If JaVale McGee is ever going to be more than just an overpowering dunker and a gargantuan shot-blocker, he must show it this year.
The acrobatic 7-footer is entering his sixth season, and he's started 153 of his 354 games, but only five of those came under former Denver Nuggets head coach George Karl. Now with Brian Shaw in charge and Kosta Koufos with the Memphis Grizzlies, McGee will likely move into the starting lineup.
McGee has perhaps the greatest combination of athleticism and energy of any center in the NBA, but he also has one of the greatest reputations for making embarrassing mistakes. Despite five years of experience, he still made five appearances (including No. 1) on Shaqtin' A Fool's Top 34 plays of the 2012-13 season.
For someone that is in the prime of his career and getting paid $10.75 million this season, it's time for McGee to start playing to his potential.
Work on Post Game
As Benjamin Hochman of The Denver Post points out, McGee has adopted the nickname "The Great Adventure" with his wacky sense of humor and unique mannerisms. Along with his intensity, it's part of the reason why he's fun to watch and is able to go out and change the momentum of a game in a matter of seconds.
But as McGee moves into the starting five, there needs to be balance. That means developing a few go-to moves in the post and not always trying to make SportsCenter's Top 10.
McGee's ability to establish position, come under control and finish without slamming it home has been suspect. If the defender keeps himself between McGee and the basket and doesn't allow McGee any momentum, it's likely going to be a brick or a turnover.
Then there are times The Great Adventure simply doesn't even know what to do with the basketball.
This won't fly as a starter. Technique must be applied to McGee's physical talents.
By toning it down at times and using finesse and touch rather than power and his vertical, it'll keep the defender off-balance. McGee needs to work on his footwork, the consistency of his hook shot and use better touch off the glass.
He doesn't need to change his game, but McGee needs more options to become a more complete player. It's especially important for the Nuggets since Timofey Mozgov and Anthony Randolph are the only other post players above 6'9", and neither player averaged more than nine minutes last season.
Improve Range and Free-Throw Shooting
Unless he's flying down the court in transition to catch an alley-oop, it's obvious that McGee isn't much of a threat away from the basket. He's incredibly active in the paint, but he won't pull any centers away from the basket.
Or maybe it isn't that obvious. According to Matt Moore at CBSSports.com, McGee says he believes Shaw will want him to use his mid-range shot this season.
Wait, what? McGee can shoot?
In examining McGee's shot chart from last season, McGee was a solid 63.64 percent from less than eight feet. That's what you expect out of someone who took 83.5 percent of his attempts inside that range.
But McGee only converted 26.4 percent of his shots outside eight feet. Maybe he didn't put in the extra work on his jumper since the Nuggets were running the dribble-drive motion offense or attacking in transition under Karl, but you'd think we would have seen a little more evidence.
What's more interesting is that McGee was only 28.4 percent from eight to 16 feet, and he's a 58.3 percent free-throw shooter in his career. It seems like he's a ways out from scoring outside the paint, and it's sometimes comical just watching him at the line.
However, if what McGee says is true and he can stretch the defense, that is huge in opening things up for the other Denver players. Ty Lawson can get to the rim easier if McGee sets the high-ball screen, the other guards have more room to cut to the basket and Kenneth Faried has more space to operate.
Whether or not you believe McGee can shoot from mid-range immediately (and I'm certainly skeptical), this is an excellent sign that Shaw has him working on this part of his game. It makes McGee that much more dynamic and the Denver offense more versatile.
Don't Drastically Increase His Minutes at First
We all know that McGee brings exceptional energy to the Nuggets, but that doesn't mean he can instantly play superstar minutes. It's been one-and-a-half seasons since he's been a full-time starter, and he's never averaged 28 or more minutes in his career.
Pushing him from 18 to 36 minutes isn't the way to go. If McGee goes too hard out of the gate, there's a chance he won't be the vigorous shot-blocker Denver needs him to be at the end of the year.
It's not that his conditioning is in question, but it's more that we have yet to see McGee's effectiveness as a starter. McGee's best numbers were in the 2011-12 season when he was with the Washington Wizards, but not when it comes to the 36-minute average.
Since McGee joined the Nuggets, he's averaged 18 points per 36 minutes, beating the 15.6 mark with Washington in 2011-12. McGee also had a PER of 20.8 last season, which led the team and was a personal best.
McGee is capable of greater efficiency when playing more minutes, but Shaw can't double his workload to begin the year. He needs to start around 28 minutes and work his way up from there, even if Shaw doesn't emphasize an up-tempo style like Karl did.
Plus, this will give the other post players a chance to adapt to Shaw's style, and the Denver head coach can figure out what everyone's role will be. J.J. Hickson is in his first year with Denver, Mozgov signed an extension in the offseason and Randolph is trying to at least make the second unit.
Everyone on the Nuggets will need to step up with the departures of Koufos, Andre Iguodala and Corey Brewer, but McGee's improvement is most imperative for Denver's success.
Statistics via Basketball-Reference.com
Shot chart via NBA.com
Salary information via Hoopsworld.com
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