With the league making a seismic shift to more small-ball, the Los Angeles Lakers did not commit significant resources to manning the center position. JaVale McGee was signed in free agency, Ivica Zubac remained on the roster and Mortiz Wagner was selected in the 2018 NBA Draft.
Thus far, Zubac has struggled, Wagner only recently returned from a knee contusion, and Jonathan Williams was signed to a two-way contract after being waived because going small was not panning out.
Meanwhile, McGee has been nothing short of impressive for the Lakers. His 3.3 blocks per game lead the NBA, and McGee is also providing a scoring punch to the tune of 15.5 points per game.
He produced back-to-back 20-point games that correlated with a pair of victories for the Lakers, and had 16 points and 15 rebounds against the Dallas Mavericks for his first double-double of the season.
That it came starting opposite DeAndre Jordan was no accident. “DeAndre is a great rebounder. I was trying to match his energy,” McGee said. “Before this game, I was really focused on rebounding, so I watched his defensive rebounds because he’s averaging a double-double and that’s something I want to do.”
McGee has helped stabilize a defense that’s largely struggled this season, and his time off the court has further accentuated that. When McGee is playing, the Lakers have a 101.2 defensive rating. That swells to 118.4 when he’s on the bench.
That presumably is a factor in McGee averaging 27.2 minutes per game. He’s played at least 31 minutes in three games this season. Prior to that, McGee last played 30 minutes in February 2013, though he’s confident it’s a level he can maintain.
“I feel like it’s something I can do throughout the season. I felt great, to tell you the truth,” he said. “I feel like the coaches are figuring out how to play me those minutes and the way to keep me in there that long.”