Many times in the past couple of years, the Dallas Mavericks have been hampered by a lack of depth in their front court. Maxi Kleber is often sidelined with nagging injuries, and is better off as a hybrid big and perimeter defender anyway. Dwight Powell doesn’t have the size to bang in the paint against traditional centers. Boban Marjanovic was serviceable, but only for short bursts.
The Mavericks tried to find minutes with gambles like Willie Cauley-Stein and Moses Brown, among others. It hasn’t worked. So this offseason, they made acquiring a veteran big man who could actually play 10-15 minutes per game a priority. Enter JaVale McGee.
McGee has gone from NBA laughingstock to an experienced presence on multiple contenders’ rosters. McGee won two championships with the Golden State Warriors in 2017 and 2018, and won a ring with the Los Angeles Lakers in the bubble season of 2019-20. He also advanced to the second round of the playoffs the last two years, with the Denver Nuggets and the Phoenix Suns, respectively.
The 7-foot, 270 pounds McGee averaged 9.2 points, 6.7 rebounds, and 1.1 blocks per game. He averaged 15.8 minutes per game over 74 games, including 17 starts. He shot 62.9% from the floor.
Does McGee have anything left in the tank? McGee is 34 years old, and will be 35 before the season ends. Big men age more gracefully than guards, but there comes a time when every athlete loses the physical gifts that helped them become a pro. Did the Mavericks just sign up for the sunset of McGee’s career? They don’t need much from him. McGee is on the roster to give the Mavericks some size and professionalism in the paint. But if his body doesn’t hold up, none of the other stuff matters.
Best case scenario
The ideal season for McGee is to provide quality play for 10-15 minutes per game. The Mavericks have indicated that they will start McGee, but coach Jason Kidd said this back at summer league. Who knows if that will be the case once the season starts. But whether he starts or comes off the bench, the role for McGee is clear. He needs to be a competent center for the Mavericks for short stretches over a game for most of the season.
Worst case scenario
As mentioned above, McGee’s age is a concern. He’s not the most nimble player in the league, and though he won’t be asked to guard on the perimeter, he does need to be active in the paint. The Mavericks play pretty aggressively on defense, and that might be asking too much from McGee. If he’s lost more athleticism than his size can make up for, or is injured for the majority of the season, the Mavericks will be back where they were the last two seasons — short on big man depth.
The Mavericks simply need McGee to be a quality backup center (regardless of whether or not he starts), and be a mentor for fellow big man Christian Wood. Coming off a rough season with the Houston Rockets, Wood has never played for a competitive team. McGee can be the one to guide him on what it takes to be a front court player who doesn’t just put up numbers, but helps his team win.
Things will be simple for McGee in Dallas. He just needs to play good defense and roll to the basket for easy lobs on offense. Due to his one dimensional nature on defense, he won’t see a ton of minutes in the playoffs. Quality teams will go five out and completely neutralize him. But the Mavericks signed him to be a steadying front court piece for the regular season. If he stays healthy, he’ll do exactly that.