Wizards center JaVale McGee has been a walking highlight reel from the moment he came into the league; an incredible athlete with superior speed and leaping ability that makes him a terror in the open floor. He showed off his gifts while finishing second to Los Angeles Clippers forward Blake Griffin in the slam dunk contest – in all seriousness, he really won – last year in Los Angeles.
In the third quarter of the Wizards’ 114-106 loss to Houston, McGee caught a pass from John Wall, tossed the ball to himself off the glass and dunked to bring his team within four. For a team that has been struggling to score – and win – all season, trying to showboat while trailing was questionable.
“Apparently, if you get a fast break and throw it off the backboard in the third quarter, and you’re 1-11, you’re not supposed to do stuff like that,” McGee said, unable to grasp why Saunders and some of his teammates were disappointed.
Saunders later explained: “We’ve got to get to where those plays, you know we identify with meat and potato basketball, playing hard, setting screens, playing the right way and not highlight type things and we’ve been saying that many times. You know we have some players that look for highlights rather than substance.”
Wall had a career-high 38 points and added eight assists against the Rockets but expressed more relief that McGee was actually able to get the dunk to go down. McGee famously tried to dunk from the foul line in Sacramento last season – and lost the ball on the way up.
“A dunk is a dunk. I would rather seen him do a regular dunk,” Wall said of the self-alley-oop. “We’re down. We’re 1-11. 1-12 now. So there’s no point in doing any kind of excitement, but he made the basket and that’s all that counts.”
Veteran Maurice Evans felt that the extra theatrics were unnecessary. “Obviously, it’s a little disappointing. We’ve had this on a team I played on in the past where we showboated a little bit,” he said. “I think that’s something people will look at. We’re already struggling to get wins; we don’t need to put targets on our back. That’s something JaVale knew and recognized and understood once he was in the locker room. I think that’s something he’ll learn from.”
McGee has certainly improved in his fourth season. He has been more patient on the offensive end, and hasn’t taken off on those full-court dribbling displays that drove the coaching staff batty. He leads the NBA in total blocks with 41, but he still has plenty of room to improve.
Coming off a huge game against Philadelphia on Saturday, when he scored a season-high 23 points, grabbed a career-high-tying 18 rebounds and blocked five shots, McGee struggled. Rockets forward Chandler Parsons had a rebound putback dunk and swung around on McGee’s head early in the game, and he finished with eight points, 10 rebounds and three blocked shots. He also sat the final nine minutes because the Rockets repeatedly took advantage of him in pick-and-roll situations.
“He played poorly tonight and in the game before he didn’t search. He went and played,” Saunders said. “It’s like he wanted to get 25 and 18 right away instead of just letting it happen.”
Saunders went with rookie Jan Vesely instead and got some quality production. McGee said he didn’t have a problem sitting. “I was thinking, ‘Keep me out,’ ” McGee said. “We were playing well. So let’s get this win, the only way we can. There was a lot of energy out there. I felt we were going hard, but obviously, [the Rockets] were going a little harder than us.”
McGee said he tried the self-alley-oop to spark his teammates. “I was trying to get the team hype and trying to make a good play.”
The only problem was the Rockets responded to the dunk by going on a 19-4 run that made the final 15 minutes rather irrelevant. Nick Young is one of McGee’s best friends on the team, having been with him the past three seasons, and tried to defend him.
“Good for him, being that brave to even think of doing that. That’s JaVale McGee. He can jump out the gym. That’s a good way to get him going by dunking. That gets his offense going, makes him start blocking shots,” Young said. “To me, I don’t know. I think we supposed to have fun. You have fun. You play well, you play better. I know that’s the type of person JaVale is. You can’t really cage him, go back to the old ways. I see a change and he’s playing great. I want to keep his head right, keep him on the same page.”
Young, though, added that he understood where Saunders was coming from. “I don’t want to get in the middle of both of them. I been through the trenches with JaVale and with coach. I just want JaVale to keep his head. Don’t let it bring him down.”
When asked about the dunk, Andray Blatche said: “I don’t know. That’s his thing. He’s a dunker. I don’t really care for it. It’s nothing bad or good to me.”