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Suns Player Previews: JaVale McGee brings size and emotion

JaVale enters his 14th season with a shot at his 4th ring.

2021 NBA Playoffs - Phoenix Suns v Denver Nuggets Photo by Garrett Ellwood/NBAE via Getty Images

Welcome to the 2021-22 Phoenix Suns Season Preview series, starting with individual PLAYER PREVIEWS. We go through the roster, recapping last year and analyzing how they can help the Suns in their upcoming championship push.

James Jones’ recognized what many of the Phoenix faithful did following a defeat at the hands of the Milwaukee Bucks in the NBA Finals: the team needed big-man depth. This wasn’t breaking news. The need had been present throughout the 2020-21 season. When the trade deadline came and went and our eyes turned towards the buyout market, the desire was for a secondary center.

We even had a segment on the Suns JAM Session Podcast dedicated to who we thought would be the best fit for Phoenix.

Alas, no move was made. In playoff series’ versus the Lakers, Nuggets, and Clippers, it was clear that Dario Saric wasn’t going to cut it as the backup to Deandre Ayton. Perhaps it was the move Phoenix didn’t make that ultimately cost them a championship.

With the 2021-22 season on the horizon, James Jones is hoping to fortify that frontcourt. Maybe he listened to the pod. Because he brought in a guy with championship experience. His name?

JaVale McGee

Center, 7’0” tall, 270 pounds, 33 years old

Recap

After winning an NBA Championship in the Orlando Bubble with the Los Angeles Lakers — McGee’s third in four years (two with the Golden State Warriors) — JaVale found himself packing his bags for the 216. That’s Cleveland, Ohio for those who aren’t privy to the local area code nomenclature. The trade came shortly after McGee picked up the player option for the second year of the two-year contract he re-signed with the Lakers during free agency in 2019.

“When they traded me to Cleveland I was like ‘oh, all right, I’m going to Cleveland.’ (laughs) That was it. It wasn’t ‘oh, man, I’m sad for myself, I feel bad for myself.’ None of that, nah,” McGee stated on the Posted Up Podcast. “I’m going Cleveland, I’m making more money than I made last year. You’ve got to count your blessings and realize you’re in the National Basketball Association with a brotherhood of 450 players only, and the average career is 3-4 years. That’s it. I’ve tripled that.”

JaVale played in 33 games for the Cavaliers, starting once, and was seen as a mentor to the young Cleveland team. He averaged 8 points and 5.2 rebounds in 15.2 minutes (19 and 12.2 per 36) and did so in energetic fashion.

The Cavs were 17-27 when they pulled the trigger on the trade that sent McGee to the fifth-seeded Denver Nuggets on March 25, 2020. JaVale returned to Denver, an organization that he spent 2011-15 with. His impact wasn’t great with the Nuggets; he played in 13 of 27 games for Denver to end the season, averaging 5.5 points and 5.3 rebounds (14.8/14.2 per 36).

McGee scored a total of 8 points in 4 games played in the playoffs.

Ryan Blackburn of SB Nation’s Denver Stiffs site gave McGee a “C” grade for his efforts this season. Blackburn noted, “his grade isn’t necessarily a byproduct of McGee’s performance but rather how often he was able to get on the court. The Nuggets, rightly or wrongly, decided that remaining committed to the Green-Millsap tandem was in their best interest for much of the season, and when Nikola Jokić is the starting center, it can be hard to find time to impact the game as the backup center, let alone as the third string option.”

Following the completion of the NBA season, McGee joined Devin Booker in bringing home the gold for Team USA in Tokyo.

  • Overall grade as an NBA player: C
  • Relative grade to preseason expectations: N/A

Contract details

McGee signed a one-year/$5,000,000 contract with Phoenix.


Weaknesses

Good, bad, or indifferent, McGee is a player who approaches the game with emotion. He can hype up the crowd with his antics and the team with his intensity. While this is a welcomed addition to any team, it doesn’t always work in your favor.

Remember last February when the Cavaliers were playing the Suns in Cleveland? JaVale McGee was ejected following a skirmish with Frank Kaminsky.

The Cavs were up 95-92 at the time of McGee’s ejection. Phoenix responded, outsourcing Cleveland 27-18 the rest of the way to earn the victory. I’m not saying that the run occurred specifically due to JaVale’s emotional ejection, but it certainly didn’t help their cause while leading against one of the top teams in the NBA.

Outside of his emotional outbursts, McGee lacks any sense of outside shooting. Over the past four seasons, 97.1% of his shots have come inside the arc. This is not Aron Baynes playing behind Deandre Ayton. Offensively, you’re getting a player who is very one-dimensional.

Strengths

While his emotion can be seen as a weakness when displayed at inopportune moments, it is a strength in the locker room. Larry Nance, Jr., his teammate in Cleveland, referred to McGee as the team’s “hype man” as he played the Mikal Bridges role of getting his team engaged during pregame huddles. “That is our get us riled up, energy guy,” Nance stated prior to McGee’s departure.

JaVale is a great interior defender (um, coulda used that in the Finals, right?), averaging 1.5 blocks per game in his career. He is a quality rebounder as well, both on the offensive and defensive glass. He is a low-maintenance player, that is, he does not need the ball in his hands to make an impact. He simply goes about his business and enjoys doing so.


ONE KEY FACTOR

It will be interesting to see how often Monty Williams deploys the services of JaVale McGee. He is a player who, just three seasons ago, averaged 22.3 minutes a night. His minutes have dwindled in the last two years which most likely have been due to circumstance rather than ability.

He is 33 years-old and has 13 years of mileage on him, so I am not sure Monty will rely heavily on McGee throughout the 82-game regular season. That being said, with Dario Saric out all season due to an ACL injury, the balance between Frank Kaminsky and JaVale McGee to provide productive minutes behind Ayton will be paramount to the Suns’ success.


Prediction Time

Expectations for JaVale McGee will be high as we are excited to have someone who can play the part of a true center. Be warned: McGee will make some bone-headed plays. Whether they be on a fast break or with an emotion-filled ejection, there will be moments in which you’ll be frustrated by the actions of McGee. But in the long run, he is what the Suns need and ultimately will help this team with their depth.

My preseason prediction of McGee’s performance relative to his productivity? If he is a B this season, I’m happy. He’s not a dominant backup big. But he’s definitely serviceable. His intangibles can be an A, especially when considering how they affect his teammates. His on-court statistical performances may falter at times, but he is exactly what this team needed.