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Explain One Play: JaVale McGee is good, bad and ugly

We look at a few plays starring JaVale McGee, with all of his goodness, badness, and ugliness.

NBA: Golden State Warriors-Media Day Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

Okay, I admit I’m not completely rational about JaVale McGee. He’s absolutely a guilty pleasure — an athletic, hustling, active-motor, good locker-room guy with a great attitude ... who makes strangely awkward, out of control plays.

He’s been bullied cruelly on national TV, on “Shaqtin’.” But I confess: his failed alley-oop/judo takedown of a teammate is one of my all-time favorite goofy things to see happen on a basketball court:

But, still — the Shaqtin’ treatment is straight up bullying.

McGee is the kind of player who keeps you saying, “If only he had the love of the right coach ...” So I’m absolutely wanting to see what Steve Kerr/Ron Adams/Mike Brown can do with him.

Andre Iguodala swears that McGee is a high-IQ guy. While I trust Iguodala’s judgment, he may be the one Warrior to pull some kind of long-con prank on us all.

Anyway, there is a significant chance that McGee will not make the regular season roster, so I better get this breakdown done right now.

We’ll look at a few plays from McGee’s run in the second quarter, his only time playing with and against NBA-level players. I wanted to do a Good Plays, Bad Plays and Ugly Plays, but McGee’s play defies such easy categorization. There is good, bad and ugly in every one of his plays.

Cross-screen post for Klay Thompson, version 1

Let’s look at this play that the Warriors ran twice in a row. Here’s the first version, which ends with Thompson quickly getting fouled:

You’ll see Thompson dribble-pitch the ball to Stephen Curry, who quickly swings the ball back to the other side through McGee and Patrick McCaw. As the ball swings, Thompson will follow the ball to the other side, getting a screen from Draymond Green, possibly in order to get post position to isolate on his defender.

It’s not a very smooth play, it takes a long time to develop, the swing around is slow, and Thompson doesn’t even get good position. But some of that is lack of practice.

Cross-screen post for Thompson, version 2

They ran the play again, presumably to get farther into it. We can see now that there is a second option if Thompson doesn’t get good position on his cut across the key. Curry uses McGee to screen his defender as he cuts to the top of the arc. Curry’s defender does a good job staying with Curry. But what’s happened to McGee’s defender? Watch:

McGee’s defender is a rookie, Jakob Poeltl, who gets a little lost creeping up to help on Thompson. McGee (good) alertly cuts to open space and Thompson finds him with a good read and pass. Then McGee (bad) drops the pass, blowing the open dunk. Then he (ugly) hustles and digs out the ball and puts in the twisting awkward dunk.

McGee defends and rebounds

The Raptors tried several times to pick on him by swinging the ball to his side into a pick-and-roll, leaving McGee guarding a quick small driving lane. Sometimes he did a nice job staying with the driver, like below. But watch what happens on the rebound:

McGee (good) contains the driver long enough for Iguodala to catch up and block out Poeltl. But he (bad) gets pushed too close to the basket and jumps way too early. Then he (good) hustles to make a second-effort jump, but then he (ugly) clobbers Kevin Durant and the ball squirts free for a near turnover.

McGee blocks

Here, the Raptors again use the pick-and-roll to make McGee guard a quick small in space. You can see him lining up the block the whole drive:

McGee (good) stays with the driver while preventing his man from cutting clean to the basket, and he makes the quick athletic leap and block. But he (ugly) gets way out of position on the landing with his back to the play, semi-following the driver. He (bad) lets his man get an easy put-back.

This happened on at least one other of his blocks. It’s great to get the block, but even better to go straight up and keep control of the ball ... or at least keep your man from getting it.

Final thoughts

In general, JaVale McGee showed a knack for cutting to the basket, either getting open or at least occupying his defender. He usually made the right pass pretty quickly. But he also showed a general inability to hold onto the ball in all phases of the game, undoing some hustle for rebounds with stone hands. In general, he didn’t seem to keep solid rebounding position, often getting out of position to make a block.

But it feels like good coaching could fix a lot of that (maybe not the stone hands).

Yeah, I’m biased. I really want JaVale McGee to make the roster, regain his dignity and self-confidence and succeed. And, certainly, to beat out Anderson Varejao.

Let’s see what happens.