Outside of LeBron James, JaVale McGee has easily been the best addition the Los Angeles Lakers have made this offseason. No, no one expected that to be true in July.
McGee has been incredible in all facets of the game for the Lakers, catching lobs, setting screens, defending the rim and even wearing a Grinch costume in the postgame locker room (okay, so maybe that last one isn’t a super important part of the game, but it sure is fun).
The Lakers have also been far better with McGee on the floor, as he has the highest net rating — how many points the Lakers outscore their opponents by, or are outscored by, per 100 possessions with a player on the floor — of anyone on the Lakers’ roster to play more than 100 minutes so far this season, per NBA.com.
According to James, while speaking at the Lakers’ shootaround in Portland Saturday morning, that has a lot to do with defense:
“We have a Defensive Player of the Year candidate in JaVale.” — LeBron James— E. García Gundersen (@Erik_Gundersen) November 3, 2018
McGee’s defensive numbers back up James’ point. According to NBA.com, the Lakers are never better defensively than when McGee is on the floor, only allowing 101.2 points per 100 possessions during his minutes. If prorated over the entire season so far, that would rank behind only the Milwaukee Bucks and Boston Celtics.
Furthering McGee’s case is that the Lakers are also never worse defensively than when he sits, giving up 118.4 points per 100 possessions, which is worse than the Cleveland Cavaliers, who rank dead-last in the league while giving up 117.3 points per 100 possessions.
McGee is also holding shooters within 6 feet of the rim to 53.1 percent shooting, which is the eleventh-best mark among starting centers who have played in more than five games, and is better than luminaries of the position like Steven Adams, Brook Lopez, Marc Gasol, Al Horford, Clint Capela and Rudy Gobert. That’s all despite McGee defending the sixth-most attempts in the league in that area (64 per game), per NBA.com.
But even if he keeps this up, stopping McGee from actually winning Defensive Player of the Year will in all likelihood be the Lakers’ own defensive efficiency, which currently ranks 21st in the league while allowing 112.4 points per 100 possessions. Maybe the Lakers improve a little on that end, but usually Defensive Player of the Year honors go to players whose teams are within the top-five or top-10 defenses in the NBA.
McGee deserves a ton of credit for propping up the otherwise moribund Lakers on that end, but while this isn’t fair, his production likely won’t be enough to get awards recognition at the end of the year unless his teammates improve on that end of the floor.