JaVale McGee did something silly on Monday when he tossed an off-the-glass alley-oop to himself on an uncontested fast break during the Washington’s’ loss to the Rockets. Wizards coach Flip Saunders called the play “unacceptable,” accused McGee of chasing a highlight in a classic style-over-substance move and limited McGee’s playing time the rest of the game.
McGee didn’t really understand why the whole thing was such a big deal, according to this post from SB Nation’s Mike Prada, who was at the game:
“Apparently, if you get a fast break and you throw it off the backboard in the third quarter and you’re 1-11, you’re not supposed to do stuff like that,” McGee said, seemingly sarcastically. “I felt like I was trying to get the team hyped and trying to make a good play, so I felt like we did that, and we went on a run from there.”
McGee has a point, according to Prada and his SB Nation colleague Andrew Sharp, both sharp (sorry) NBA observers. McGee’s showboating works as a convenient shorthand symbol for everything wrong with the Wizards, even if it has nothing to do with what is wrong with the Wizards. You can draw a line between McGee’s dunk and his occasional botched rotations, shot block-chasing and epically ill-advised goal-tends, but the line is not as clear as the screamers would have you believe. You can draw another line from McGee’s theatrics to Andray Blatche’s shoot-first, shoot-second, shoot-third mentality, Blatche’s lazy defense, Jordan Crawford’s egregiously bad shot selection and Nick Young’s love for the long two-point jumper. But you’d be stretching things at least a bit.
As Prada and Sharp note, the Wizards have real basketball problems, and this McGee dunk isn’t really one of them. And given what we know about McGee’s skill as a creative dunker–and his game in general–this might even be a higher percentage play for him than a regular, ho-hum dunk. (I’m only sort of joking). Washington is 1-12 and on pace as things stand now to be one of the very worst offensive teams in league history. The Wiz have scored just 93 points per 100 possessions so far, according to Basketball-Reference, and though scoring is down leaguewide by about five points per 100 possessions, there is very little precedent for what Washington is doing. Only seven teams in league history have ever scored 95 or fewer points per 100 possessions over a full season, and four of those pulled off the feat in the mid- and late-1970s, when offense was so bad overall that their sub-95 figures weren’t all that far, by the Wizards’ current standards, from the league’s average output.
The Wizards have scored close to 10 points per 100 possessions below the league’s average. Only three teams have been so bad offensively in both raw terms and in relation to the league mean: the post-Jordan Bulls of 1998-99 and 1999-2000, and the 2002-03 Nuggets, one of the very worst teams in league history. The Wizards are bad defensively, at 24th in points allowed per possession, but they are 1-12 instead of something like 4-8 mostly because they can’t score.
And their scoring issues go far beyond whatever silliness McGee committed Monday afternoon. They include everything mentioned above, plus the fact that John Wall, fresh off a summer of highlights in meaningless pick-up games, is shooting 38 percent, turning the ball over a ton and playing much like he did in his injury-plagued rookie season. Wall will pick things up; he sliced up the Rockets on the pick-and-roll Monday. But will his teammates follow?
That’s the question the Wizards have to answer as they consider whether to re-sign Young after this season, grant McGee an extension before Jan. 25 or trade Blatche just to get him out of town. Those are real questions; McGee’s dunk is a forgettable act of comedy.
But it still matters, especially considering the team’s recent history of clownish and boorish behavior – and McGee’s history in particular. Even leaving Gilbert Arenas aside, the Wizards have done too much of this over the last two-plus seasons. The team gave McGee carte blanche last March to pursue a triple-double, calling play after play late in the game that involved McGee gunning for points from the perimeter. Most such plays ended in disaster — turnovers, air balls, horrible misses. It was a farce. That came about 11 months after Andray Blatche, one rebound short of a triple-double, suddenly morphed into the hardest-working rebounder since Dennis Rodman, nearly snatched a rebound from a teammate and appeared to ask Yi Jianlian, then with the Nets, if he might kindly step aside and cede rebounding territory before McGee shot a last-second free throw.
Then came McGee’s bricked attempt at a foul-line dunk last December in Sacramento — during the fourth quarter of a game the Wizards were losing by 25 points.
These things add up in the minds of hard-core fans and casual ticket-buyers. On their own, none would have any long-term impact; they’d simply fade into memorable triviality, joining the ridiculous triple-double chasing of Ricky Davis and Anthony Bowie. But pile four such incidents atop generally bad play and the Arenas debacle, and you can’t blame fans around the league for perceiving your franchise as something of a joke. You can’t blame an area resident for hitting the bar scene and passing up those Wizards tickets based on the idea that these players chase stats over wins.
Perception matters. It’s why Abe Pollin changed the team’s name in the first place, dropping the beloved Bullets moniker. It’s why everyone took a parenthetical timeout in their Celtics and Lakers recaps last night to remind everyone how “classy” both franchises were in honoring Kendrick Perkins and Lamar Odom, respectively. Fans want to associate with a team other fans respect. There is some weird fan currency in that, even if fans play little or no rule in creating that kind of league-wide respect.
The Wizards are losing that, slowly. They can get it back by winning and working hard, but McGee shows a lack of awareness in dismissing the latest chase for a highlight as a standalone incident.