JaVale McGee as Grinch

The Grinch Who Stole the Spotlight: McGee's Monster Start

by Joey Ramirez
Digital Reporter

The Grinch arrived two months early this year … and grew to 7 feet tall.

For the Lakers’ Halloween game against Dallas, JaVale McGee arrived in full Grinch get-up, even going through pregame stretches and postgame interviews while covered head-to-toe in lime-green hair.

“They had to custom-make it,” McGee said through his Grinch head. “Feel me, this is custom right here. This is straight Grinch material.”

Like he has throughout his first two weeks with the Lakers, McGee showed what kind of material he is made of in the win over Dallas, dropping 16 points, 15 rebounds, five blocks and two steals.

McGee — who sacrificed a ton of playing time during back-to-back championship seasons with Golden State — has thrived with his increased role as a Laker. On Wednesday, he collected his first double-double in more than a year, and played 35 minutes for the first time since February 2012.

The 30-year-old has been having all kinds of breakout games this year. Against Phoenix, he had his first 20-point game in five years; the very next day, he went for 21.

“He’s been big for us all year,” Lonzo Ball said. “Protects the paint, dunks everything. We appreciate him a lot.”

McGee and Ball found a rhythm together on Wednesday, with the former scoring three times out of pick-and-rolls with the latter. McGee’s size and athleticism have made him a constant above-the-rim threat, which have resulted in nice two-man games with Ball, LeBron James and Rajon Rondo.

The Lakers also have a menu of plays that they use to get McGee to the rim. Midway through Wednesday’s third quarter, they ran a particularly interesting set that hinged on Kentavious Caldwell-Pope’s back screen freeing JaVale for an alley-oop.

L.A. executed it well, but Dallas’ Luka Doncic read it perfectly, breaking up the lob in mid-air. Yet McGee, whose motor never seems to turn off, stayed with the play, getting the ball into the bucket before help could arrive.

The energy that McGee showed on that play is one of the driving forces behind his excellent start to his Lakers tenure.

Among players who have attempted at least 65 shots this season, McGee’s 63.2 percent clip from the field (55-of-87) ranks first in the NBA. On a related note, he has also thrown down the league’s second-most dunks (25).

His shooting efficiency is helped by his own tenacity on the boards. McGee is averaging 3.0 offensive rebounds, and hauled in five during the win over the Mavs.

The way he rolls to the rim often places him in good position to vacuum the offensive glass. He did just that on Halloween night, scoring on put-backs three times.

McGee was just as impactful on the defensive boards, consistently winning battles against DeAndre Jordan, who has been a top-three rebounder in five straight seasons.

JaVale said that his success came from studying some of Jordan’s own tape in the lead-up to the match.

“Before this game, I was really focusing on rebounding, so I watched his defensive rebounds from his past games,” McGee said, “because he’s averaging a double-double. That’s something I admire [and want] to do.”

But McGee’s biggest contribution on the defensive side came from his five swats. Since Jordan isn’t a threat to shoot, JaVale was able to drop back deep, where he could protect the rim from penetrating guards.

McGee has been the NBA’s apex rejector this far, leading the league with 3.3 blocks per game.

With his athleticism and 7-foot-6 condor wingspan, McGee is able to consistently rotate over from the help-side to protect the rim. On the play below, he was able to chase down J.J. Barea — who was already in full sprint — and send his shot from the bucket to the first row.

“He was huge for us again,” coach Luke Walton said. “We’ve been talking rebounding — rebound and take pride in it — and he went out there and got 15 for us tonight. He had five blocks clean.”

McGee also did the hard-hat work that often isn’t celebrated. He was credited with 12 box outs, four screen assists, four deflections and four loose-ball recoveries against Dallas — all of which are league-leader-type hustle numbers.

But while McGee’s impact may go unnoticed sometimes, but his outfits certainly don’t — even if it can be difficult to match Grinch hair with the rest of his wardrobe.

“I don’t really have nothing else to wear with it,” he said, announcing the costume’s retirement. … Well, maybe till Christmas.

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