Jan 30, 2018; Salt Lake City, UT, USA; Golden State Warriors center JaVale McGee (1) warms up prior to the game against the Utah Jazz at Vivint Smart Home Arena. Mandatory Credit: Russ Isabella-USA TODAY Sports

March 29, 2018; Oakland, CA, USA; Golden State Warriors center JaVale McGee (1) shoots the basketball against Milwaukee Bucks center John Henson (31) during the third quarter at Oracle Arena. The Bucks defeated the Warriors 116-107. Mandatory Credit: Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports ORG XMIT: USATSI-363347 ORIG FILE ID: 20180329_kkt_st3_009.jpg
EL SEGUNDO, Calif. — It’s hard out there for a 7-footer. Just ask Los Angeles Lakers center JaVale McGee.

While he has carved out a career in the NBA that has lasted more than a decade, he claims the direction the league is heading is conspiring against him and his exceedingly tall brethren.

“It’s extremely hard because it seems like they don’t want us here,” McGee said after Wednesday’s practice. “They’re trying to get us out of here. The prime example is them taking us off the All-Star ballot. They literally took the whole position off the All-Star ballot. So just think about that.”

Indeed, during the 2012-13 season, the NBA modified its All-Star ballot to include three undefined frontcourt spots, rather than two forwards and a center, as it had been traditionally.

The change was motivated by the increasingly positionless style of play employed by teams. However, as McGee contends, it singled out the center position — a position that historically produced the league’s most dominant players, from George Mikan to Wilt Chamberlain to Kareem Abdul-Jabbar to Hakeem Olajuwon and Shaquille O’Neal.

“We don’t even have a choice,” McGee continued. “We have to go against guards, and we’re not going to score 40 [to get the same All-Star consideration]. It’s just, we work hard, though, so we have to adjust our game the way everybody else does; so now we don’t stay back [by the rim] as much, we’re up [on the perimeter] more, we know how to switch.

“So, it’s just the evolution, I guess.”

The 11-year veteran, originally drafted with the No. 18 pick out of the University of Nevada by the Washington Wizards in 2008, has a point. Roy Hibbert, drafted one spot ahead of him, was an integral part of the Indiana Pacers’ success in the early part of the decade, protecting the paint while standing 7-foot-2.

Hibbert’s last season in the league was 2016-17, when he was 30 years old.

McGee said he has been able to stay in the league by adjusting on the fly.

“Before, it was easier just because everybody was doing the stay-back-and-block-the-shot-at-the rim [defense],” McGee said. “So I was just, ‘Cool, I’ll just use my athleticism.’

“It’s a lot more mindful now. I definitely have to focus more and think more on what exactly I’m doing, rather than just use my athleticism.”

He also has had to change his body and now, 30 years old himself, sticks to a vegan diet.

“It’s the evolution of knowing myself and how I can play,” McGee said. “One year I got to like 280 [pounds]; ‘I’m big, I’m about to have a crazy season.’ I couldn’t jump. I couldn’t run. I felt tired. I was like, maybe being big isn’t my thing. Then I was like, I want to stay around 240, 250. And people still tell me, ‘You’re not strong enough, blah, blah.’ I’m like, ‘That’s not my game.’ I don’t need to be a banger. I dunk on people. I block shots and stay out the way.”

He does want to stay on the court, however. He averaged just 9.5 minutes per game for the Golden State Warriors last season. Following L.A.’s 113-111 preseason loss to the Nuggets on Tuesday, McGee said he could play “around 30” minutes per game with the Lakers this season; against Denver, he registered 15 points on 5-for-8 shooting, eight rebounds and five blocks in 19 minutes of playing time.

Backing up McGee’s point about traditional centers being undervalued, Lakers coach Luke Walton already has experimented with forwards Kyle Kuzma and Michael Beasley playing center in the preseason and has promised to try LeBron James out there this season, as well.

While Kuzma is being encouraged to expand his game to be able to play the 5 position as a young player, McGee recalled he got the exact opposite instruction when he tried to diversify his skill set to include perimeter play early in his career.

McGee recently ran into a former assistant coach who shared a story of what happened after the center spent practice time working on his 3-point shot.

“He said the head coach brought him up to my office and was like, ‘Why was JaVale shooting 3s?'” McGee explained. “And he was like, ‘He’s just trying to work on his game.’ He’s like, ‘No. He doesn’t need to be doing that.'”

“But the evolution of the big man now, if a center’s coming in and not shooting 3s, they’re like, ‘What are you doing?'” McGee said.

Another major shift the league has experienced over the course of McGee’s career has been the proliferation of social media. In other words, the game has changed.

“That’s the crazy part,” McGee said. “I feel like in the course of my career, I’ve been in the iPhone era and the dilution of the big man.”

Courtesy: ESPN.com


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