As far as punch-lines in the NBA go, JaVale McGee used to be one of the most obvious. During his tenure with the Washington Wizards, McGee deservedly earned the label as a knucklehead for his questionable antics and perplexing performance.
One thing that was never in question though, was the potential that McGee had. He’s a legitimate seven-footer with elite athleticism. The only issue was that his skills had never been harnessed, meaning they’d never been able to be properly utilized.
But with the Denver Nuggets under George Karl’s strict regime, McGee seems to have found a place where those skills are finally being showcased.
This year for the Nuggets, McGee has come off the bench to provide stellar frontcourt production. He’s averaging 19.1 points, 3.8 blocks and 9.3 rebounds per 36 minutes and is shooting 56.5 percent from the field. He also has the highest Player Efficiency Rating of his career at 21.5. Looking at those numbers, many probably wouldn’t think that would be McGee’s stat-line, but it most definitely is.
The perceptions about McGee are largely unfair. While in Washington, he played for a team that lacked leadership and discipline. The result was a team that was governed by immature players and that played humorously sloppy basketball, thus giving them the knucklehead label.
That same label continued to follow McGee when he was traded to Denver last season. He performed well with the Nuggets last season, but still couldn’t shed a lot of his knucklehead tendencies and habits.
But now that’s all starting to change. McGee has found his niche on this Denver team and is producing night after night in that role. He’s developing into a player that almost any team in the league would be happy to have.
Sure, there are still times where he does things that leave you scratching your head. For example, on Feb. 13, he tried to dunk over two guys from about two feet outside of the side of the post; he whiffed on the dunk. But that’s just part of who McGee is. He’s an enigma of skill and athleticism that sometimes tries to do too much.
He’s also one of the best big-men off the bench in the NBA, now. He’s also finishing games in crunch-time for Denver. If you’re going to mention his quirks, you now have to mention his production as well. That’s not too bad of a trade-off.