Thompson: McGee Still A Work In Progress

Thompson: McGee Still A Work In Progress
November 16, 2010, 9:22 pm
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Tuesday, November 16, 2010 4:21 p.m.

By Ron Thompson


"JaVale McGee has five highlight plays a game. Unfortunately, there's about 200 plays in the game. He has to get more substance than style."

Such were the comments by Washington Wizards coach Flip Saunders about his starting center after their 103-96 loss on the Chicago Bulls' home-court. Flip had just sat through forty-eight minutes of erratic playmaking, twenty minutes of which featured a six-point performance by McGee. While Saturday's loss spotlighted two the league's most recent top draft picks, it also focused on a player whose performance has brought flash and frustration. The 7-foot, 252-pound McGee is a graceful athlete who enters his third year in the league having only played with the Wizards. But, ironically, he has at times made rookie mistakes, which may explain his limited game-minutes in previous seasons as well as this one. While they didn't previously seem too pressing, those errors may now further complicate Flip's burdens of managing a relatively-unseasoned group and its bruising schedule.

I love McGee'he's the kind of guy you'd love to coach. He is both the gazelle that sprints between baselines and the kangaroo that jumps out of the gym. But if his coach isn't playing him, it's likely due to something deeper than talent. Perhaps it's over those fundamentals expected from a player with several years experience, or the otherwise minor efforts that help make a player more dependable, which puts more wins in that column.

Maybe Flip thinks McGee is giving up more points than he's contributing, or that he simply doesn't score enough. In each of his previous two seasons, McGee averaged six points and nearly four rebounds. In this season's opening months, his average is seven points and nearly six rebounds, a slight-yet-tentative increase. Though he was largely a reserve in the past, 2010-11 will demand more numbers from him in an increased role. In the Wizards' loss to the Bulls, McGee logged six points and five rebounds over twenty minutes. Given the greater expectations, either stat would have driven this former coach mad, so it's little wonder why Saunders flipped.

This past summer, Team USA found McGee intriguing enough to have him twice attend their camp. But his eventual release may have indicated the work still needed to be a more solid contributor. Frankly, suspending my admiration, McGee's numbers have nowhere to go but up. His work away from the ball could be sharper. His adjustments could include not getting hit with so many screens, which have occasionally resulted in him losing the player he's tasked to guard. He might also consider getting into a defensive position earlier, to deter some shots from even being taken. Setting more solid screens, better defensive rotation, and even tightening up his offensive work in the post should be on his check-list, too.' All told, there are several key pieces missing from McGee's game.

Whatever they may be, I hope Flip discovers them soon, because the Wizards may not find much success without McGee's success. Still, at crunch-time, I would rather have a player with his size and raw talent than suddenly be forced to go searching for them.