- The Washington Times - Monday, January 2, 2012

Ninety minutes before game time, Washington Wizards center JaVale McGee was on the practice court with assistant coach Don Zierden. The sometimes-aloof McGee was taking direction, nodding his head, and working up a sweat as he continued to work on his game.

McGee is well-known as an explosive player capable of making highlight- reel dunks sometimes at will. But McGee’s fundamentals could be more polished, so he was working on his weaknesses instead of practicing his strengths.

“He works [before] every game,” Wizards coach Flip Saunders said. “We have a list of things we’ve put together for those guys to improve individually. Of course, with Ja-Vale it’s low-post type moves and trying to be a little bit more patient when he gets in the post.

“He’s done some positive things, but he can’t be as one-dimensional, he can’t think he’s got to score every time he does get [the ball.] He’s got to learn to pass it out and move it around a little bit.”

The Wizards‘ 7-foot center has been in the national spotlight since last season’s All-Star Game dunk contest, when he placed second to Los Angeles Clippers forward Blake Griffin.

On a recent episode of TNT’s “Inside the NBA,” new analyst Shaquille O’Neal said that McGee was one of the players that he was most interested in watching.

“I love JaVale McGee,” said O’Neal, who called McGee a skilled, athletic big man. O’Neal, though, said he had expected McGee to have developed a little further by this point in his career. McGee is entering his fourth NBA season.

Said Saunders: “The biggest thing is his defense. He’s been exploited in the pick-and-roll defense.”

If McGee is schedule-watching, he knows has two of the toughest matchups he’ll face all season in the next few days. After a back-to-back with the Boston Celtics, during which he spent time guarding Kevin Garnett, he’ll face Orlando’s Dwight Howard on Wednesday then New York’s Tyson Chandler on Friday.

Chandler was an integral part of the Dallas Mavericks’ championship last season.

“It doesn’t get any easier,” Saunders said. “There’s no bad players in this league. There’s team that can be bad, but there’s no bad players.”

Keeping a watchful eye on McGee’s progress is Rashard Lewis, who believes that despite a few bad games in the plus-minus category, McGee has the skills to become a game changer.

“JaVale’s an athletic big man, long, athletic, he can jump out of the gym. I’ve seen him make some pretty good post moves in some games recently.

“If he can continue to be a rebounder and a shot blocker on the defensive end, it helps us. Going against these talented big guys coming up will be good for him.”