San Diego — During the first week of training camp for the Los Angeles Lakers, JaVale McGee was asked what it was like to play with amazing passers like LeBron James and Rajon Rondo, and he seemed almost in awe of how lucky he was.
”It’s amazing. I just go out there and feel like I’m at a buffet in Vegas. They’re willing to pass and I’m willing to go to the rim and dunk that thing,” McGee said.
The buffet was open for McGee in San Diego too, and he feasted on miscommunications by the Denver Nuggets to dunk home a team-high 17 points on 8-10 shooting in the Lakers’ preseason-opening loss.
While the defeat clearly indicates that the Lakers still have progress to make, the contest was a good and replicable example of how McGee can be best used: Throwing home dunks when defenders help off of him to contain some other threat.
”I’ve modeled my game for that,” McGee said. “I’m a vegan because of that, to stay skinny. I like to sprint, I like to run up and down the floor.”
McGee showed off his skillset on the very first play against the Nuggets, dunking home a feed from Rondo to score the Lakers’ first basket of the LeBron James era, just like we all expected:
JaVale wasting no time!#LakeShow ( : @SpectrumSN & ESPN) pic.twitter.com/HUDoWNA1Vg— Los Angeles Lakers (@Lakers) October 1, 2018
That’s exactly what McGee did for the Golden State Warriors last season, shooting 76 percent at the rim while serving as an unfair vertical cheat code for an already unstoppable offense.
The Lakers have a long way to go to reach those heights — and they’ll likely get there, given the unprecedented nature of the Warriors’ offensive success — but as a man who has tried to stop Golden State with McGee in two straight NBA Finals, James knows how dangerous he can make a team.
“Any time you have a lob threat, a guy that can bounce like that, it just puts so much pressure on a defense because you’re always afraid of a lob threat. Guys like DeAndre Jordan, JaVale McGee, guys that can get off a pick and roll and get down the floor and be able to get up there and get above the rim is definitely beneficial to our team,” James said at the Lakers’ Saturday practice, before McGee proved him prescient.
And McGee wasn’t surprised by his success, because as he put simply after Sunday’s game, “dunking the ball is what I do,” whether in the halfcourt or by beating other bigs down the floor.
Kuzma goes deep and finds JaVale!#LakeShow ( : @SpectrumSN & ESPN) pic.twitter.com/IQBPYrEJUH— Los Angeles Lakers (@Lakers) October 1, 2018
Lakers head coach Luke Walton has spoken all summer about how he wants the Lakers to be able to play small, and given some of the more odd, center-less lineups he experimented with in San Diego, it seems he’ll stick to that. That doesn’t mean he doesn’t value what McGee brings to the table.
“With his size, and length, and feel for the game, whenever he’s in and rolling to the rim, he puts pressure on that rim. You get playmakers and passers like we have, they’re looking for him when he gets down there,” Walton said.
Against the Nuggets that’s exactly what the Lakers did, and if training camp and one preseason are any indication, they’re going to keep feeding their big man. He isn’t picky either, and says he hasn’t had to specify where he wants to feast.
”I don’t really have a place (where I want the ball),” McGee said. “As long as it’s around 12 feet or above the rim, I can go get it.”
All quotes obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted. All stats per NBA.com and Basketball-Reference.com. You can follow Harrison on Twitter at @hmfaigen.