JaVale McGee may be confident enough to believe that, at any point in a game, he really is a 5-foot-10 point guard trapped inside a 7-foot-1 body. But he is not delusional. Although he was pleased to finish second to Milwaukee’s Andrew Bogut in blocked shots per game at 2.44, McGee wasn’t ready to go overboard about what it meant.
“I feel like me being second in blocks is a great accomplishment. It’s a good thing,” McGee said last week, but “I’m definitely not in the running for any defensive awards. I heard you have to win to be a defensive award winner.”
The Wizards certainly didn’t win — or defend much; they ranked 24th in points allowed (104.7) and opponents field goal percentage defense (47.1) — and McGee still has plenty of room to grow defensively. So, he was probably surprised to see that he received three votes (one second place and two third place) for defensive player of the year. Dwight Howard became the first player in NBA history to win the award three times in a row. Howard won in lopsided fashion, getting 114 of a possible 120 first place votes (one voter, surprisingly left Howard off the ballot completely) and claiming 585 points; Kevin Garnett was second with 77 points.
McGee finished with five points -- one fewer than Ron Artest and two fewer than…Tim Duncan.
“I feel like I played hard,” McGee said. “I would’ve been first [in blocks] if Andrew Bogut didn’t miss 80 games.”
Bogut, who came in fifth in voting, finished with 168 blocks but he missed 17 games this season. McGee had 193, which was second to Oklahoma City’s Serge Ibaka (198). McGee played 79 games, three fewer than Ibaka.
Blocked shots can often be a deceptive defensive statistic, because it doesn’t take into account how the pursuit of rejections can put the team at risk to surrender offensive rebounds or, in the case of McGee, lead to goaltending calls. McGee still has a lot to learn and he made some progress in his first full season as a starter. But he often struggled with his on the ball defense and got outplayed or muscled around by competent big men -- namely Howard -- which led him to determine that one of his offseason goals is adding more mass to withstand stronger players. “Muscle,” he said, “not fat.”
McGee plans to work with a big man coach to help him with his game this summer. “I got some people in mind,” he said, adding that he is focusing on ‘Getting better, getting bigger, getting faster, getting more conditioned and controlling my asthma. I think it came better, I definitely progressed during the season, I think next year will be bigger and better things.”
But will he stop trying to grab rebounds and take off dribbling? In the season finale in Cleveland, McGee took off dribbling and lost the ball the Cavaliers guard Daniel Gibson, who found J.J. Hickson for a dunk. Coach Flip Saunders had a nice comfy seat ready for him.
“I told him, it was probably fitting that was his last play of the season doing that because you won’t be doing that anymore,” Saunders said he told McGee in his exit interview. “Either you’re being defiant or you really don’t understand. I think what happens is, JaVale is like a young pony that all of sudden got let out of the barn. He’s running around, he’s happy and having fun. Sometimes, he’ll start taking off and then he stops and it clicks, like, ‘Oh, I’m not supposed to be doing this.’ The thing is, he does have great talent. We have to continue to work on him, because sometimes, he can do those kinds of things, more controlled, but that’s going to be down the road.”
McGee was asked why he tries to dribble so much. “I wasn’t always 7-foot. And I always had ball-handling,” McGee said. “Look, everybody make mistakes in their life, right?”
But doesn’t he realize how much it upsets his coaching staff? “Definitely, but everybody can’t happy. We’re all imperfect. You can’t expect me to be perfect,” McGee said, cracking a smile when he was reminded of his behind-the-back pass to Othyus Jeffers for a dunk during a win against Boston. “Finally went through. Take that.”