There will be no Houston Rockets representing Team USA at the upcoming Tokyo Olympics. Coming off the league’s worst record, that shouldn’t come as a surprise unless recent reports are to be taken seriously.
According to ESPN’s Brian Windhorst, who is currently covering Team USA, Christian Wood was also considered to fill the vacant center position. Team USA eventually opted to bring JaVale McGee to Tokyo because Greg Popovich, head coach of Team USA and the San Antonio Spurs, felt that he “was the most logical and appropriate choice. Given the choices we had, he fit best.”
You read that right. JaVale McGee playing center for Team USA is the most “logical and appropriate choice.” Before McGee resuscitated his career by hopping on the Golden State Warriors championship wagon and the LeBron Lakers he was Shaquille O’Neal’s go-to whipping boy for his Shaqtin’ A Fool segment.
McGee has carved out a long and productive career as a backup center, but when has Team USA ever been populated by back-ups? Christian Wood might not have a ring, yet, but he proved this season that he should have been the next man up for Team USA, especially over JaVale McGee.
Team USA should be populated by All-Star and All-Star caliber players. Not 33-year-olds who have played for seven teams and counting in their NBA career. Christian Wood is a rising star and giving him a chance to grow would have been a smart choice for Team USA. The two big men are not in the same stratosphere and all it takes is a quick look at their actual statistics.
Christian Wood vs JaVale McGee Per Game Stats
PTS REB BLK MIN 3P% 2P%
McGee: 7.3 5.2 1.2 14.7 20.8% 53.9%
Wood: 21 9.6 1.2 32.3 37.4% 58.1%
When it comes to offense, there simply is no contest. Wood completely blows McGee out of the water. McGee not having an edge in 2-point field goal percentage is especially damning, considering he almost exclusively is catching lobs and has all of his offense created by others.
Now, McGee has a per-minute edge in rebounding and blocking, but he is largely posting those numbers against other back-ups and carries significant foul risk. Over 46 games this season, McGee averaged 6.4 fouls per 36 minutes compared to Christian Wood’s 2.4.
McGee is expected to be the back-up to Draymond Green and Bam Adebayo at the center position, which likely explains Popovich’s view that he’s a better fit, except he isn’t. Neither Adebayo nor Green are good 3-point shooters, but they’re both exceptional defenders and rebounders.
McGee offers Team USA more of the same but just worse. Christian Wood would have offered them something new and something they may sorely miss. He would allow Team USA to attack teams with a spread pick-and-roll with five elite 3-point shooters on the court at the same time.
The beauty of coaching Team USA is that you can have a roster with a variety of elite skill sets. Green allows for defensive switchability, Adebayo is your traditional low-post anchor, and Wood allows you to spread your opponent so thin that they make Christian Wood look like late-career Shaquille O’Neal.
Greg Popovich is one of the greatest, if not the greatest, basketball coaches of all time. However, he got this one completely wrong. Christian Wood is the better player and better fit for Team USA, not JaVale McGee. All Rockets fans can say is, “Popovich please.”