When JaVale McGee is on the court he uses a big chunk of Denver’s possessions. According to Basketball-Reference.com, among regular rotation players, he has the highest usage rate on the team at 23.9 percent. Despite this, he also has the third lowest assist rate at 3.6 percent. Kosta Koufos has the second lowest, 3.1 percent, and Kenneth Faried the lowest assist rate, 2.0 percent. Naturally, all three of the Nuggets’ main frontcourt players earn their keep around the rim, finishing plays and putting back offensive boards, the big difference between McGee and the other two is that he actually spends a significant amount of time with the ball in his hands.
Compare his usage rate with that of Koufos, lowest among rotation players at 12.4 percent, and Faried, third lowest at 18.6 percent. (A surprising side note here is that Andre Miller is second lowest with a 17.6 percent usage rate that’s very modest considering how much he handles the ball). In short, Kosta and Kenneth should be given a free pass for their low assist rates, because the vast majority of the time, when they get the ball, they’re right there at the rim, and the best thing to do is immediately put it in the basket.
This is not always the case with JaVale, who handles the ball in the post much more than the other two. Examining the data from MySynergySports.com, we can see that in many ways the shot selection of all three players is fairly similar across the board. However, there are three play types which one player uses significantly more than the other two:
Faried and Koufos take more shots off offensive rebounds and cuts, respectively, than their frontcourt counterparts. Both of these play types, of course, necessitate taking the ball to the rim. There is no place for passing there. McGee, however, has a higher percentage of post-ups than the other two, a play from which he has the option to pass or shoot.
But pass he does not. This season McGee is averaging less than half an assist per game. More starkly put, in 13 games he has dished out a single lone assist in five different games, and zero assists in the remaining eight games. It’s also worth noting that three of his assists this season were made in transition, and just two made in the flow of an offensive set (one from the top of the key, and one from the low post). As a general rule, once JaVale gets the ball in position, he gets tunnel vision straight to the basket, and everything else on the court fades out of sight and out of mind.
All of this might not be as great a problem if it weren’t for the fact that JaVale is scoring a measly 0.5 points per possession on post-ups. Compare that with Marc Gasol’s 1.09, Tim Duncan’s 0.99, or for that matter Andre Miller’s 1.05 PPP from the post, and it’s easy to see that McGee still has a long way to go in getting a handle on the moves he learned from Hakeem Olajuwon last summer and putting them to positive effect.
In the meantime, as he finds his way through that process with the guidance of the coaching staff, he needs to improve his own and his team’s efficiency by making a concerted effort to dish it out more often from the post when the occasion calls for it. This would result in fewer wasted possessions, as probable missed shots got replaced by plays kept alive for more open, higher percentage shots.
Perhaps just as importantly, if opposing defenses know that JaVale always shoots and never dishes to cutters or shooters, then they are not kept honest. They can collapse on McGee with double or even triple teams with no fear of getting punished for leaving the perimeter unguarded. He can potentially earn himself better shots by forcing defenses to respect his ability to find open shots for his teammates.
What follows are breakdowns of the five clips in the video at the bottom of this post. (If you open the video up in Youtube, you can jump to any clip by clicking the times in the description). All we can do is hope that the Nuggets film crew is working closely with McGee to show him similar footage and stress the importance of the kinds of points we’re making here.
Clip 1 – Missed running hook shot
This is one of those cases where McGee is so determined to make his move to the basket that he completely fails to survey the court. The first time he gets the ball on this possession, he does the right thing and passes out of the hard double team. But the second time around, in his haste to take a shot, he doesn’t recognize that the defense has collapsed into the middle, and misses the opportunity to dish it out to either Jordan Hamilton or Andre Iguodala, both of whom are wide open. As a side note on this clip, Danilo Gallinari sets a very nice screen on Kevin Love to give JaVale room to operate. It would be great to see him set these kinds of hard screens more often on pick and rolls with the point guards.
Clip 2 – Missed short range jump shot
In this clip, Tiago Spillter does a good job of preventing JaVale from getting position, holding him to the side of the key where he gets the ball from Andre Miller. McGee makes a nice spin move to shake off Splitter, but similarly to clip 1, the defense has sunk into the paint. There are two help defenders lurking nearby ready to close in on JaVale, which they promptly do when he makes his move. affecting his shot and most likely causing the miss. Meanwhile, both Jordan Hamilton and Corey Brewer are standing around wide open at the 3-point arc.
Clip 3 – Blocked jump shot
Here McGee gets the ball in a good low post spot against Haslem. As he dribbles and gets ready to make a move, Dwyane Wade quickly steps in to double. JaVale’s first mistake here is making the bad decision to spin to his right, away from the basket and directly into Wade’s help defense. Had he spun left, he’d have a better chance of scoring. He does go right, however, and instead of passing to a wide open Brewer for three, or Miller to reset the play, he attempts to spin all the way around to face the basket, taking an off balance step-back jumper that is promptly blocked by Wade. Fortunately the Nuggets get the ball back and salvage two points, but more often than not plays like this will simply result in a missed shot and the waste of a valuable possession.
Clip 4 – Missed short range jump shot (2)
Something we’ve seen so often from JaVale this season is that when he gets the ball, rather than taking half a second to collect himself, he makes an immediate move to score. This often results simultaneously in bad, contested shots and missed opportunities. In this clip, the instant he receives the ball he attempts a jumper with Chris Bosh facing him up, missing it off the glass and leaving Danilo Gallinari and Brewer wide open at the arc.
Clip 5 – Pass out of double team
Here’s a good example of one thing McGee should try to do more often. After Andre Miller feeds him the ball in the low post, he’s immediately doubled. Rather than attempt to force a bad, contested shot, he finds Miller again, who in turn sets him up for an open mid-range jumper. Although that’s not the ideal shot for JaVale to take, he made the right move to pass out of the double, and took the shot his point guard gave him. It might be argued that he could have attempted to pass to a wide open Ty Lawson, but when you’re open and get the ball with just2.6 seconds remaining, there’s little to do but take that shot. That said, the real moral of the story here is that more often than not, when faced with a double team, McGee doesn’t pass out of it as seen in this clip, but rather attempts a difficult contested shot.
The most disappointing thing might be that McGee is, in fact, quite a capable passer when he puts his mind to it. It just seems that he’s either uninterested in making the effort, or unaware of the impotance of doing so. Perhaps next summer, if he studies under the tutelage of Hakeem again, they can focus on passing rather than post moves. For now, JaVale should watch film of Marc Gasol, who may be emerging as this generation’s best passing big man. His patient, measured play, how he lets the game come to him rather than trying to force it, his unselfish willingness to share the ball, assessing the location of his teammates and the defense before making a move – all of these are the lessons JaVale needs to learn.