The Curious Case Of JaVale McGee

Ceilings are based half on luck and half on decision-making.

Bill Walton‘s bad luck ended his career in the form of uncontrollable injuries. Isaiah Rider‘s decision-making ruined his. Walton and Rider, had they both the luck and the positive choices, could have done so much more in their NBA careers.

When you consider Washington Wizards center JaVale McGee, Rider might be a parallel case. Unlike Rider, McGee’s decision-making problems begin and end on the court, but in the same sense, it’s the only thing standing in his way from going from a middle-of-the-road NBA player to a star.

McGee’s size, length and skill can’t be replicated. When he throws down buckets that are part hook-shot and part dunk, you know he has that genetic luck factor locked down. And from that perspective and that one only, JaVale McGee has no ceiling.

Living in Phoenix, I don’t see much of McGee. One of my basketball-knowledgeable pals who has watched the Wizards quite a bit this season swore to me that the guy is a stud. I didn’t believe him. Still don’t know if I do. But when the Wizards visited the Suns a few weeks ago, I got a chance to see McGee in person.

At first, I couldn’t disagree with my friend. McGee’s athleticism and length make his shots unblockable, and his skill set isn’t all that raw. His natural instincts for hitting the glass and blocking shots are remarkable, though that’s easy to say when he can get his finger on any shot released within an eight-foot radius of where he’s standing. I witnessed him score 10 points, grab nine boards and block two shots in only 20 minutes.

[RELATED: Top 5 JaVale McGee Dunk Fails]

But McGee’s career has reached a fork in the road because of the other half of what contributes to a basketball player’s ceiling. Something about McGee is missing.

There’s a reason we at Dime have an article headlined, “Top 5 JaVale McGee Dunk Fails” and tend to point out whenever he does something absent-minded, which happens way too often to be dismissed as flukes.

In the second quarter against the Suns (a game the Wizards would lose 104-88), McGee fell down after going for a block, lying and writhing on the ground for nearly a minute. It wasn’t clear whether he’d fallen on his wrist or gotten hit in the man-region, but either way it looked painful. McGee eventually made his way off the floor, grimacing all the way to the bench.

What happened next is what makes you wonder. For the final four minutes of the half, McGee sat on the bench, arms across the backs of his teammates chairs. During a timeout, instead of joining the huddle, he planted himself on his back, sprawled out in front of the bench while Randy Wittman huddled the rest of the Wizards. Was he hurt or wasn’t he?

McGee returned to start the third quarter and grabbed five rebounds in just six minutes, but he didn’t re-enter the game as the Suns blew out Washington from then on. Neither judging body language nor gauging an injury from 20 rows up is a science, but when I tried to put both together to make sense of it all, it just didn’t compute.

Overall, McGee’s behavior was the epitome of his questionable, hard-to-read demeanor. His play was evidence of his unquestionable talent.

In a Washington Post article last month, Pamela McGee said her son wasn’t a knucklehead.

She told the Post that her son was missing a strong coaching figure with the Wizards, calling out then-coach Flip Saunders for throwing her son under the bus. She got her wish when the Wizards fired Saunders five days after the article ran.

[RELATED: JaVale McGee’s Mom: “My Son Is The Future Of The NBA”]

Now, under interim coach Randy Wittman, McGee is seeing how a strong-handed coach will react to his mysterious gaps in judgment, and the four-year pro is not reacting well to it. After being benched against the Milwaukee Bucks last Tuesday for committing a foul on a three-point attempt, McGee told the Post he didn’t know the message Wittman was attempting to send.

“I can’t say I do, but I’m sure I’ll figure it out sooner or later,” McGee said after the game.

When is sooner or later? And why doesn’t he get it now?

The answers lead to this one: How high is JaVale McGee’s ceiling?

Right now, he’s just an average NBA center. But proving his mom right would put that ceiling into a completely different atmosphere.

If he can’t, he somehow falls into the category of an Isaiah Rider, someone who had all the potential in the world but didn’t make the most of it.

Where do you think McGee will be as a player in two or three years?

Follow Kevin on Twitter at @offensivelyfoul.

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