The Dallas Mavericks have made a mess of the early stages of this offseason. The Mavericks allowed Jalen Brunson to leave without making a competitive offer to retain his services. While the Mavericks would have you believe that money was not a factor in that decision, their offer was not financially competitive. The Mavericks then made the curious decision to give Javale McGee the second largest contract of his career despite his advanced age (34).
McGee signed a four-year, $44 million contract with the Denver Nuggets in 2012 after completing his rookie deal. At the time, he was an extremely promising 24-year-old center who had not yet become a staple on “Shaqtin-a-Fool.” Following that contract, he signed four different one-year minimum contracts. One of which was with the Mavericks in 2015. He then signed a two-year, $8.2 million contract with the Los Angeles Lakers before finally signing a one-year, $5 million contract with the Phoenix Suns last season.
The contract he signed with the Mavericks blew all of those away despite his age. The length and player option of this current contract have angered many, and it is a clear overpay. But that does not change the fact that McGee will help the Mavericks on the court this season. I openly pined for him on our podcast about the Mavericks exit interviews.
Dwight Powell has been the Mavericks only rim running option for years. No matter how you feel about Powell, he is truly elite as a roll man. Many tend to discount that ability by giving Luka Doncic credit for it, but Powell was elite before Doncic came to Dallas. McGee is also an elite roll man. He was the fourth best roll man in the league during the playoffs last season, although this efficiency came on a low number of attempts. More importantly, he has demonstrated an ability to be in or above the 90th percentile every season.
The difference between McGee and Powell is that McGee is also an elite rim protector and rebounder. Powell is terrible in both areas, requiring the Mavericks to choose between having a rim runner or a competent rim protector in Maxi Kleber. McGee does not require that choice. Powell allowed opponents to shoot 63.6 percent at the rim last season. McGee allowed opponents to shoot 51.8 percent in the same situations.
Rebounds are not valued by NBA teams for a variety of reasons, but all things being equal, it is better to get a rebound than to allow an opponent to do so. McGee collected 29.7 percent of all available defensive rebounds while on the court last season. Dwight Powell collected 14.3 percent of all available defensive rebounds while on the court last season. Some of this can be attributed to the Mavericks’ desire to have Doncic grab as many rebounds as possible, but Powell is undoubtedly an inferior rebounder to McGee.
One of the things that will be most surprising to Mavericks fans who have forgotten McGee from his previous Mavericks stay is how much more variety he has than Powell. Powell took 70.8 percent of his shots from within three feet of the basket this season. McGee only took 53.5 percent of his shots from the same distance.
McGee has gotten over his penchant for attempting audacious shots that were part of his “Shaqtin a Fool” pedigree. But he has added the ability to finish floaters and even some short “Dirk fades” as he took 37.1 percent of his shots from 3-10 feet last season. He made them at an incredibly impressive 58.8 percent.
McGee is not the greatest thing since sliced bread. He is not going to drastically alter the outcome of who wins playoff games. But he is an upgrade over Powell for the 13-15 minutes per game he will play in the regular season and the playoffs. He will require a different style of defense than Powell played though. McGee is primarily a “drop” big man. McGee only switched 43 total screens last season per Synergy Sports data.
He is also a big body to absorb some wear and tear that Kleber and Christian Wood will be better off avoiding until the playoffs. The Mavericks have shown that their bread is buttered playing five out offense. McGee is obviously not a part of that. But he is going to help and while he may have been overpaid, he is the only move the Mavericks have made since free agency began that will actually help.