It’s probably a safe bet that the Dallas Mavericks are hoping JaVale McGee will win the starting center competition by the end of training camp and hold on to it all season. It’s probably an even safer bet, though, that as long as Rick Carlisle is the head coach, McGee will have to earn every minute he plays.
McGee represents the highest ceiling at the center option, and for that reason, he may also be in control of the Mavericks’ ceiling in terms of win totals. As much as it felt like everything Dallas was trying to accomplish crumbled with the DeAndre Jordan debacle, when they’re healthy the Mavericks will have four talented and capable veteran starters. McGee is the question mark.
To call an NBA player “athletic” is almost redundant, playing basketball at that level requires elite athleticism. So let’s just put it this way: There might be five players currently in the NBA who are more athletic than McGee and they’re all smaller than him. Skeptical? Watch a few plays and see for yourself:
It’s never a bad thing to have a player physically capable of doing things the majority of the league can’t do. McGee passes the eye test: Show a few highlights of him to someone unfamiliar with the NBA and you could easily convince them he’s a top center in the game. The problems for McGee are health and focus. Health is no guarantee considering he hasn’t been consistently uninjured since the 2012-2013 season when he averaged 9.1 points, 4.8 rebounds and 2 blocks per game for the Denver Nuggets. Improving his focus might be asking for a miracle as he’s never been able to harness his abilities into any form of a disciplined game, and his blooper reel might be as long as his highlight reel.
McGee claims to have chosen the Mavericks partly based on the strength of their training staff and expects to be healthier coming into camp than he has in years (he’s dealt with stress fractures in his leg). “I’m definitely getting back to that elite level. The injuries really slowed me down, so I’m definitely going to get 100 percent healthy and come out and give it my all,” McGee told Earl K. Sneed.
DeAndre Jordan’s most discernable attributes are that he is outrageously athletic and an enormous human being. McGee is as athletic and as big as Jordan. Assuming that the Mavs’ had intended on looking into Deron Williams’ availability prior to Jordan’s reneging, then McGee’s potential is the barometer for whether the Mavs can still execute their original plan. McGee providing 70 percent of Jordan’s production is far from likely, but it’s also not completely inconceivable, and it would be the difference maker in terms of Dallas standing a chance against legitimate title contenders.
So it may stand that in the last year of Carlisle’s contract he will face the toughest, most important redemption project he has ever come across. McGee arrived in Dallas the week after he signed with the Mavericks (on a very, very cheap deal). After a summer of work with the coaching staff, here are a few possibilities that an improved McGee could make a reality ...
Simple, Game-changing Defense:
The Mavericks are in danger of being an atrociously bad defensive team. Dirk Nowitzki needs an enormous amount of defense support behind him. McGee is a shot blocking presence, but he needs to learn how to turn a couple highlights per game into a full-stop defensive effort that truly affects the scoreboard.
The Mavs and Clippers approached Jordan with promises of superstardom and flashy dunks, but there are many that would say this is an overrated part of his game. His value lies in constant defensive presence. Those same people would argue that players like Andrew Bogut and Rudy Gobert are nearly as valuable for the same reason.
Carlisle knows how to coach that type of defense, but Samuel Dalembert is never going to be able to utilize it the way a guy like McGee could.
The Parsons/McGee Pick-and-Roll
There’s a lot of talk about Chandler Parsons playing point forward this season. The reality, though, is that the ball should be in Deron Williams hands more often than Parsons. Williams will initiate the offense much quicker and Parsons is much better at attacking a defense that’s reacting to the pass.
That said, the Parsons/Tyson Chandler pick-and-roll was one of the most efficient plays in the Mavs’ arsenal last year. Parsons’ long strides to the basket make it extremely hard to defend. McGee can slide into this role and as long as defenders respect Parsons’ finishing ability (which they should) McGee will see a ton of lob opportunities, which he is quite adept at finishing.
Support off the Bench
Zaza Puchulia and Samuel Dalembert are not starting centers on a good team, but they are valuable players to have off the bench, where they can play aggressively and not be too concerned about foul trouble.
They both understand good team defense better than McGee and would hopefully help him become the defensive player he is capable of being. They’re able to play stretches with quality players at a competent level. In this hypothetical world where McGee reaches some form of his potential, it’s an important note that Dallas won’t need him at that level for 40 minutes per game. 25-30 minutes each night of elite athleticism, effective defense, and focus will be enough.
Betting on a long shot is never a first option, but that doesn’t mean there can’t be a big payoff.
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