Here’s a scary thought to think: DeAndre Jordan could have been JaVale McGee. For a while there, he should have been.
Yeah, this one probably needs some clarification.
First there’s McGee, an athletic freak with a seemingly dwindling sense who’s currently frustrating and irritating Wizards fans all the same. A workout warrior turned borderline breakout, McGee’s gone the way of Blatche, his equally numb-skulled teammate (and someone he reportedly got into a fist fight with in 2010). You might remember when Andray Blatche nearly secured himself an All Star level talent with his late, Boris Diaw-inspired surge to close the 2009-2010 season. Oh, but the contract year phenomenon reared its head with Blatche as he regressed the following year, choosing again to attack from all angles at random, skewing his diverse range of talents into game logs chocked full of terrible choices. Chucked shots, missed assignments…for a while there, Blatche did the unthinkable—he made me consider the possibility that Bargnani might not be the worst help defender in the league. Bargnani has since improved (astronomically some would say) to a point where, at least thus far in this premature but shortened season, his team defence isn’t worth talking about. Dwane Casey’s gone so far as to call Il Mago’s rotations perfect. Textbook, I think he said. How’s that for magic?
But Blatche…that’s a dummy if I’ve ever seen one. Worse, it’s rubbed off on McGee. Like I said earlier, McGee’s an athletic freak. Armed with arms as long as his legs with a wide frame and more bounce than a fat pair of tits, he’s already a venerable force to be reckoned with as a shotblocker. Unfortunately that’s where the problem starts. He blocks shots with a theatrical edge. He’s not a stopper so much as he’s a showman. His blocks don’t say “you can’t score in the paint,” they yell “GET OUT OF MY HOUSE” followed by what we can only assume is a rotating list of swears. That’s the problem. I’d rather eat paint than sound like Leo Rautins, but he’s got a point when he harps on defenders aggressively blocking shots into the stands. It makes highlights, sure, but more often than not it results in nothing but a fresh chance to reset the offence. It’s an option, but not the only one. An athlete as gifted as McGee should be able to block the ball with some intent. If you can’t guide it to your teammates, why not swat it to the other end of the court? Better yet, just grab the fucking thing.
The blocks are just the start, unfortunately. Remember a few years back when the Hawks were facing the Heat in the playoffs and Josh Smith tried a through-the-legs dunk in game? That’s JaVale McGee’s calling card. Not that specific dunk, because even he’s not that idiotic, but the sentiment. By now you’ve surely seen his self-lob against the 76ers. The argument is there that he was at home, trying to get the crowd into it and bla-bla-bla, but we know that’s not the case. McGee pulls things like this at an alarming rate. Given the chance, he’d probably have 360’d, too. Remember last year when he tried to take off from the free-throw line? In a game? And missed horribly? He’s one knee injury away from pulling a Tony Allen, and while he’d probably deserve it after the embarrassment he constantly creates…actually, nobody deserves it. What he does deserve is a slap on the head. With both hands. You know, so he’ll understand.
DeAndre Jordan isn’t JaVale McGee. Not just because they’re different people, but because of how he’s separated himself. Both came up on similarly bad teams, and while one’s taken a leap back and the other a jump forward, they’re from the same mould. Some would even say McGee had the head start. While Jordan was plagued coming out of high school and in college with lofty comparisons and expectations and hype and hyperbole, McGee was groomed at a smaller school–at least when basketball is concerned–with a professional background (his mom, Pam, played in the WNBA). McGee’s hype grew in the workout circuit, his one-on-none gym sessions catapulting the lanky, well-intentioned Nevada prospect to lottery levels. Conversely, Jordan’s buzz dwindled. He couldn’t shoot, couldn’t hit free throws and was a bit of a jokester. He hit an all time low when he slipped to the second round.
Three years later and it looks like they’ve switched back to where they started. A second round pick, Jordan’s already on his second contract. It’s a big one, too. Following a busy off-season where he was courted across the board with big promises and bigger offers, Jordan returned to an improved Clippers team with heightened expectations. While he’s still shooting free throws at an embarrassing clip, he’s slowly living up to the standards set by his big pay-day. What’s most important about Jordan is his role definition, especially in an argument that pits him against McGee. Jordan knows he’s there to block shots, rebound and dunk and that’s all he does. That’s all McGee does, too, but with a caveat: he does it when he shouldn’t. They both catch lobs, but Jordan knows the difference between slamming it hard and cocking it back. It’s a highlight either way, the catch is whether you want it to be the reason your ass gets glued to the bench.
Jordan doesn’t take bad shots, at least not as often as a player plagued for his supposed lack of basketball IQ or instincts is supposed to. He doesn’t give up on plays, at least not as much as his collegiate self, a lumbering big man often accused of giving less than his all on the floor. That’s why you can’t put all of your faith into scouting reports. We’ve seen how workout warriors and perma-potentials have crushed the emphasis on in-the-gym, drill-dominators, but why toss all your eggs at a projector looping footage from one scenario? Some players thrive in college because of their roles. Others falter. And remember, JaVale McGee was once thought to have NBA range. If you thought his dunks were stupid, imagine the guy chucking 24 footers.
DeAndre Jordan had the unfortunate distinction of being a borderline green room invitee that dropped to the second round, sitting awkwardly while lesser-hyped prospects shook David Stern’s greasy, money stained hands. It was an unfortunate fall from grace for Jordan, who for a time was considered a lock for the top 12 and, as vague as the rumblings were, a possible top 10 pick. But coming off the latest bricks built in his game—an unfortunate allusion given his paltry 46% from the free throw line—and it’s clear that he’s firmly on the road to redemption.
At a time when McGee’s antics, cluelessness and immaturity are dividing an already tumultuous Wizards locker room, Jordan’s ability to separate personality from professionalism is making him an asset to the organization. The jokester that was once considered too immature to immediately succeed is a building block. He’s bonding with best friend Blake Griffin off the court and complimenting Chris Paul on it. He’s helping the marketing team, too. “Lob city!” as you’ve no doubt heard. That’s half his fault.
It’s early in both of their careers, but there’s reason to worry on one end and to be excited on the other. If McGee’s lucky, he’ll snip the thread before it snaps. Otherwise, expect this storyline to grow.