LOS ANGELES — Lakers Head Coach Frank Vogel isn’t necessarily excited about Dwight Howard and JaVale McGee shooting threes.
“It’s not something that we want,” Vogel said last week after Howard was his latest seven-footer to nail a three. “But they do practice, and you’ve got to reward them a little bit for all their hustle and dirty work.”
Howard and McGee have been happy to cash in on the rewards for their efforts, with Howard only needing to take one more triple to tie his career-high in total attempts for a season (seven) and McGee launching three shots from behind the arc himself, well short of his career-high of 12 last year, but with half the season left, there’s still time.
It’s time that it sounds like McGee is planning on taking full advantage of.
“We got a friendly competition with the league,” McGee said on Monday night when asked if he and Howard had a “friendly competition” to see who could make more threes. “We got some of the highest 3-point percentages in the league. We’re not competing with each other. We’re competing with the whole league, the same way our whole team is competing with the whole league.
“Just let your shooters shoot.”
McGee is right about that first part. Among players with at least three 3-point attempts, he ranks first in the NBA in percentage at 66.7%. Howard is second at 60%. Sure, they’ve only taken eight combined attempts, but still, the takeaway here is that JAVALE MCGEE IS LEADING THE LEAGUE IN 3-POINT PERCENTAGE. He and Howard are clearly doing something right, and as Vogel alluded to, it’s a shot they practice.
Howard has made practicing his threes with Lakers guard Quinn Cook on the court at Staples Center a near-nightly ritual, and both he and McGee can be seen putting up the shots after practices, shootarounds, and sometimes even before games. McGee says he’s been shooting threes since college, and that “hell no” playing for the Golden State Warriors didn’t make him more confident.
“Why would you say that?” McGee questioned a reporter. “I didn’t shoot threes with the Warriors.”
While he later admitted that he shot some “garbage time threes” with Golden State — he shot nine threes during his two years with the Warriors — McGee said that his league-leading long-range proficiency comes more from how he forces himself to work on every part of his game during the summer, because he says if he only practiced what he does in games over the summer, he wouldn’t be able to stay in shape.
So if one happens to catch McGee working on his game during the offseason, they won’t just see him blocking shots and dunking. McGee practices his mid-range shots, post moves, shots off the dribble and threes.
“In the summer, it’s a whole different JaVale,” McGee said.
McGee’s teammates have noticed the results of his (and Howard’s) labors.
“I enjoy when they they take them, when they take them during the course of a game. When we’re up big in the fourth quarter, the way they’ve been playing, our two bigs, under five minutes, they can get them up,” said teammate LeBron James after Howard’s latest late-game three against the Cleveland Cavaliers.
“Our bigs, collectively this season are 5-8 from the 3-point line. They’ve got a hell of a percentage, and that’s their reward,” James continued. “When they’re battling the way they do vs. bigs every day, when they’re rolling, blocking shots, changing shots, that’s their reward to be able to get a nice trail three, corner three as well, and they’ve been knocking them down.”
And — critically for the Lakers — Howard and McGee are indeed combining for production Vogel has called “All-Star level” at the center spot.
One of the less talked about reasons for the Lakers success is the amazing production of their centers... Compare:— Reed (@Reed_nba) January 14, 2020
Dwight + McGee: 36.3 min, 14.6 pts, 13.1 reb, 1.0 stl, 3.2 blk, 68.1 fg%
Gobert: 34.3 min, 14.8 pts, 14.4 reb, 0.7 stl, 1.9 blk, 67.3 fg%
(Fixing Gobert’s reb’s)
If the reward for that is them getting to launch a few threes, the team is happy to let them have a little fun. It’s not the typical way of NBA thinking as it pertains to rewarding big men — common thought used to be making sure they got a post touch — but Howard and McGee are clearly enjoying themselves, and have genuinely surprised their teammates with how well they’ve shot the ball so far.
“To be honest I didn’t know (Howard) could shoot that well,” Cook said, but his practice sessions with the big man have changed his mind.
“When it goes in, I’m not surprised anymore. I don’t think anyone here is either because he puts the work in and believes in his jumper,” Cook said.
The Lakers are so used to Howard and McGee’s proficiency from deep that Danny Green — the guy the team signed over the summer to be one of their 3-point specialists, whose team nickname is “Deadshot” and who has famous comic-book marksmen tattooed on his body — had jokes when he was asked if he’d given Howard and McGee any pointers.
“Actually they’ve been shooting better than me, I need to get some tips from them,” Green said. “(They’ve) been great for us in the paint, but when they get a chance to shoot from the perimeter, they’re knocking it down and shooting it confidently.”
Every championship team needs to find ways to keep things light during the season, and Howard and McGee’s marksmanship has provided the latest such dosage of fun. In fact, the Lakers are enjoying how well those guys are shooting so much that Green had a tongue-in-cheek suggestion for the NBA.
“We need to put those guys in the 3-point contest I think. Why not?” Green laughed.
All quotes obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted. For more Lakers talk, subscribe to the Silver Screen and Roll podcast feed on iTunes, Spotify, Stitcher or Google Podcasts. You can follow Harrison on Twitter at @hmfaigen.