By Arthur George-Special to BASN (first presented January 23, 2017)
OAKLAND — JaVale McGee is reclaiming his basketball career with the Golden State Warriors and pushing back against the “Shaqtin’ a Fool” segment on “NBA on TNT.” Shaquille O’Neal had compiled highlight reels of McGee game errors, instead of helping McGee improve his game on the floor. No one debates McGee’s big man athleticism. He has acknowledged having attention deficit which is a disability. McGee was trying to do too much, and getting lost amidst all of that.
PLAYING WITHIN LIMITS
At Golden State, rather than expecting him to do too much, or rejecting him for his faults, McGee has been reclaimed as a role player. McGee’s efficiency with Golden State is being maximized by limiting his minutes and focusing on what he can do best: shot-blocking, rebounding, finishing alley-oops as a 7-foot backup center. Now on his fifth team after eight years in the NBA, he is still young at only 28 years old, and teachable.
Golden State recognizes McGee for what he is, and values him for what the numerous teams he played for had him in disdain: a good backup who can play in select situations but not a starter with big minutes. Relieved of pressure to be too much, McGee can make contributions as needed.
Warriors head coach Steve Kerr has said that he likes to bring McGee in for short bursts of energy. Such spurts also limit the playing time in which McGee could make mistakes. The Warriors are also coaching McGee to maintain proper floor position. Assistant coach Ron Adams has said that McGee has a tendency to lay back and try to set up highlight blocks. He will sacrifice defensive positioning to chase blocks. Adams is trying to break him of this habit.
Defensively, the presence of McGee in the paint causes opponents to re-consider attacking the rim. Always ready to dunk a lob-pass from under the basket, McGee forces opponents to divert attention from such outside shooters as Steph Curry and Klay Thompson.
In the first 36 games of the season, McGee’s 263 minutes played ranked eleventh on the Warriors. However, McGee ranks 13th in the NBA in dunks with 50 in his limited playing time, only 14 dunks behind team leader Kevin Durant while playing nearly a thousand fewer minutes than Durant. Put another way, McGee dunks once every 5.3 minutes on the floor, while Durant dunks once every 19.3 minutes.
McGee played in 32 of the first 36 games of the season, starting in just two. He has averaged just over eight minutes and 5.6 points a game, but has played up to 16 minutes in games and scored double digits in four games. Although his average minutes per game are the lowest of his career, his scoring efficiency measured by field goal average is his career highest at .639 on 122 shots taken. His averages and overall numbers for games played for rebounding and shot blocking are down from his most active years, but he has still grabbed 78 rebounds and 18 blocked shots across 36 games for the Warriors.
FINDING HIS WAY
McGee was a first round draft pick by the Washington Wizards in 2008, but at age 20 was seen to have lacked maturity and focus for the game, showboating on offense and uninterested in defense. He was traded to the Denver Nuggets in 2011. He was the starting center for Denver for 2013, but had a stress fracture in his leg that ended his playing time. Rehab and rest did not cure it, and he opted for surgery in February 2014; the season was a loss. He returned to Denver for 2014, but again suffered a leg injury that limited his playing time. He was sent to the Philadelphia 76ers in a salary move, and played only six games for Philadelphia before being cut March 1, 2015.
The Dallas Mavericks signed him for the 2015-16 season as a bigger and more athletic supplement to center Zaza Pachulia. He played 17 straight games for Dallas, but then found himself on the bench for much of the remainder of the season, playing in just nine of the last 39 games. There was a perception that he still had not learned the finer points of the game, and that his contributions were limited to guarding the rim and dunking.
When Andrew Bogut left Golden State as a free agent for Dallas, the Warriors needed a replacement at center. Ironically, they brought over Pachulia from Dallas, and then McGee to rejoin him. Pachulia excels as a defender down low, but has limited vertical and horizontal range to guard the rim. McGee is seven feet tall, 270 pounds, with a 7’ 6½” wingspan and a 31½-inch vertical leap.
The very limitations in McGee’s skillset that caused him to be benched in Dallas became the toolkit that interested Golden State. McGee received only a non-guaranteed training camp invite from Golden State, and played his way onto the final available roster spot for the league minimum pay.
He can find a comfort zone at Golden State, with others providing veteran leadership, great coaching, and star players around him, and the construction of Golden State’s roster with role players deep into the bench. “I block shots, rebound, catch alley-oops and run the floor. That’s what my niche is, and I’m trying to stick to that,” McGee has said. Now, he’s nobody’s fool.