How does a person go from the laughing stock of the NBA to a superstar overnight?
That’s a question for JaVale McGee, who is enjoying a breakout playoff series. In Game 3, McGee scored 16 points and 15 rebounds and he followed that up with a 21 and 14 in Game 5.
McGee had the talent and the skills to make the transition, but the change of scenery and roles, to go with a freestyle offense have helped the 24-year-old break free.
The Washington Wizards were arguably the most dysfunctional team in the NBA over the past few years and McGee was part of the problem.
He’d put the Wizards on SportsCenter on a nightly basis due to his silly antics. He had the talent, but there was hardly any leadership on Washington’s young squad to make McGee responsible for his miscues. Star point guard John Wall was in just his second year and Andray Blatche was not the ideal veteran for the Wizards.
McGee found himself a regular in Flip Saunder and Randy Wittman’s doghouse, and it was apparent he was losing focus and motivation in Washington. But he never lost his length, talent or athletic ability.
When he was traded to the Denver Nuggets, it was an entirely different culture. McGee joined a young and competitive group that had a winning tradition. He is also working with a coaching staff that spends an ample amount of time helping young players develop and a training staff that spends even more time working to keep the big men in shape.
However, one of the things that has been overlooked during McGee’s transformation has been the change of roles.
With the Wizards, McGee was one of the squad’s most talented players. He was also a focal part of Washington’s offense, with the offense at times being run through the underdeveloped center.
All that changed when the former Nevada star came to Denver. McGee is still one of the team’s most talented players, but he has become a wild-card for the Nuggets’ fast-paced offense. The pace fits McGee, who is one of the quickest big man in the NBA and also one of the most athletic. It also allows him to score in transition instead of the half-court, which isn’t his forte – just yet.
But probably the biggest change was George Karl moving the young and talented center to Denver’s bench brigade, where McGee has been nearly unstoppable in the newer compacted role.
In five starts for the Nuggets, McGee shot .486 from the field, averaged 7.8 points, 5.8 rebounds, 1.2 blocks and two turnovers.
In the 15 games off the bench, McGee shot .649 from the field, 11.1 points, 5.7 rebounds, 1.6 blocks and .6 turnovers.
The role change has allowed McGee to play freely and within the pace of the game. One issue McGee had as starter was foul-trouble. In three of his five starts, he ended the first quarter in foul trouble which affected how he played the rest of the game.
Not to mention coming off the bench, teams McGee up with Al Harrington and Andre Miller. Harrington’s range creates space for McGee around the basket and Miller is one of the best lob passers in the NBA and has been a big part of McGee’s highlight reels.
Of course his recent play in the playoffs is coming at the worst time for the Nuggets’ pocketbook. McGee will be a restricted free agent in the off-season and he is in position to make a contract starting at $10 million a year. There were even reports during his time in Washington that he wanted a contract that would pay him $14 million a year. No doubt keeping McGee will be Denver’s biggest priority this offseason, but the price may make it tough. However, for right now its time for Nuggets to enjoy this playoff run and let Masai Ujiri worry about McGee’s price tag.