Wednesday, September 29, 2010 6:06 p.m.
By CJ Hempfield
Last season, JaVale McGee (19) and Fabricio Oberto (10) split 29 of the 32 final starts at Center for the Wizards. Oberto started the final 10 games with McGee coming off the bench. This was done in part, because of how quickly JaVale McGee appeared to get winded, and so the decision was made to bring him off the bench in order to help conserve his energy. As it turns out, it was not a question of McGees conditioning, but rather after the season he was diagnosed and treated for a form of Asthma.
With the Wizards making a youth movement and Fabricio Obertos future being unsure with the Wizards, all signs point to JaVale McGee entering training camp as the teams starting Center. This is particularly true because he both made progress during the season and he has continued to develop throughout the summer (Summer League and USA Basketball tryouts). JaVale is in a good position to earn the starting position for the Wizards, but it will not be without competition from one of his newest teammates, Hilton Armstrong.
The Wizards signed Hilton Armstrong, who finished the 200910 season with the Houston Rockets, as a free agent during the summer. Armstrong was selected in the 1st round of the 2006 NBA draft out of the University of Connecticut by the New OrleansOklahoma City Hornets. Hilton entered the league with high expectations after finishing his college career as the 2006 Big East Defensive player of the year and by being a lottery selection (12th overall). During his first three years with the Hornets, he was used sparingly, as he played behind Tyson Chandler. Last season was likely a difficult one for Armstrong, as he was traded twice within a 30-day period of time in January he was traded to the Sacramento Kings and at the trade deadline he was dealt again to the Houston Rockets.
Training camp is rapidly approaching and JaVale McGee and Hilton Armstrong are in what is likely to be a relatively new situation - an open competition for the starting Center position. Until now, both players have entered the previous seasons behind a clear starter on the roster. This season both McGee and Armstrong will have an opportunity to earn the starting position.
Lets take a closer look at both players:
Data compliments of HoopData.com and Basketball-Reference.com.
If JaVale McGee were a stock, he would be slowly, but steadily on the rise. He is a true 7 footer with incredible athleticism, and over this off-season he has added 8 lbs. of muscle. The past two seasons he has shown flashes of his ability. Towards the end of last season, when he received more extended and consistent playing time, his performances became much more consistent. During his first year and a half with the Wizards, McGees minutes were often limited due to the presence of more experienced players - Brendan Haywood, Fabricio Oberto, Andray Blatche, Darius Songaila and Etan Thomas.
Based on his performance last season, his continued off-season development, and his current status as the most senior Center on the team (based on years with the team), JaVale has earned the opportunity to lead off camp as the teams starter. However, if he hopes to retain the position he will have to continue to work hard and address certain aspects of his game, such as defensive rebounding and post defense. Offensively, it would open the floor if he were to develop more confidence and consistency in his mid-range jumper. As we can see below, most of JaVales work takes place close to the rim where he hits a high percentage of his shots in particular 57 close to the rim. However, the further away from the rim that he goes, the less effective he becomes.
However, JaVale McGees scoring average is likely to increase even further this year with or without a mid-range game. In addition to the work he has put in to refine his post moves, he should get more opportunities for easy buckets. This season he should have two players, John Wall and Gilbert Arenas, who will be able to get him the ball in a position to make easy buckets. However, once everyone is fully healthy (i.e. Blatche & Howard), the Wizards do not need a tremendous offensive output from JaVale McGee in order to be successful. Where he can have the greatest impact on this teams success is on defense and rebounding particularly the defensive glass. If JaVale can become more effective on the defensive glass he can help spark the teams fast break offense which will end in easier scoring opportunities for him and his teammates.
For the first three years of his career, Hilton Armstrong was the primary back-up to Tyson Chandler, who averaged more than 32 minutes per game. Armstrongs statistics, in part, reflect the fact that he did not see a tremendous amount of playing time over the past four seasons. Last season he played the fewest number of minutes in his career after playing the most during the 20089 season.
When Armstrong was entering the NBA, he (like McGee) was touted for his unique combination of height, length, wingspan and athleticism. And while he has not had a consistent chance to showcase it, he entered the league with a more refined offensive game and a little more range out to 16-18 feet. When you look at his shot chart for the 20089 season it clearly illustrates that even though the majority of his shots came in and around the paint, Armstrong is also very comfortable with his mid-range jumper. Hilton can provide the Wizards with a big man that the opposing Center has to guard outside of the paint, which will open the paint and create driving lanes.
As with JaVale McGee, the Wizards do not require a significant offensive output from their Center. There are plenty of scorers on the team. Armstrong can help this team the most by increasing his productivity on defense and the boards two skills that helped him become a lottery pick in 2006. This season should provide Armstrong, who signed a one year contract at the veterans minimum, with a good opportunity to prove that he just needed consistent playing time to prove what he can do on this level.
By picking up Armstrong, the Wizards have set up an interesting training camp battle. Both players have a lot of potential, but havent always been able to display their talent on the court. Hilton Armstrong is a little older and has played a little more time in the league and JaVale is bigger and has even more potential.
One can easily imagine that both players want to start it is in an athletes nature. The reality is that barring injury, they both will play significant minutes this season. And if they both make strides on defense and on the defensive boards, they will help fuel a significant improvement by the team. In the interim they, along with rookie CF Kevin Seraphin, should make for some interesting and hopefully intense practice sessions at George Mason University.