When the Denver Nuggets acquired JaVale McGee from the Washington Wizards two years ago, fans in the Mile High City were optimistic. It’s not every day you see a seven-footer with the athletic prowess that McGee possesses, and although his talents had never fully materialized in Washington, upside is king in the NBA. Sure, it meant sending away longtime Nuggets player, the oft injured Nene Hilario, but that’s a risk this franchise had to take.
Two and a half seasons later, the Nuggets really have nothing to show for the trade besides a decline in already questionable production and a season-ending injury that sidelined McGee for nearly all of 2013-14.
Now, with McGee is entering his third full season as a Nugget, it is make-or-break time. The Nuggets need the production they coveted when they acquired McGee if they are to become any sort of material factor in a brutal Western Conference.
Looking across the landscape of the west, he can truly be a differentiating factor. Few teams can trot out another athletic big-man to contend with McGee. Outside of DeAndre Jordan and Serge Ibaka, there are no other players who even come close, and I would argue that McGee has the athletic advantage over both of those players
I know that athleticism isn’t the end-all, be-all for success in the NBA, but when you play half of your games at more than 5,000 feet above sea level, it certainly gives you an advantage.
The Western Conference is stacked with talent in the backcourt and on the wings, and the Nuggets have enough talent and depth to be competitive at those positions. It is the center position that can truly set them apart.
If McGee can become a fixture in Brian Shaw’s rotation — an opportunity he never really had under George Karl — he will be able to provide enough of a physical presence to disrupt the center of the court, forcing opposing teams to rely on low percentage shots.
I don’t even think he needs to take a huge step forward in the half-court game. He has never been a back-to-the-basket type of player, and forcing him to become one at this stage of his career doesn’t make much sense.
All he needs to do is remain healthy and cut down on the bonehead plays that have become immortalized on YouTube, and he can almost single-handedly make the Nuggets a disruptive team.