The Los Angeles Lakers completed a tumultuous week in which they finished with two wins and two losses. At times they played well and showed growth, but at other times they lacked energy and focus.
This inconsistency was reflected in the fact that several players had good moments, but no one could sustain a high level of play from game to game – no one, that is, except for LeBron James and JaVale McGee.
Over the summer, nearly everyone expected that Brandon Ingram and Kyle Kuzma would emerge as the team’s second- and third-best players behind James. Ten games into the season, and especially after this past week, the inescapable conclusion is that McGee is the second-best player on the Lakers roster at present time.
No one predicted it when he signed in free agency this past July, but on a team that lacks size in the frontcourt, McGee has turned out to be a revelation. To begin the week, the Lakers played poorly in a 124-120 loss to the Minnesota Timberwolves.
Afterwards, Lakers president of basketball operations Magic Johnson had a meeting with Luke Walton which reportedly included shouting. McGee, however, was one of the few bright spots in the game, finishing with 13 points on 6-of-8 shooting from the field, 5 rebounds, 3 blocks and 2 steals.
Not only that, but McGee played 31 minutes against the Timberwolves. This is the same player who averaged 10 to 11 minutes a game the past six years. On the season, McGee is now averaging 26.2 minutes a night, his highest total since the 2011-12 season.
Over the summer, reasonable hope was he could contribute a solid 15-20 minutes a night. McGee was just getting started, however.
In the next game, a win over the Dallas Mavericks, he finished with 16 points, 15 rebounds, 5 blocks and 2 steals, in what may have been one of the best games of his career. He did it while playing an astounding 35 minutes, which was literally unheard of for McGee before this year.
In the Lakers’ best win of the young season, a victory over the Trail Blazers on the road, McGee had another strong performance. He played 27 minutes and finished with 12 points, 9 rebounds, 6 blocks and one steal.
To end the week, following the euphoria over the win in Portland, the Lakers suffered one of the worst losses in their history to the Kawhi Leonard-less Toronto Raptors in a game in which they trailed 42-10 in the first quarter.
It is impossible to say that anyone on the Lakers played well in that contest, and McGee logged played 17 minutes as the coaching staff may have decided to rest him since the game was lost after the first few minutes.
Still, in limited minutes, McGee finished with 8 points, 6 rebounds, 2 assists and 2 big blocks. His blocks were dynamic, as the Raptors were coming at him from all directions as the Lakers offered little resistance on the perimeter. For the week, McGee’s consistency was a key in every game.
It has been many years since a member of the Lakers led the league in blocks, but that is precisely what McGee is doing right now and it isn’t even close. He is averaging 3.4 blocks per contest, while the second-highest average belongs to Anthony Davis at 3.14.
By way of comparison, Rudy Golbert and Joel Embiid, who are famous for their shot blocking ability, average 2.20 and 2.18, respectively.
After searching for five years for the right big man who can protect the rim – going from Roy Hibbert to Jordan Hill to Timofey Mozgov to Brook Lopez, all of whom were ineffective – the Lakers have finally found their man.
McGee was a godsend this past week given the Lakers’ porous perimeter defense. If the team was this bad defensively with the way McGee played, imagine the catastrophe it would be if McGee was not around.
Not only does he block shots, he alters attempts at and near the rim and has shown a good ability to come up with timely steals. McGee has always been a solid defender, but his play on offense was equally impressive this week.
For the season, he is averaging 14.4 points per game on 61.4 percent shooting from the field. The highest average in his career was 11.9 points per contest in 2011-12. McGee is having a career year in nearly all statistical categories, and even made his first three-point shot.
The problem for the Lakers was when McGee was resting on the sidelines, since opponents immediately attacked the rim and found no resistance. Help is on the way, however, Tyson Chandler was officially signed.
For his stellar play on both ends of the court, and his very solid contribution as a veteran leader and mentor in the locker room, JaVale McGee is deserved of the Lakers’ player of the week.