McGee played an important bench role for the 64-win Phoenix Suns last season. He averaged 9.2 points, 6.7 rebounds, and 1.1 blocks in 15.8 minutes per game. He started in 17 of his 72 appearances, but will begin the 2022-23 season as the Mavs' starting center.
For a Mavericks team that struggled to rebound and protect the rim throughout the playoffs, finding a player like McGee was a priority. Kidd was an assistant coach on the Los Angeles Lakers' 2020 championship team that McGee was on — making it simple when evaluating free agent center options.
“When you look at JaVale, he’s won three championships,” Kidd said. “He’s a great veteran guy for our young players."
“Again, it was something that we felt we needed last year was someone at the rim to protect. And offensively, being able to roll with the best of them and then to be able to punish the switch, we really truly believe JaVale can do that.”
Kidd is intrigued by what McGee can provide as a rim roller with Luka Doncic, who tends to maximize the value of his screener. McGee has been a highly efficient pick-and-roll big — generating 1.385 points per possession (PPP) during the 2021-22 regular season as a member of the Phoenix Suns. Among all players with 100 roll man possessions, only Dwight Powell and John Collins were more efficient.
“He’s a great pick-and-roll guy,” Mavs coach Jason Kidd. “I think the relationship between him and Luka as they play a little bit more together will build.
“Luka will find him, and he has to be ready. But he’s one that you can throw it almost anywhere and he’s going to come up with the catch and finish.”
What made McGee want to sign with the Mavs? Among the key reasons was seeing the brilliance of Luka Doncic throughout the Western Conference Semifinals from the perspective of the opposition. As a part of the Phoenix Suns' rotation, he had to try to slow Doncic down firsthand and saw himself thriving as his rim roller.
“Seeing seven straight games of Luka definitely helped with the decision of coming here,” McGee said. “He’s a player who gets everybody involved. I like being around players like that.
“All the attention that he draws and the way that this system is set up to have all the shooters around, that really opens up the lane for players like me who are dynamic at the rim.”
NBA players are humans, too, so it's not just purely about basketball when making a free agency decision. McGee grew fond of the Dallas-Fort Worth area during his first stint with the organization. He complemented the southern hospitality.
“It’s a great city,” McGee said. “One thing I did love about Dallas when I was here the last time was the city is great, great weather, great people. I love the southern hospitality, and also just basketball-wise. Starting and playing basketball and starting on the team was very important to me.
“I like the energy out here, I like the people, I like the southern hospitality. It’s a big difference from different cities like LA and places like that. LA is a great city, but their people aren’t as open arms, I guess you would say, as they are in Dallas. And I hold the door open, too. I’m very polite.”
McGee felt that his first stint with the Mavs, which occurred during the 2015-16 season, was tarnished by his ongoing injury recovery. He suffered a left tibia fracture that limited him to playing in a combined 28 games the seasons prior.
“Health-wise I’ve grown to know how to take care of myself now and I know how to do preventative things that I didn’t know how to do the last time I was here,” McGee said. “The last time I was here I was recovering from an injury – trying to give 100 percent — so just being here 100 percent healthy is beautiful.”
The formula is rather simple for McGee during his second Mavs stint. If he can roll to the rim at a high level with an elite pick-and-roll creator offensively while being a high energy rim protector and rebounder, he will be checking all of the necessary boxes.
You can follow Grant Afseth on Twitter at @GrantAfseth.
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