Double Teamed: The enigma of JaVale McGee

February 22, 2012

The Washington Wizards are a very bad basketball team. If you’re a basketball fan at Georgetown, you undoubtedly know this, and simply focus your attention on the team at the Verizon Center that actually wins.

That’s a reasonable course of action, and, to be honest, probably the more enjoyable one. Except that, unless you subject yourself to watching the Wizards, you’re missing out on the wonder that is JaVale McGee.

With all due respect to Jeremy Lin, the Wizards’ center is the most fascinating player in the NBA. Lin is incredible in the literal sense of the word—it’s impossible to believe a player could come out of nowhere and continue to play like he has for the past two weeks. But when Lin gets the ball in his hands, I at least understand what he’s trying to accomplish. McGee, on the other hand, is a complete enigma.

Depending on how his highlight reel is cut, McGee could look like a perennial All-Star or the worst player in the NBA. He’s an athletic seven-footer, the perfect physical specimen to play the most talent-deprived position in the league. In last year’s dunk contest, McGee put on a show that would have bested Blake Griffin if it weren’t for the latter’s assist from Baron Davis and Kia Motors. During actual games, his athleticism more often comes out at the other end of the floor, where he’s established himself as one of the best shot blockers in the league. McGee even pulled off the rare points-rebounds-blocks triple-double last season.

That infamous triple-double is also an example of all that is wrong with McGee. He reached double digits in rebounds and blocks before passing that mark in points, and realizing his shot at the triple-double, spent the closing minutes of the game chucking up ill-advised shots. He finally succeeded in scoring on a dunk with 18.7 seconds left in the game, and promptly hung on the rim to earn a technical foul. The Wizards lost by 19.

There are plenty more lowlights, including a now-legendary play in which McGee ran back on defense while the Wizards set back up on offense after an offensive rebound.

Despite all of that, though, I still think that McGee is the key to the Wizards’ future. It may even be a bright one.

The season’s Wizards are a maddening team—they’ve even driven normally reasonable owner Ted Leonsis (COL ’77) to pen rants about the media’s “wicked pixels” on his blog. Everyone expected them to be bad, but not this bad. They have a potential star in John Wall, and a number of seemingly legitimate players around him, including McGee. But the team is somehow less than the sum of its parts—Nick Young and Andray Blatche can score, but they’re black holes. Wall hasn’t developed enough as a point guard to control the chaos that surrounds him, and McGee, well, he’s still JaVale McGee.

Still just 24 years old, McGee could be the fulcrum of a revitalized Wizards squad in a few years, owning the paint at both ends of the floor. The team needs to decide whether to make a big bet this summer when McGee becomes a restricted free agent. I, for one, hope that Leonsis doesn’t hesitate to re-up McGee. I’m not convinced he can be a major contributor on a winning team, but even if he drags the Wizards down, I know it’ll be entertaining to watch.


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