One indulges in the jump shot like Lamar Odom indulges in sweet treats. The other jumps at defenders like he’s Frogger on steroids. And one will be the starting center for the Washington Wizards when the season kicks off October 28 against the Orlando Magic.
JaVale McGee or Yi Jianlian? It’s arguably the biggest question mark surrounding the Wizards this season. Both players have major red flags that would scare most squads off from giving them a chance at 30+ minutes per night. But the theme for the Wizards in 2010 is experimentation–what works, what doesn’t, and letting the pieces fall where they may. And to be honest, the Wizards simply don’t have any other options at the moment (other than Hilton Armstrong, but c’mon now).
McGee is the incumbent starter at this point, and like most Wizards fans, I desperately want to anoint him as JaVale McCamby 2.0. He has such tantalizing tools at his disposal–blocking shots with ease, running the floor like someone a foot smaller than him, catching alley-oops from John Wall with electrifying, Sportscenter-worthy ferocity. But then there are the drawbacks. Instead of going for defensive rebounds, McGee tries for unnecessary blocks and often finds himself in foul trouble. And while McGee has certainly gained weight since coming into the league, he’s still nowhere near strong enough to stop some of the bulkier big men in the NBA. His preseason performance was quite the rollercoaster ride–some games, he looked great, other games, he fell into foul trouble and fell out of Flip Saunders’s good favor.
So that’s why Yi Jianlian has entered the starting center competition. He pulled down rebounds at a much higher rate than McGee in the preseason, and isn’t such a headache in terms of staying out of foul trouble. Yi can also spread the floor unlike most centers, as he has a nice looking stroke and is capable of hitting mid-range jumpers for days on end.
Then again, Jianlian is enamored with that jumper. Despite hearing all summer how David Thorpe helped make Yi into a more aggressive, complete player, I’ve yet to see the results, other than his gutsy performance playing for China at the FIBA World Championships.
So what direction should the Wizards go? The answer is simple: Mr. McGee.
JaVale McGee deserves a legitimate shot to play major minutes. He deserves a chance to prove he’s more than just an energizer bunny. Yes, he’s frustrating, but his upside is much higher than Jianlian’s, and his chemistry with John Wall is evident to say the least.
Don’t count Yi out though. I’d play him at the 3, 4, and 5 this season, and make him the other sixth man (with Kirk Hinrich). He has a unique skill set and is one of the few players on this team who can rebound the ball. And if McGee is looking more and more like a bust as the season rolls along, then I have no problem giving Yi a shot, because remember–this season is all about experimentation. Flip Saunders needs to be a mad scientist until he can find the perfect formula for Wizards success.