What a Healthy, Impactful JaVale McGee Means for the Dallas Mavericks


 The Dallas Mavericks appear to have added JaVale McGee to the rotation. If he remains healthy, what does he bring to the team?

The Dallas Mavericks got their best performance out of big man JaVale McGee on Friday against the Memphis Grizzlies, giving fans a taste of what life could be like with the athletic 27-year old healthy and manning the middle.

Starter Zaza Pachulia, who came to Dallas in perhaps the most underrated move of the offseason, has been fantastic thus far. He’s sitting tied for second in the league with 15 double-doubles, matching the total of the guy who was supposed to have his job, DeAndre Jordan.

But there are certain traits that Zaza Pachulia just doesn’t have; traits that previous Mavericks centers Tyson Chandler and Brandan Wright used to make a big impact on the team.

JaVale McGee showed he could add those elements to the team against Memphis, blocking three shots and finishing inside with authority as a rim-roller. This came after he was probably the lone bright spot for the Mavericks in their blowout loss to the Indiana Pacers earlier in the week.

There are differing opinions on McGee’s role with the team should he remain healthy, but there’s no doubt that should McGee remain fit and able, something he has had trouble with over the last few years, the Mavericks will be a better team for it. Here’s how:

The two “R”s

We’ll start with the most obvious: rebounding and rim protection.

While the Mavericks have been somewhat of a pleasant surprise on the glass in their first 27 games, checking in at 11th in the league per game, more help is always welcome. McGee can provide it. He has only averaged 10 minutes per in the eight games in which he’s appeared, so keep in mind that this is a small sample size; but he’s grabbing over 30% of available defensive rebounds while he’s on the floor, and his per-36 minute average is a robust 15.3. Pachulia is one of just nine players in the entire league to average more than 10 rebounds a night, but lengthy and athletic he is not. That element to McGee gives the front court a nice balance without sacrificing too much on the boards, if any.

But the real upgrade that comes with JaVale McGee is his rim protection. Pachulia uses fundamentals and veteran savvy to perform admirably on the defensive end, but he blocks less than half a shot per contest. Blocked shots don’t always tell the whole story but Dallas could sure use more of a deterrent inside, especially when Dirk is on the floor. McGee has shown over the course of his career, and most recently against the Memphis Grizzlies, that he can serve as that intimidating presence. The Mavericks give up over five points fewer per 100 possessions with McGee on the floor and it probably isn’t a coincidence.

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Eventually the Mavericks are going to have to go through rim attacking players like Russell Westbrook, James Harden, and many others to reach their ultimate goal. Having McGee in there as the last line of defense makes the Dallas guards’ jobs easier, allows them to play more aggressively on the perimeter, and could make opponents think twice before careening towards the basket.

Rest for the vets

Rick Carlisle has done a pretty good job monitoring the minutes of his starting front court, but surely some more consistent rest for Dirk Nowitzki and Zaza Pachulia would be welcomed. McGee being firmly in the rotation helps solve that issue. So far Dwight Powell has spent roughly 30% of his time on the court as a center. With McGee backing up Pachulia on a consistent basis, Powell is free to play his natural position more often, which would allow Carlisle to use Nowitzki more sparingly. This also allows Carlisle to use Charlie Villanueva more as a matchup option than a staple in the rotation. We’ve already seen this happen some.

Offensive Impact

The numbers don’t back this argument up much…yet, but a healthy McGee could help some of the offensive woes the Mavericks have had so far. Dallas is running fewer pick-and-rolls this season without a Tyson Chandler/Brandan Wright rim-rolling threat. Pachulia has used his ball skills and passing ability to garner some attention from the defense in these situations but it just isn’t the same space-sucking presence the Mavericks had with the above-the-rim centers they’ve had in recent years.

McGee is one of those type of players, and with him, Dallas could rekindle some of that offensive potency we saw early last season before Wright was moved and Rondo bogged things down. Dallas has better shooters than last season, but defenders are more likely to stay home on them than sag in to help on Pachulia. They are forced to with McGee diving to the rim.

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There has been a lot of talk about Dallas being an improved team in the second half of the schedule. Most of that has centered around the conclusion that as Wesley Matthews and Chandler Parsons round into form so will the team as a whole. We can add McGee into that conversation as well. The more time he spends with Carlisle and the medical staff, the better he, and the Mavericks, will become.