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JaVale McGee gives the Lakers a vertical threat

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The Lakers need JaVale McGee to help keep defenses honest.

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NBA: Finals-Cleveland Cavaliers at Golden State Warriors Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

I have a soft spot for new Los Angeles Lakers signing JaVale McGee.

His recurring role on Shaqtin’ a Fool over the years has unfairly reduced him to a punch line in the minds of many NBA fans. But while he won’t be making any All-Star games, he’s a perfectly functional role player who helps his team win games when he is able to play to his strengths. He isn’t the caricature that he’s made out to be.

With apologies to Larry Nance, Jr. — who always stuck on screens a little too long to put as much pressure on the front of the rim as he could have — McGee provides the Lakers with their most credible lob threat since Dwight Howard in 2012-13, or perhaps even a healthy Andrew Bynum a few years before that.

Let’s take a closer look at how the Lakers can take advantage of his above-the-rim abilities.

McGee and the Lakers’ shot creators should become fast friends. He rolls hard to the basket, provides good lob angles, and has an absurd catch radius, allowing him to corral and finish passes that aren’t quite perfect. His athletic attributes fit in with the Lakers’ transition principles as well, where his rim-runs should accentuate the Lakers’ already-excellent sideline fast break.

LeBron James single-handedly improves the Lakers’ dribble penetration capabilities by leaps and bounds, and McGee can take advantage of that from the “dunker’s spot,” just outside of the paint and along the baseline. His presence puts his defender in the precarious position of either stopping penetration and surrendering a lob to McGee, or staying attached to him and letting James, Brandon Ingram, or Kyle Kuzma drive all the way to the rim.

McGee has a certain gravity as a roll man as well. Help defenders have to tag harder — getting “belly up” on him to prevent him from getting airborne — and that additional attention creates better looks from 3-point range.

The same concept is true on off-ball screens, where McGee makes good contact and can slip screens when defenders get too aggressive on shooters. That forces defenders to stay home with him a split second longer, opening up better opportunities from behind the arc. He’s unlikely to make a single 3-point attempt this season but should have a positive impact on the Lakers’ long-range efficiency nonetheless.

JaVale McGee has made some dumb plays in his career, and he will make more of them next year. Other Lakers will make dumb plays too, although it’s less likely that those will have the same spotlight shone upon them when they do. Basically, if those dumb plays are all you see, you’re missing out on a guy who’s carved out a valuable niche for himself in the NBA.

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