Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Washington Wizards JaVale McGee : NBA Player Of The Week With Little Fanfare

If you were to wonder who was leading the NBA this season in shots blocked per game and was third in offensive rebound percentage, as well as fourth in field goal percentage, you may turn on ESPN and get fed on a constant loop how great LeBron James, Kobe Bryant, and Dwight Howard are instead.

JaVale McGee quietly goes on his way to the basketball court, allowing his play speak volumes for him. In the Wizards 116-114 overtime victory against the Philadelphia 76ers last night, McGee led all his teammates in minutes played with a career best 46 minutes. Minutes the Wizards desperately needed to extend the game into overtime, let alone win it.

The seven-foot first round draft pick, who has been on a roll this week, punctuated his magnificent performance with career high matching total of 24 points and a career best 18 rebounds, 10 of which came on the offensive end. He also found time to block four shots and steal two balls.

While Wizard fans are happy to see this type of explosion, none can deny pleasant surprise either the past several days. The past five games have seen him increase his rebound total each appearance, including three straight double-doubles.

After getting 20 points and 16 rebounds against the Detroit Pistons three nights ago, his exceeding those totals in a guard-oriented offense caught the 76ers by surprise to the point of frustration. Elton Brand saw McGee about to dunk home another rebound, so he shoved McGee hard into the ground and was promptly ejected. Brand, who had 19 points and seven rebounds in 25 minutes, was sorely missed by Philadelphia the rest of the way.

McGee is putting Wizards owner Ted Leonsis in a precarious position in just his first full year as Wizards owner. Leonsis, who took over the team from the legendary Abe Pollin after Pollin passed away a year ago, is a big supporter of the team. He sits courtside at many games rooting the team on.

The two-year contract McGee signed as a rookie will expire at the end of the season. Though he weighed just 237 lbs as a rookie, a year he was known mostly for shot blocking skills, McGee is maturing and is up to 265 lbs this year. He won't turn 23-years old for almost two months, so he is just beginning to scratch the surface of all of his abilities.

He came out of college as a sophomore two years early, and would have been a lottery pick if he had stayed in school even one more season. His decision was a lucky stroke for Washington, providing the first legitimate center the team has not had in decades. He led the NBA last season in shots blocked percentage, a statistic he currently ranks second in this year.

McGee also set a legacy mark by making the Wizards. His mother, a two-time NCAA Champion and Olympic gold medal winner, was the second player chosen overall in the 1997 WNBA draft. Pamela McGee was 34-years old then, after years of starring overseas, showing just how highly she was thought of as a player. His dad was drafted in the second round of the 1985 draft by the Portland Trail Blazers, ahead of such future stars like John "Hot Rod" Williams and Gerald Wilkins, but did not make the team.

While he can play both forward positions, Washington has no one on their roster able to play center but McGee. He spent his first years being brought along slowly, averaging under 15 minutes player per game in the 135 contests he appeared in. His previous career high of 45 minutes played saw him score 14 points and grab 12 rebounds before fouling out in a contest against the Chicago Bulls last season. He now is averaging over 28 minutes per game so far this season.

Even coming off a career best game, it went unnoticed by many of the media. They seemed more concerned with the return of rookie phenom John Wall from an injury that had him sit out a few games. ESPN triumphed Wall's return, as well as Gilbert Arenas chipping in 17 points and seven assists, rather than notice it was the dominance in the paint by McGee that allowed Washington erase a 14 point deficit.

While the Wizards play in a division where the Miami Heat, Orlando Magic, and Atlanta Hawks get a bulk of the kudos from the press, they have to feel positive about their young nucleus of players like Wall, Nick Young, Andray Blatche, Al Thornton, and McGee. Savvy veterans like Arenas, Kirk Hinrich, and Josh Howard, expected to return from injury next month, add to the mix offering leadership and the wisdom of experience.

Yet there may be no more important player on the Wizards right now than JaVale McGee, and certainly none have had the week he has had. While it may be unreasonable to expect his continue his streak of improved rebound totals, he is showing an aggression and confidence the team truly needs. With him being their only true post player, his progression could make the difference as to whether or not the Wizards make the playoffs.

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