WASHINGTON, D.C. - JaVale McGee got the hard hat at Sunday night's Washington Wizards' training camp practice when Andray Blatche gave it to him. McGee thought he didn't deserve it.
"Felt like it was staged or something," he joked.
But even though Blatche, and not McGee, was Flip Saunders' choice for the hard hat, the Wizards' coach seems really impressed with the way McGee is playing during training camp. That's potentially a big development, because as we all know, the Wizards' coach is often very tough on his young center.
"JaVale had a great practice today. He was really, really good. He made a lot of those jump hooks and he really played under control. That's a giant step," Saunders said.
It's hard to tell how well McGee is actually playing, since the media only sees short snippets of practice. He did hit a couple nice jump hooks on Sunday and didn't do anything bone-headed. From the way Saunders was talking, though, that's the kind of stuff we've seen from McGee throughout camp.
"The biggest thing with young players when they start really making progress is when they learn to play with a purpose and not just play," Saunders said when asked about McGee. "What they're doing is, they're starting to play more with a purpose."
What does "playing with a purpose" mean? Saunders explained.
"When you're young, you're worried so much about how you're going to play individually and trying to do things to stay on the floor, and sometimes you win the battle, but lose the war," Saunders said. "We just really stress to these guys from Day 1 that it's really important to win the war. Individual battles you might have, you have to forego that in order to pursue what you really want to accomplish."
Perhaps the best example of this phenomenon is McGee's play on the block. He said he spent all summer working on righty and lefty jump hooks. Verbally at least, he conceded that if he wants to be productive, it's not going to come because of his play out on the floor.
"There aren't any plays for me outside, so if I expect to be a force on offense, I need to become a better player on the block," he said.
The early results seem to back it up, and suddenly, Saunders' verbal jabs have been replaced by praise. Well, for the most part.
"He's had a lot of assists. He's had more assists in two days that he had all of last year combined, which isn't saying much," Saunders quipped. "But he's passing the ball and he's trying to play -- we've talked about it as a group -- he's trying to play winning basketball. He's been very efficient as far as when he's got the ball in the low block."
"Winning basketball," huh? Haven't heard Flip use that phrase with McGee much before.