Denver Nuggets' JaVale McGee: Will He Have a Breakout Season?

By Peter Sherwill
JaVale McGee
Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports

When the Denver Nuggets decided to trade recently re-signed Nene to the Washington Wizards for JaVale McGee, many were stunned at the turn of events.

Nene had spent the better part of a decade in Denver and was just months removed from signing a deal to stay in Denver. McGee was a player whose commitment to the game of basketball had been questioned on numerous occasions and was seen as somewhat of a human blooper reel by some analysts.

The March 15, 2012 trade was just what McGee needed — a fresh start with a playoff team that runs an uptempo style that could showcase his athleticism in all its glory. McGee was inserted into George Karl‘s rotation six days after the trade and hit the game-winning put back in his first game in powder blue and gold. However, that game-winner was just the first flash of brilliance that the Nuggets would see in McGee.

Denver had a first-round date with the Los Angeles Lakers in the NBA playoffs. That series would inevitably go to seven games, and McGee shined as brightly as he ever had in his career. He showed great potential as the Nuggets’ center of the future. Denver decided to reward him in the offseason with a four-year, $14 million contract extension based off of that potential.

Despite the big payday, the 2012-13 season started and Karl named Kosta Koufos the starting center for the Nuggets. McGee received inconsistent playing time all season long and did not start a single regular-season game for Denver.

In fact, his first start came in Game 5 of the first-round playoff series against the Golden State Warriors. The Nuggets were down 3-1, facing elimination, and Karl was desperate to try to salvage this series. It turned out to be too little, too late for Karl and the Nuggets and they were eliminated by the Warriors in six games.

Karl’s stubbornness in refusing to start McGee and to give him big minutes ultimately cost him his job in Denver. McGee seems to have shed his knucklehead label since arriving in Denver and the fans enjoy and appreciate his athleticism and the excitement he brings to the game. The Nuggets have cleared the way for him to be their starting center for years to come after trading Koufos this offseason.

Now, it is time for McGee to step up and prove all of his critics wrong. He needs to prove that the Nuggets were correct in signing him to the big payday. McGee is once again working with Hakeem Olajuwon this summer and that should provide additional opportunity for improvement. Hopefully, this will also provide McGee with added motivation and momentum coming into the new season.

Olajuwon is not the only influence on McGee, as new head coach Brian Shaw will be chomping at the bit to work with the 7-footer. Shaw is widely known as a coach that specializes in player development and was responsible for the metamorphosis of Roy Hibbert‘s game with the Indiana Pacers.

Denver will be extremely lucky if they are able to turn McGee into an All-Star caliber big man, but it will not necessarily be a surprising turn of events, given the athleticism he possesses.

Peter Sherwill is a Denver Nuggets writer for Follow him on Twitter @PeterSherwill, add him to your network on Google or listen to him on the Mac and Pete Sportscast.

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