA, but the big question is:

How far has JaVale McGee progressed?

While JaVale's cumulative season statistics do not show much reason for excitement, your eyeballs do not deceive you that the guy is oozing with talent. As Mike covered in our evaluation, check out his month-by-month stats from last year, which show how he progressed once his minutes rose:

  • January: 7.6 mpg, 1.6 ppg, 1.0 rpg, 1.1 bpg
  • February: 17.3 mpg, 7.6 ppg, 4.2 rpg, 1.6 bpg
  • March: 23.5 mpg, 8.7 ppg, 5.8 rpg, 1.9 bpg
  • April: 23.5 mpg, 13.3 ppg, 8.5 rpg, 2.9 bpg

Not only did his per 48 minute stats improve as the season went on, but there is also a lot to be said for someone continuing to produce at at least the same rate in expanded minutes. Given that JaVale will likely be getting 23.5+ mpg, it is easy to see us having a 22 year old center putting up 15-10-3 next year.

There are other good things happening too. Michael Lee noted that Epic Vale has grown an inch and packed on 7 lbs. of muscle this offseason. There is also the fact that JaVale was diagnosed with asthma last year, and has since felt much better with his conditioning. He was being treated last year, but part of his early season struggles could be attributed to the pretty important inability to breathe. I also can't help but imagine that Wall to McGee will be a regular ally-oop combination reminiscent of CP3 to Tyson Chandler. The player I liken JaVale too is actually Chandler, as an athletic big who gets his offense from 'garbage'.

So what is there not to like? I think there are two huge sub-questions that will determine his short and long term progress. The first one is that he will always be under the microscope and probably unjustly criticized for his work ethic; guys with his athleticism tend to get that reputation because the game can seem a little easier for them. I have no idea how hard he works, but it did appear that the coaches were less-than-pleased with his offseason efforts before last year. The weight gain, summer league, and time with Team USA make it appear that any work ethic issues have been resolved though. As Mike pointed out, we can only home that the Team USA experience doesn't go to JaVale's head (no reason to think it will, just playing devil's advocate), and instead rubbed off on him in a positive way by showing the extreme work ethic of some of his teammates. Epic Vale may never be Dwight Howard (almost no one is), but, he certainly has All-Star potential if he works hard and is coached well.

The second sub-question is his role in the current team. Those increased numbers late in the season came when Andray Blatche was just about the only high usage guy on the floor, so JaVale was relatively very involved offensively. The team now has a much different look with Blatche, Gilbert Arenas, Josh Howard and John Wall taking up almost all of the offensive possessions. JaVale's offensive chances will be limited to transition, put-backs, alley-oops, and maybe some screen and rolls, but generally, he will be picking up the garbage. There are certainly more than enough chances for JaVale to average 10+ ppg, but it is not like he will be averaging 20 ppg.

It sounds harsh, but he is not in the best position to grow thanks to the talent around him. He will have to learn an offensive game on his own time, and hope that 2011-2012 provides more opportunities. In the meantime, he will need to emphasize defense and rebounding to best contribute to this team. More to the point though, JaVale will have to adapt to the teammates around him, as he will once again be a role player, albeit in a different role from the last couple years.

I see the Vale of Cashmere taking a nice step forward this year, although his numbers will not be much different from what he did in April. Sure there will be growing pains and inconsistency while adjusting to his role, but I am even more excited about him long term, and have visions of an exciting Wall-McGee combo getting Wizards fans on their feet for years to come.