(J Alexander Diaz/Lakers.com)
Latest Laker: JaVale McGee
Fresh off collecting his second ring in as many years, JaVale McGee is looking to help turn a new team into a contender, as he signed with the Lakers on Friday.
The center position was a revolving door for Golden State last season, with McGee among six players who received significant minutes at the five.
Draymond Green was essentially the Warriors’ primary center, as he would take the position in their famous “Death Lineup.” Meanwhile, the leftover minutes would often be divided up based on matchup.
As such, McGee’s role fluctuated. During the regular season, he played a career-low 9.5 minutes per game. In the playoffs, he collected DNPs in series against New Orleans and Houston.
But in the opening round versus San Antonio and (most importantly) the NBA Finals, McGee was called to action and provided Golden State exactly what it needed at the backup center spot.
McGee was energy and efficiency on the offensive end, then length and timing defensively. In series against the Spurs and Cavaliers, he averaged 8.2 points, 3.8 rebounds and 1.1 blocks in just 15.0 minutes, while shooting a robust 70.8 percent from the field.
The 30-year-old’s value goes beyond his counting stats, as he was the type of role player that made his impact without necessarily collecting numbers.
While McGee wasn’t a 3-point threat and, thus, didn’t offer much in terms of traditional spacing, his presence as an athletic 7-footer provided vertical spacing, as opponents had to worry about his ability to fly in for dunks on cuts, in transition and out of pick-and-rolls.
The 270-pounder is also a more nimble roller than often given credit for, and able to dribble or stride his way around help defenders.
In particular, McGee thrived as the finisher at the end of passing chains, as defenses would rush to recover against the Warriors’ many weapons before they lobbed it up to their big man.
In a pass-happy system similar to Golden State’s and on a Lakers roster studded by three elite distributors — LeBron James, Lonzo Ball and Rajon Rondo — McGee could see similar opportunities as the ones set up by Draymond Green and Stephen Curry.
As a role-playing center in the current, switch-everything-defensively NBA, McGee importantly has good feel for when to slip screens, countering against aggressive opponents.
Meanwhile in the playoffs, the 10-year vet stepped up for the Warriors on the defensive end, where the Lakers are clearly trying to load up with the likes of James, Ball and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope.
Using his elite, 7-foot-6.5 wingspan, McGee was a deterrent at the rim, where opponents shot just 10-of-22 against him in the postseason. Any mark below 50 percent is excellent, and McGee ranked fourth among players who faced at least 20 shots.
Plus, sometimes he used that length to make eye-popping plays even away from the rim.
While the sample size was mainly limited to the Spurs and Cavs series, McGee was excellent defending on an island.
So much of postseason basketball is about hunting mismatches, and McGee was rarely taken advantage of, holding opponents to just 4-of-12 shooting against him in isolation and 3-of-12 on post-ups.
McGee does come with limitations. He provides zero 3-point shooting (though he has flashed some mid-range game). He is definitely more of a finisher than a passer. With only 34 starts in his last six seasons (at 12 minutes a game), he has firmly transitioned into a role player.
Still, McGee is a ridiculously long, defensive-minded veteran who just filled his role superbly in the NBA Finals. With the right lineup around him, he has proven to be a reliable cog in a postseason run.