Washington Wizards Center JaVale McGee: The Year of The Beast

Matthew BrownCorrespondent ISeptember 8, 2010

TARRYTOWN, NY - JULY 29:  JaVale McGee of the Washington Wizards poses for a portrait during the 2008 NBA Rookie Photo Shoot on July 29, 2008 at the MSG Training Facility in Tarrytown, New York.  NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this Photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Robert Laberge/Getty Images)
Robert Laberge/Getty Images

The Washington Wizards went from being a perennial playoff team to one of the worst teams in the NBA to one of the potential surprise teams heading into the 2010-11 season.

The smart money points to John Wall being the main reason for the positive outlook, but third-year center JaVale McGee may just open some eyes come October.

But has he done enough to become the inside presence the Wizards have lacked for so many years?

A first-round selection in 2008, McGee was a relatively unknown prospect from the University of Nevada-Reno. He was lanky and his game was unpolished, but he had the kind of athleticism that had to be harnessed in some way shape or form. He has played sparingly through his first two season, playing behind Brendan Haywood and coming off the bench when struck by inconsistency, but McGee has shown improvement each year.

He showed even more in the Wizards Vegas Summer League by growing an inch and adding some muscle to his frame. He even got a look from the U.S. National team for this year's World Championships.

While he did not make the national team and Summer League play is worlds away from the regular season in terms of competition and defense, McGee averaged 19.5 points on 69-percent shooting and nine-and-a-half rebounds in the Wizards' five games.

His length and athleticism have allowed him minor success thus far, but he will need to refine his game to be the beast he let the world that was watching the Summer League know he can be.

What better time than now for McGee to have his breakout season? Teaming with Wall seemed to agree with him, as noted by the numerous alley-oops and put-back jams he had.

If there was one thing apparent in McGee's first two years, it was his excitement.

After a monster dunk or big block, he would storm down the court like he had just beaten the world. Passion is great, but sometimes his would get the better of him and it would lead to a bad play on the other end of the floor.

Hopefully McGee grew in mind as well as body during the offseason. The Wizards can't afford to have him off the floor for very long with their lack of post players on the roster.

The biggest advantage McGee will have is his conditioning, which seemed suspect at times through his first two years. Luckily, it wasn't a lack of cardio or training that had McGee gasping for air, but undiagnosed asthma.

Since college, McGee had chalked his being winded during games to poor conditioning. In an effort to change that, he worked harder. Now that the problem has been identified and treated, his conditioning is excellent; a fact he noticed in a game late last season against Charlotte where he scored 14 points and grabbed 16 rebounds in 46 minutes of play.

But being a first-round pick comes with certain expectations. While it is difficult to put a timetable on when, if ever, a player will develop, McGee will need to grab the starting job and hold it for most of the season to avoid being labeled a bust.

Based on his physique, athleticism, and positioning, it is no stretch of the imagination to envision McGee as Dwight Howard 2.0. Howard was a defensive player and a rebounder, first and foremost, before developing his offense around the basket. McGee wasn't expected to be a centerpiece, and hasn't had that type of focus in his training.

Superstars are rarely born overnight, and they rarely last for decades afterward. McGee has a nose for the rim, whether off of pick-and-roll situations, following shots, or just running the floor. With Wall and Arenas as starting guards for Washington, running the floor will be the norm for McGee and the Wizards. In tandem with the finesse style of post-mate Andray Blatche, McGee has the opportunity to get a lot of offensive put backs.

With his role and his lungs just a little clearer, McGee should have a well-rounded set of tools to work with as he continues to improve.

He is a bit behind in terms of coming into his own, but only because of the turmoil around him and his asthma. Rest assured, resting beneath the lanky, baby-faced exterior is a double-double machine waiting for the season opener to start churning out the stats and stuffing the box score.

Wall may get the headlines and press coverage, but this is the year of JaVale McGee.