Pumping the Brakes On Javale McGee

As I wander the vast tundra of the Internet, I keep stumbling across Wizards fans excited about the play of Javale McGee. The general sentiment among the die hard is this: McGee has improved and he’s still young. The action they want: The Wizards need to lock him up now rather than risk seeing him leave in free agency.

Evidence to support the “he’s improved” claim usually includes:

  • an expanded offensive repertoire — specifically the hook and the post-up series
  • better rebounding, and
  • leading the league in blocked shots.

I am not here to terminate all talk of a McGee extension. He has otherworldly physical ability, and I’ve seen signs of development when I watch the games. I think he’s getting better.

But, there’s enough evidence to suggest that pumping the brakes on contract talks would be a wise course of action for the Wizards.

Here’s why.

While he is doing more offensively, he’s never been less efficient at the offensive end. His offensive rating (points produced per 100 individual possessions) stands at 98 — one of the better marks on the team, but well below the league average (about 102.6). Part of this is turnovers (the highest turnover rate of his career), but the bigger part is awful free throw shooting (45.7% from the line so far this season).

The free throw shooting is cause for concern because both his percentage and his per minute free throw attempts have dropped every season of his career so far.

While his overall percentage from the floor is adequate thus far, the numbers at Hoopdata show that he still hasn’t developed an effective shot at any range beyond point-blank. This season, McGee is shooting 68% at the rim — but from 3 feet or more, just 31.7%. At that conversion rate, there’s no reason for him to take a shot unless he’s at the rim.

So, that’s offense. On the defensive end, folks have been getting excited about the blocked shots. And they are spectacular. The problem: in his zeal to block shots, McGee too often fails to make basic plays that good centers manage routinely. For example, on dribble penetration McGee often crouches in the background and attempts to spring out to get the block. The right play — the one Tim Duncan makes — is to step over quickly and impede the penetrator’s path to the basket. Force a tough shot or a pass and let the blocked shot come as a result of presence and positioning, not just athleticism.

In addition, McGee’s lust for blocks leads to excessive goaltending calls. McGee has 8 so far this season — about 1 goaltend for every 5 blocks. Next on the list is Dwight Howard with 5 — about 1 goaltend for 9 blocks.

And, the possession-by-possession data compiled by Synergy rates McGee as the team’s WORST man defender — despite all the blocked shots.

Finally, the on/off data is worrisome. Despite McGee’s much-ballyhooed improvement, the team has been far worse when he’s been on the floor. The data at Basketball Value shows the team being outscored by 20 points per 100 possessions when McGee is on the floor vs. being outscored by 3.5 points when he’s on the bench. That’s a whopping 16.5-point differential.

When McGee has been on the floor, the on/off data suggests the team has been much worse at both ends of the court.

Are these signs definitive? No, of course not. It’s still early in the season, and I’d expect those on/off numbers to moderate as more games are recorded. Maybe he’s just on a cold streak from the free throw line. Maybe he’ll start “getting it” on defense. Maybe the offensive efficiency and shooting percentage will climb as he continues implementing his still-developing offensive repertoire.

But, maybe he’s a human highlight reel that just won’t make enough of the “routine” plays to anchor a winning team. Maybe he’s the definition of “empty stats” — a guy who posts some gaudy numbers that get attention, but always for a loser.

My point here is not to say McGee will or won’t “get it”. My point is that there’s evidence to suggest he hasn’t “gotten it” yet. So, there’s no reason to rush into a contract extension with him. The Wizards have plenty of cap and roster space, plus the right to match any contract offer he receives. The smart move is to wait, watch and evaluate. There’s little to gain — and potentially much to lose — by making a decision now.


Watching the Wizards Is Apparently A Fate Worse Than Death

Rafe Bartholomew writing for Grantland has this piece up about forcing himself to sit through the Wizards only win of the season. Why would an otherwise sane person (meaning not a fan of either the Wizards or the Raptors) subject themselves to watching this game?

Wrote Bartholomew:

It’s not because we want to mock bad teams and their fan bases. It’s about sharing the pain and finding slivers of joy in otherwise ugly basketball.

Bartholomew captures the stunning ineptitude and depression that sets in when watching the Wizards play. Even a win can’t be enjoyed for long because of nagging worries that the team might somehow win just enough to screw up its chances of getting a difference-making player in the draft.

Some Bartholomew gems:

Washington rookie Chris Singleton made a move to the elbow, picked up his dribble, and got stuck. First, he looked to shoot, but he reconsidered when it became clear that the only way to get the shot off would be to launch a turnaround fadeaway. Unfortunately, while Singleton held the ball and looked for an open teammate, none of the other four Wizards on the floor moved to get open. Maybe they were thinking, Take the shot! That’s what I’d do! It was only their ninth game of the season, but the Wizards seemed to have already internalized the lesson that once a teammate started attacking the basket, moving without the ball was not worth the effort. Singleton eventually passed to Wall, who had about two seconds left on the shot clock to launch a contested 3. The ball bounced off the top of the backboard, followed by a close-up of Flip Saunders’ aneurysm face.


In the second quarter, Raptors analyst Jack Armstrong went in on Blatche. It started late in the first, actually, when Blatche threw the ball to Nick Young. “He passed the ball,” Armstrong said. “Wow.” I don’t think I’d ever made myself watch a full Blatche game before Tuesday night. If you’re like me, you probably wondered if all the things people wrote about his shot selection and near-total refusal to pass were exaggerated. Well, they weren’t. Within minutes, I had scribbled “Blatche hole?” in my notebook, and not once in the game did I feel the need to revise or amend that description.


At the beginning of the third quarter, the Wizards led 46-34, DeRozan was shooting 10 percent from the field, and Wall wasn’t doing much better. I started stress eating a two-pack of YoGo Tuxedo Cakes I bought at Walgreen’s before the game. My notes became vague and occasionally illegible. The second half was a blur of Toronto turnovers — some created by Washington’s length and activity — and easy transition baskets for the Wizards.


I calculated the number of calories in one Tuxedo Cake — 340, in a three-ounce pastry — and vowed not to eat more than one. It took a JaVale McGee moment to rouse me from my corn syrup-and-Raptors-induced torpor. On offense, McGee — who is nothing if not adventurous — attempted to slash in from the wing and swing the ball past a reaching help defender. There aren’t a lot of NBA centers who can pull off a move like this, and although McGee is extremely agile and quick for his size, he still isn’t one of them. But he comes close, and McGee seems to gain some satisfaction from almost executing euro-steps and dunks from the free throw line, even though his near-misses typically cost his team buckets at the other end. So after a Raptors defender stripped McGee of the ball and passed it ahead to start the break, McGee didn’t give up on the play. He had coughed up the ball, and he decided to get it back. McGee dashed after Rasual Butler and caught him just in time to goaltend a layup attempt after Butler drew a foul, giving Butler an unearned opportunity for a 3-point play.


Over the years, several players have been called “coach killers” for feuding with and eventually getting their coaches fired. McGee, with his talent, his boundless but frequently wanton enthusiasm, and his apparent disconnect with reality, may literally kill a coach someday by attempting some foolish play at the worst possible moment that leads to a sideline stroke or heart attack.

Yes — this is what it’s like to be a Wizards fan these days.

Tim Tebow and the Value of Using the Right Words

Mark Twain once said that the difference between the right word and the wrong one is the difference between lightning and the lightning bug. The latest proof of Twain’s comment is the furor of Tim Tebow.

Let me say right from the start that I like and admire Tebow. I enjoy watching him play, and I’m enjoying the unconventional success Denver is having this season. It’s been fascinating to see the Broncos pull wins out when all looks lost.

The issue I have is with the “all Tebow does is win” folks. This is the same kind of reductive “analysis” that results in absurdities like measuring the full value of an individual player’s career by the number of championship rings he’s won. Championships is (and should be) a criterion.

Back to Tebow, when he plays poorly and the Broncos win, it’s not because Tebow is a “winner” or he has some mystical knowledge about how to win. It’s because he has good teammates — in particular a good defense.

I am not discounting some of the big plays he’s made late in games — those have been critical. But, those plays were necessary in part because Tebow played like crap earlier in the game. And, those plays were possible because Tebow’s teammates made countless other plays throughout the game to keep the game close.

Tebow doesn’t win — the Broncos do. Just like the Bears did with Rex Grossman a few years back. Tebow contributes. He’s an important leader and he makes some big plays. But Denver’s success this season is properly credited to the team, not one guy.