Commentary: The JaValevator Needs To Pump Its Brakes
To say JaVale McGee’s arms are long doesn’t do them justice. Broom sticks are long. The crossbar on a soccer goal, also long. But the two spokes dangling from JaVale McGee’s shoulders? They’re more like those never ending guard rails hugging the sides of a highway. The moment you fly by one at 60 mph another sidles up beside you. Now pretend that you driving your car is actually an NBA guard driving into the lane, ball in hand, ready for liftoff. Those guardrails are instead the league’s freakiest appendages. (If they could jump 40 inches off the ground or spin around and wipe a few dozen passing cars off the road whenever they felt like it.) This is the almighty power they hold and the limitless potential they allow.
After leading the league in block percentage last year, McGee’s currently tied in first with Darko Milicic; despite his inconsistent offensive play this season, his offensive rebounding percentage is higher than Pau Gasol’s. Signs of a game changing big man glow from his 7’1” frame. Raw and upside are both adjectives commonly used to describe basketball players born with the rare physical gifts it takes to play the game at a professional level. JaVale McGee has those gifts. At 23 and almost through his third year in the league, he’s still rawer, with more upside, than just about every prospect looking to enter the 2011 draft (save Perry Jones III). There’s his wherewithal to leap over or through almost every defender in the league and as we saw in the dunk contest, McGee can do things literally nobody else can even dream about. See this:
Now here comes the lead, buried deep beneath JaVale McGee’s dignity. As you probably know by now, a certain Washington Wizards big man recorded a triple double last night; 11 points, 12 rebounds, and 12 blocks (!) in 39 minutes of play. Despite this valiant effort the Wiz lost by 19 points. Last night we were witness to the undeveloped side that comes with unlimited potential. In McGee’s case, as is the situation with most who never fully tap into their inner capabilities, the problem lies between his ears.
Courtesy of The Washington Post’s Michael Lee:
Coach Flip Saunders called four consecutive plays for McGee to reach the milestone. McGee first got the ball near the foul line and badly missed a runner off the backboard. He then got the ball on the left side of the block, turned around and shot an air ball about three feet over the rim. He got the ball near the foul line again, but in an effort to dribble around Thomas, McGee lost the ball out of bounds. His teammates kept looking for him, and John Wall eventually helped him reach his goal. With the Wizards trailing by 20 points in the final 30 seconds, Wall dove to the floor for a loose ball and turned around to place the ball in McGee’s hands. McGee drove inside for what he called “a dunk of relief” but accentuated it with a chin-up on the rim, collecting a technical foul as he nearly kicked the bottom of the rim. “We knew he was pressing,” said Wall, who had a triple-double in his sixth career game. “I heard him just calling my name when I picked it up, I gave it to him and I turned around, threw it to him, cleared the lane for him.”
Forget the intense overreaction to scoring his ninth point in a blowout loss, and a few minutes later, the technical foul for kicking the ball four rows deep and doing a pull up on the rim. I’m all for a player having a statistically impressive performance in a losing effort. It happens. But the way McGee went about obtaining his is wrong. All wrong. Going down the stretch it was clunky, embarrassing, falsely ordained basketball. The type of basketball which devalues exactly what makes the triple double such a hallowed benchmark. Reaching double digits in three different statistical categories is to be achieved organically as you scrape and claw towards a well deserved victory. By forcing a round ball through a square peg—exactly what JaVale’s last four possessions looked like—the performance goes for naught and will be remembered more for the ugly way in which it was achieved, if it’s remembered at all, than the impressive numbers in the box score. What’s the point of acquiring something when you depreciate its value in your process of securing it?