The Mavericks signed center JaVale McGee yesterday, rounding out the 20-man roster and an attempt to solidify the center position. Dallas will open the season against former Maverick Tyson Chandler and the Phoenix Suns on Oct. 28 and, if things with McGee work out as well as they potentially could, there’s a chance he could be the player primarily doing battle with the former Mavs big man on the inside. That’s how good he’s been in the past and how good he could be for the Mavs in 2015-16.
The 27-year-old McGee has played just 28 games total during the past two seasons, as a host of injuries have kept him on the sidelines for the Denver Nuggets and Philadelphia 76ers. But during the 2012-13 season, in which he appeared in a career-high-tying 79 games, the seven-footer posted 9.1 points and 4.8 rebounds per game off the bench for a Nuggets team en route to 57 wins. McGee’s contributions were paramount to the team’s success that season.
What’s most important for McGee, then, is that he’s healthy and ready to go by opening night. But a combination of time away from the game and some serious work with highly regarded Mavs head athletic trainer Casey Smith could give the center just the boost he needs heading into his eighth NBA season.
With a seven-foot six-inch wingspan and a vertical leap nearing 33 inches, his athleticism has never been in question. If he’s healthy, he can certainly contribute at the NBA level, as evidenced by his career averages of 8.4 points and 5.5 boards per game. The Mavericks have had plenty of success working with big men coming off injury-plagued seasons in the past, including former centers Brandan Wright and, of course, Chandler.
Factoring McGee into the equation at the center spot, the Mavs have now rounded out the position quite nicely after the chaotic twist and turns of July’s free agency period. In Zaza Pachulia, Dallas has a tough center with a nice passing and shooting touch who can also body up and defend bigger players. Samuel Dalembert brings shot-blocking and offensive rebounding. Salah Mejri excels in the pick-and-roll. McGee, however, is a bit of a combination of each of those players, plus he brings his own unique abilities into the mix.
McGee’s nine-foot, 6.5-inch standing reach and his impressive vertical leap are both positive physical traits when it comes to blocking shots. And those have translated into swatting them in quantity. He led the NBA in block percentage during the 2010-11 season and finished second the next season. In 2012-13, his career-high 8.5 block percentage led all players with at least 60 appearances, according to Basketball-Reference.
The center has also averaged at least 2.8 blocks per 36 minutes every season since his rookie campaign. He has the tools and the anticipation to protect the rim. In Dalembert and McGee, the Mavs now have two newly signed big men who can erase easy field goal attempts, an upgrade in an area of need following last season.
To get a better idea of how pure athleticism can aid a shot-blocker, here he is doing something pretty rude to his new teammate Wes Matthews a few years ago in Portland.
You can bet that Matthews will have a few kind words to say to McGee about this.
Perhaps McGee’s greatest strength is his athleticism for a player his size. A player who stands at seven feet tall and 252 pounds should not be able to move the way the new Maverick is capable of.
Not only was he effectively guarding Ricky Rubio, a point guard with both good size and speed for his position, but he was able to make the strip, corral the ball, dribble almost the entire length of the floor, and finish at the rim at full speed. We’re used to seeing shooting guards and small forwards make these plays, but not centers.
McGee’s speed will come in handy playing on a Mavericks team which is sure to want to run early and often. Dallas has depth and athleticism at multiple positions, the perfect ingredients for hoping to push the ball. Chandler Parsons in particular is excellent at leaking out in transition to begin a break, and if he can have a lob target like McGee to look for going 100 miles an hour toward the bucket, it’s going to be difficult for teams to slow the Mavs down in the open floor.
The same athleticism that will help McGee on defense and in the open floor will also come as a big boost to the Dallas offensive attack. The Mavs derived a higher volume of offense from the pick-and-roll last season than any other team in the NBA, per Synergy Sports, and much of that system depends on the center’s ability to act as a threat in the roll.
McGee is a fast-moving big man with great hands and good verticality, which makes him a good candidate to stretch defenses in ways which can positively impact floor spacing in favor of the Mavs, leading to better shots for others and potentially himself. You simply can’t leave him open going toward the rim, because if you don’t he’ll make you pay. During the 2012-13 season playing with Ty Lawson and company in Denver, McGee finished in the 96th percentile league-wide in points per possession as the pick-and-roll roll man.
That’s a laser pass from Danilo Gallinari, and McGee reeled it in like it was nothing.
One of the more intriguing elements of the play above is that Gallinari played small forward and even some power forward for those Nuggets. Parsons has done the same with Dallas, so a pick-and-roll with those two is capable of bending defenses in extremely uncomfortable ways. It led to so many easy points for the Mavericks last season, and it could very well do the same again this year.
Should McGee return to his pre-injury form, which is certainly a likely possibility given his youth, superior athleticism, and the strength of the Mavs’ athletic training team, he can be a very effective player for the Mavericks. He provides size, speed, and ability in a way no other player on the roster currently can match, which has to have Rick Carlisle and the coaching staff excited heading into camp.