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Explain One Play: Three JaVale McGee dunks

How JaVale McGee got his big dunks in the Warriors-Mavericks game on Dec 30th, 2016.

Dallas Mavericks v Golden State Warriors
Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

This is a quick look at how JaVale McGee got his three dunks in the Warriors-Mavericks game.

Dunk #1

Just watch it and figure out who is guarding McGee and how he loses McGee.

The answer is that Dwight Powell #7 is guarding McGee. McGee comes up to set a quick screen for Curry and immediately rolls to the basket before he screens Curry’s defender. This is called slipping the screen. Curry runs by a very good defender in Wesley Matthews and Powell decides to sink back to contain Curry’s drive. That allows McGee to run straight to the basket.

Easy alley-oop pass. Devin Harris helps off of Klay Thompson in the corner, trusting correctly that McGee will not pass out. But he is like a spider monkey grabbing a rhinoceros and I guess that metaphor doesn’t work unless the rhino can dunk, but anyway, McGee has an easy dunk.

Dunk #2

Once again, this starts with a Curry-McGee pick and roll. Again, McGee rolls early to the basket. This time Dallas does not have Powell sink back to contain Curry. Watch.

Dallas has Powell jump out to contain Curry. I believe this was to be a show and recover defense, but McGee’s strong roll forces Curry’s defender, Harris, to go with McGee. Curry threads a quietly amazing entry pass to McGee. And again, the spider monkey is no match for the dunking rhino.

Dunk #3

I love this play. First, keep in mind that the Warriors occasionally run plays where Klay Thompson sets a back screen on a big’s defender, which allows them to run to the rim for a layup. For instance, in this play Thompson sets a screen for Andrew Bogut, who slowly shambles into the play.

Big defenders aren’t used to getting screened, small defenders aren’t used to leaving shooters to switch to big attackers.

So, tonight, this is either a fantastically realistic deception or a great audible by Thompson. On the left side, Curry and Andre Iguodala are running together doing something interesting. You can see Thompson on the right side noticing that McGee’s defender (the tormented Powell from above) is watching the bustle and has turned his back. So Thompson sneaks behind him...

...and Thompson nails Powell with a blind-side screen.

This allows McGee to run unabated to the hoop. Devin Harris, our favorite spider monkey, is fixated on following Thompson, so he doesn’t even realize that Rhino McGee is running by.

PS. I believe this was an audible because Curry and Iguodala are beginning a proper play, a dive/pop split cut (details at Explain One Play: Durant Reverse Dunk and Curry 3 from Next Level Split Cuts), on the left side. And watch how animatedly Thompson is hand signaling “use my screen” so McGee sees to rhino-run to the rim and Green knows to look for the alley-oop.

Whether or not it’s a fake dive/pop to a weakside alley-oop, the W’s should start running the play this way.

Is JaVale McGee a starter?

I don’t think so. No matter how frustrating Zaza Pachulia is (mishandled passes, ineffectual shots and finishes at the rim, miscommunications with Curry on pick and roll defense), he is still a relatively steady center that can play reasonable positional defense against most starting lineups for 15-20 minutes a game.

McGee — whom you know I’ve been rooting for since preseason in Explain One Play: JaVale McGee is good, bad and ugly — did his highlight damage against a backup big Powell and an aged spider monkey. That means McGee is doing well as a change-of-pace power big against second-stringers. If you watch how the Warriors guard DeAndre Jordan (zone behind him so he can’t catch lobs), you can see how a strong defense should be able to limit McGee’s dunk attack.

But McGee is starting to get better at pick and roll defense, and if he can get more solid at positional defense and rebounding, he might cause a center controversy yet.

Final Thought

The Warriors recently became the #1 defensive rating NBA team. In related news, In this column, we’ve been tracking Curry’s Defensive ESPN RPM. At the start of the season, Curry had a DRPM below -1.00, which is quite bad. When we last checked in a few days ago, his DRPM has climbed to around -0.47, an improvement up to merely mediocre. Today, despite some horrible pick and roll defense by him and Pachulia, Curry has now vaulted up to -0.07, which actually puts Curry at #17 out of 85 point guards, and about a net neutral on defense.

If you want to read more video breakdowns — one for almost every Warriors’ win since 2015 — check out the rest of the series of Explain One Play articles. For the full,updated index, go to The Explain One Play series index. And I might have a breakdown myself trying to keep up with the W’s this year.

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