Since being drafted in 2008, JaVale McGee has always been about potential. For every awe-inspiring and freakishly athletic play, he also makes a boneheaded decision that takes years off his coach's life.
This is the season that McGee must silence his many critics, and these are the ways he can achieve that task with the Denver Nuggets.
All the pieces are in place for McGee to have the breakout year that everyone has been waiting for. With that opportunity comes added pressure for the energetic young center. Former head coach (and reigning Coach of the Year) George Karl was fired largely because of his refusal to give McGee big minutes according to Chris Tomasson of Fox Sports.
The Nuggets signed McGee to a four-year extension worth $44 million, and trading away Kosta Koufos (the starting center last year) makes it clear that they are putting all of their proverbial eggs in McGee’s talented but immature basket.
For JaVale McGee to reward their faith, here is a checklist of things he has to do this year.
Stay on the Court for 30 Minutes Per Game
Whether new head coach Brian Shaw likes it or not, JaVale McGee will need to play big minutes for Denver this season. The reason? There is nobody else on the roster to soak up significant minutes at center.
Timofey Mozgov is the only other player listed as a center on the roster. The most playing time he has ever received in the NBA was 15.6 minutes per game in the 2011-12 season, and he is most famous for being obliterated by Blake Griffin.
The problem for the Nuggets is that McGee hasn’t shown that he deserves more than 30 minutes per game. Coach Shaw has already been creative with his rotations in the preseason, and he may have to give J.J. Hickson, Kenneth Faried or Anthony Randolph minutes as undersized centers.
Regardless, the buck stops with McGee. He has to prove that he can stay on the court for more minutes than he’s played so far in his career.
That comes down to not committing fouls on defense, playing smart basketball and proving that he’s more than just an energy guy.
Show an Improved Offensive Game
McGee is working on his jumper in anticipation of getting more responsibility on the offensive end. Obviously, offensive improvement would be welcome (especially considering the time he has spent working on his craft with Hakeem Olajuwon).
It would be unrealistic to expect McGee to bust out an array of low-post moves and a great mid-range jumper this year, but any signs of improvement would be cause for celebration from the Nuggets' management.
|JaVale McGee Shooting Percentages By Location in 2012-13|
|Location||Field-Goal Percentage (%)|
And that's especially considering his poor shooting percentages on field-goal attempts that aren't at the rim.
Coach Shaw has been vocal about his desire to have the Nuggets implement a more conventional offense—one which pounds the ball in the post. How effective that plan can be remains to be seen, but its success rides on the ability of McGee to be patient and under control in the low post.
Additionally, the part of his offensive game that needs to be fixed this year is his free-throw shooting, which has gone downhill since his rookie season.
To his credit, it seems to be greatly improved in the preseason, so McGee will have quickly addressed one of the biggest weaknesses in his game if he can carry that performance into the regular season.
Be a More Dominant Defender
The one thing that JaVale McGee has been able to do on a consistent basis throughout his NBA career is block shots. He finished second in the league in blocks per game in both the 2010-11 and 2011-12 seasons, and he still managed to finish eighth last season despite playing less than 20 minutes per game.
Unfortunately, blocking shots does not a defender make. At least, not if that’s all you do.
According to 82games.com, while the Nuggets were indeed a better shot-blocking team with McGee on the court (as you would expect), they gave up fewer points and were a better rebounding team with McGee on the bench.
|JaVale McGee's On-Court/Off-Court Differential|
|Stat||On Court||Off Court|
|Points Allowed Per 100 Possessions||107.5||105.6|
|Offensive Rebounding Rate||32.3%||34.0%|
|Defensive Rebounding Rate||66.5%||70.1%|
|Total Rebounding Rate||49.4%||52.0%|
Moreover, he also committed fouls at the 11th-highest rate in the league, per ESPN. This year, McGee has to show more discipline on the defensive side of the ball, since Denver cannot afford for him to routinely be in foul trouble.
Lastly, he needs to exert more effort on the glass. Standing at 7’0” with a 7’6” wingspan, there is absolutely no reason for McGee to not be pulling down double-digit rebounds in around 30 minutes per game.
The Denver Nuggets are banking on the development of McGee—both literally and figuratively. For them to have any kind of success this season, he needs to play the best basketball of his life. If he can accomplish the three things listed above, he will assuage any concerns that the Nuggets have about him.
As is always the question with JaVale McGee: Is this finally the year where he can silence his detractors?