It didn’t take JaVale McGee very long to make an impact Sunday in his first appearance with the Mavericks. He scored baskets on his first four trips down the floor and had a fifth called off on an offensive interference call. Oklahoma City couldn’t stop him, especially in his first series of minutes on the floor.
The smaller picture is that McGee had a very positive debut with the club, which is obviously a good thing. Considering head coach Rick Carlisle had earlier predicted the center wouldn’t play until at least December and sparingly gave good news regarding his injury progress, the fact that he even took the floor was a good sign. But that he performed like that? Even better.
But the larger picture is much more exciting. On each of his four scores, McGee showed what he can bring to the table offensively for the Mavericks, particularly as a roll threat. His explosiveness and athleticism has never been in question at any point in his career, and if Dallas can keep deploying him in situations which highlight his greatest attributes, McGee is set to contribute on a nightly basis.
First, let’s look at a standard pick-and-roll play with McGee as the roller. (These plays will be shown out of sequence as they happened in the game.) He easily beats Enes Kanter baseline and lays in a nifty reverse.
The Mavs spaced the floor so that McGee and Raymond Felton were all by themselves on one side of the floor. It was essentially a two-man game, and the big man won his matchup. But it’s when you play a center off of Dirk Nowitzki that you really see what type of impact a player can make.
In this sequence, Nick Collison should theoretically slide over to help against the rolling McGee, but there’s no way he’s going to leave Nowitzki open. The German has beaten his cheating defenders time and time again over the years and by now they know better. So what happens?
McGee dunks it, so someone has to help against the roller, but who’s it gonna be? (Notice how, after the play, Kanter looks at Westbrook and Waiters looks at Collison. When you have all four defenders directly involved in the play blaming each other, you know you did something right.) On another trip down, Collison does help out against McGee, leaving Nowitzki alone in the corner. Notice how the OKC big man inches closer and closer to the rim as a help defender.
Devin Harris then makes a pass to the corner to Nowitzki, and while Collison closes out well, McGee beats a double-team and turns a Dirk pass into an assist with ease.
McGee isn’t just quicker and more explosive than most big men. He’s also simply bigger than most of them, and he has the physical tools to win battles in the post.
Finally, even if you play the pick-and-roll well, the big man has the touch to finish from a few feet out.
That’s a play we saw Brandan Wright make time and time again when he was with the Mavericks, and McGee was used in a similar role in his first appearance in a Dallas uniform. Wright was shooting nearly 75 percent from the field when he was traded to Boston last season, and while that’s a pretty unfair expectation to set for McGee as he works into game shape and gets used to the flow of the offense, that’s definitely the type of player he can be.
He’s a big man who can create instant offense for himself, and his mere presence on the floor is enough to dominate what the defense is doing. Defensive units are never going to freely give up uncontested dunks and layups to centers, so eventually those perimeter players are going to be sucked into the lane. That’s when players like Nowitzki and other shooters will burn opponents from deep. There aren’t many people in the world as big and athletic as McGee, and if he can continue operating within the offense with that level of fluidity and force, this Dallas second unit is going to be awfully fun to watch — and awfully good, too.