While the Los Angeles Lakers have a rich history of dominant centers who played for the franchise, their approach to manning the position this season breaks from that and conforms more to the modern NBA. For JaVale McGee, he’s worked to remain relevant amid the league-wide shift.
McGee was among the veterans the Lakers signed to a one-year contract after coming to terms with LeBron James. He figures to be the team’s starting center, but how many minutes that will entail is unclear.
The Lakers, like seemingly every other team in the NBA, are experimenting with various small-ball lineups. Thus far that’s translated to Kyle Kuzma and Michael Beasley playing center.
Speaking generally about teams favoring small ball over a lineup that features a back-to-the-basket center, McGee acknowledged the difficulty that’s come with it. “They’re trying to get us out of here,” he said of big men.
“Prime example is them taking us off the All-Star ballot. Literally took the whole position off the All-Star ballot. Just think about that. We don’t even have a choice. Like, we have to go against guards and score 40.
“I mean, we work hard, so we have to adjust our game the way everybody else does. Now, we don’t stay back as much. We’re up more, we know how to switch. It’s just evolution, I guess.”
The evolution is one that required McGee to quickly correct what he believed would lead to more success. After a season playing at 280 pounds, the veteran said he “couldn’t jump, couldn’t run,” and often felt fatigued.
A dietary change led to weight loss, and McGee now plays around 240-250 pounds. But with that came criticism he lacked the necessary bulk to play to center. “I don’t need to be a banger,” he explained. “I dunk on people, I block shots, and I stay out of the way.”
While the NBA shifting to a new variety of big men with versatility and can space the floor proved challenging for McGee, he also believes he’s an improved player because of it. “Before, it was easy,” he said.
“Just because everybody was doing the, ‘Stay back and block the shot at the rim.’ So I was like, ‘Cool, I’ll just use my athleticism.’ It’s a lot more mindful now. I definitely have to focus more and think more on what exactly I’m doing, rather than just using my athleticism.”
But with that, the 30-year-old has not lost perspective on his career arc. “I feel like through the course of my career I’ve been in the iPhone era and the dilution of the big man,” he said with a laugh.