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Is McGee the next Tree Rollins?

By Kevin Broom 

My pals at Bullets Forever look at JaVale McGee today in their ongoing 20 Days, 20 Questions series leading up to training camp. I’m also crystal balling McGee, albeit in a different sector of the psychic ether.

By design, the Wizards’ roster this season is comprised entirely of question marks, potential and hope. Entering his third season, McGee is the personification of the team’s current condition. Youth? Check. Physical ability? Check. Potential? Check. Questionable basketball skills? Check. Dubious motivation? Check. Erratic results? Check. Immaturity? Check.

What are the Wizards going to get from McGee this season and into the future? In the “positive thinking” column goes stuff like finally getting his asthma diagnosed, the seven pounds of muscle he reportedly added this offseason, and the news that he grew another inch.

In the “uh oh” column goes stuff like his on-court production and Lamar Odom’s comment during USA Basketball tryouts. Odom concluded high praise for McGee’s athleticism (comparing McGee’s build to David Robinson’s) with, “If he can just get his feel for the game together, he can have an impact on a team. Because it’s called basketball, not run and jump.”

Yeah, I winced too.

With full understanding of the imperfect nature of such comparisons, I took a stroll through stat-land to find some players from league history who started their careers similar to McGee. I did the same thing after McGee’s rookie year and found promising comparisons, including Jeff Ruland, Bill Cartwright, Vlade Divac, Patrick Ewing and Dwight Howard.

Unfortunately, none of those guys make McGee’s “similar” list after year two. The bigs who started their careers like McGee:

  • Marreese Speights — softie PF/C for the 76ers 
  • Anthony Randolph — promising youngster who was traded to the Knicks after two seasons with the Warriors 
  • Gheorge Muresan — the 7-7 giant whose Bullets career was ruined making a crappy movie with Billy Crystal
  • Al Jefferson — made the jump from high school to the NBA; showed tons of promise before wrecking his knee. Now on his third team.
  • Steve Johnson (a solid big for several seasons, who made the 1988 All-Star game), Kent Benson (a serviceable pro for many years), Tree Rollins (a defense and rebounding specialist), and Mychal Thompson (number one overall pick who had an underwhelming career, but he did win a couple titles with the Lakers) each showed up in the statistical comparison search, but none are good comps because they played about as many minutes as rookies as McGee played in his first two seasons combined. 

Regardless, I don’t think the Wizards front office are praying McGee develops into the next Tree Rollins or Mychal Thompson. They’re not pinning their hopes for the future around the second coming of Steve Jones.

Why didn’t the promising comps from his rookie season (Ewing, Howard, etc.) show up after year two? Because those guys progressed faster and earned more minutes in their second seasons. McGee did not.

There just isn’t a way to massage the search to find more promising historical comps. For example, looking only at players who had similar second seasons generates the following list: Robin Lopez (not bad), Marcin Gortat (not bad), Wang Zhizhi (ugh) and Calvin Booth (blech). Relaxing the criteria a bit adds Brad Miller (who became a good center) and Ryan Anderson, but also brought in hoops immortals like Brad Branson, Tim Thomas, Stanislav Medvedenko and Mike Gminski.

Focus on what the Wizards want most from McGee (shot blocking and rebounding), and the players most similar after two seasons are Samuel Dalembert, Greg Ostertag, Kelvin Cato and Andrew Lang.

So, let’s just forget about last season and go back to that feel-good rookie list. McGee’s athletic ability hasn’t gone anywhere. Maybe his stint with Coach K and USA Basketball taught him something. Maybe that asthma diagnosis will free him to work harder, practice harder and play better. Maybe Flip Saunders will figure out how to use him. Maybe he and John Wall will make a psychic connection and terrorize the league for the next decade.


By Box Seats blogger  | September 21, 2010; 1:38 PM ET
Categories:  Kevin Broom, Wizards  | Tags:  JaVale McGee, Washington Wizards  
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I wish we had a big man coach that could
mentor McGee because he could
be as effective as David Robinson if he
understood his role.

At Worst be Chandler

Posted by: grayterrence | September 22, 2010 1:45 AM | Report abuse

GL, wizs

Posted by: asdw208 | September 22, 2010 2:02 AM | Report abuse

As effective as David Robinson? That'd be nice, but I don't see that as a realistic possibility. Robinson was the best center in the game for a few years. Phenomenal player.

A big man coach is a nice idea, but I think almost all of it comes back to McGee. The Wizards have coaches who can teach him how to play center. The real question is how much work McGee is willing to put in.

Posted by: TheSecretWeapon | September 22, 2010 9:14 AM | Report abuse

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