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Film Breakdown: Why JaVale McGee is the perfect backup center for Phoenix

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Phoenix added a much-needed rim protector to their second unit.

NBA: Playoffs-Phoenix Suns at Denver Nuggets Isaiah J. Downing-USA TODAY Sports

The Phoenix Suns signed veteran big man JaVale McGee to a one-year, $5 million contract this offseason, filling one of their greatest needs.

He is a 3-time NBA Champion and Gold Medalist, shedding that “Shaqtin’ A Fool” label he was associated with early on in his career.

Phoenix sorely missed having a more “traditional” backup to deploy behind Deandre Ayton throughout their playoff run. While he (JaVale) wouldn’t have seen much burn in the Clippers series, the Lakers, Nuggets, and Bucks series all had minutes available for him.

Deandre Ayton’s workload was massive in his first playoff run, as he averaged 36.4 minutes per game, which over the course of multiple series can add up quickly. Phoenix’s big man rotation last season was thin and had little room for error (or injury) as evident by Saric’s ACL tear when things went downhill.

Their current big man rotation is set as such:

  • Center: Deandre Ayton, JaVale McGee, Frank Kaminsky
  • Power Foward: Jae Crowder, Cameron Johnson, Abdel Nader, Jalen Smith
  • Out: Dario Saric

Film Breakdown

I put together a video highlighting McGee’s fit in Phoenix’s rotation, how he was potentially recruited, and what he does best: protecting the rim on one end and running at it with force on the other. Hope you enjoy it!

Phoenix’s Roster

Considering they still have an open roster spot, I’d say it’s a good bet (at some point) that Phoenix adds a “bigger forward” or center that can play the 4. Even with the addition of JaVale, there is still room for improved depth, especially if Jalen Smith isn’t making significant progress in year 2.

The obvious names that come to mind for Suns fans are Thad Young, Larry Nance Jr., Kevin Love, etc. Time will tell how aggressively they strike to fill that spot, but for now, time is on their side and they have exceptions to make them the favorites as a destination in the buyout market as well.

In the very short term, it doesn’t seem like there will be too much desperation to fill that last roster spot barring an injury. The center minutes seem to be set with Ayton, McGee, and Kaminsky. The forward position has a bevy of candidates to step in between Crowder, Johnson, Nader, and possibly even Jalen Smith.

Efficiency Outlook

McGee’s finishing should improve upon an uncharacteristically low 51.1% field goal clip, which was his lowest since the 2013-14 season. He saw limited minutes and was traded mid-season, so a 46-game sample size with that context added should lessen any worries about a dropoff in his efficiency.

In his prior 4 seasons, he finished over 60% from the field for the Warriors and Lakers.

  • 2016-17: 65.2%
  • 2017-18: 62.1%
  • 2018-19: 62.4%
  • 2019-20: 63.7%

I expect this trend to continue in Phoenix, especially considering their offensive scheme and spacing.

Playing alongside Chris Paul and Devin Booker along with their system that is predicated on ball movement and spacing should unlock a ton of easy looks at the rim for McGee. Expect him to feast.

The bench unit of Cam Payne, Landry Shamet, Cam Johnson, Abdel Nader, and JaVale McGee is fairly versatile and experienced while also holding some upside. That is a rare blend of productivity and potential that most bench units do not have, and using McGee as a veteran anchor to that unit should be beneficial for all.


JaVale has his own YouTube channel with some very interesting vlogs that show what it’s like behind the scenes for players both in the NBA and in this case, the Olympics.