Two-time NBA champion JaVale McGee signed with the Los Angeles Lakers during free agency this summer. But his role with the team is unclear.
McGee, 30, seemingly projects as the starting big man for the Lakers next year. Brook Lopez, who started all but 10 games during his sole season in Los Angeles, left the team as a free agent to sign with the Milwaukee Bucks. While he may be the first name on the depth chart, he has averaged less than 10 minutes per game in the last four seasons combined.
The former Golden State Warriors big, meanwhile, averaged 20.8 points and 11.0 rebounds with 3.3 blocks per 36 minutes during his two years with the team. Golden State outscored opponents by a team-high 18.7 points per 100 possessions during his first year with the squad.
While we’ve recently speculated that superstar LeBron James will play key minutes as the center for the Lakers, it’s unlikely he takes the opening tipoff at the position. James has played one percent of his career minutes at center and is far more likely to close out games than to start them.
Other options to take the opening tipoff include third-year option Ivica Zubac or rookie Moritz Wagner. Both are just 21 years old and neither provide much experience in a starting unit. Zubac did not start a single game last season and even though Wagner could eventually earn the role, it won’t be handed to him.
Between these options, including James as well as potential stretch-fives Michael Beasley and Kyle Kuzma, it seems that McGee is the best option as both an interior and perimeter defender. Wagner could earn those minutes if he adjusts well to the pace of the NBA on the defensive side of the glass.
It’s worth mentioning, however, that McGee has started just 34 games since 2012. That’s just 12.0 percent of his total appearances, which would average out to less than 10 games over the course of a full season.
Steve Kerr has commented on how the team improved when McGee played the first few minutes of games, applauding his energy and athleticism. The veteran was ready and available, starting nine of the 13 appearances he made in the postseason for the Warriors during a pursuit of their most recent championship.
Even if McGee is the starter for the first game of the season with the Lakers, it would be a huge change of pace if he ends up playing significant minutes for the franchise. Los Angeles only signed him to a one-year deal and would likely prefer developing young frontcourt options like Kuzma and Wagner.
During crunch time, the most likely lineup for the squad is to surround James with shooters. For this squad, that likely means either playing the four-time MVP at the five and playing small ball or flanking him with Wagner, a big averaged 1.6 three-pointers per game last season.
McGee has shown that he can be productive when he is on the court, even for a winning franchise like Golden State. But the decision to sign him is not one that indicates he is a pivotal part of their plans moving forward.