A 7-foot-0 big man with unbelievable athleticism and shot blocking ability, but needs work on his game. That was the general evaluation for JaVale McGee when he decided to not return to Nevada for his junior season and instead enter the draft.
The Washington Wizards selected McGee with the 18th overall pick in the 2008 draft. He needed work on both his offensive and defensive post game and was an average rebounder. Most people thought he should have stayed another year, but most liked the Wizards’ pick thinking that with the right coaching he would be able to develop into a dominant big man.
McGee was showing upside on a bad team, but was taking longer to develop than the Wizards had in mind. They eventually gave up on their first rounder and sent him to the Denver Nuggets. The Nuggets knew what they were getting in McGee and GM at the time Masai Ujiri thought head coach George Karl could help develop McGee. The Nuggets were intrigued at the possible development of McGee and after the 2012 season the Nuggets gave him a four-year, $44 million contract extension.
Since that contract extension McGee has played 84 games out of the possible 164 (playing only 5 this year). He’s averaged just 8 points and 4 rebounds during that span and his blocks are below his career average. Those are not the numbers the Nuggets imagined him having two years after that large contract. Now the question the Nuggets are faced with is what to do with McGee?
The answer is not an easy one for the Nuggets. I’m sure Tim Connelly can’t enjoy seeing $11 million on his books for a guy that is producing average numbers. I’ll cut McGee some slack- he was injured last year and wasn’t able to show he’s worth this contract, but his contract is too much for a Nuggets team that is trying to find any wiggle room it can get with its cap space, so what are the options?
The easy suggestion is to get rid of McGee via a trade; unfortunately for them that will be the most difficult solution. If the Nuggets don’t want his large contract, would another team would absorb it? A rebuilding team could be interested since his contract is only for two more years, but only a few teams would even look into the idea.
The Pacers have been struggling at the center position and a straight swap for Roy Hibbert could be intriguing for both sides and players evolved. However, Hibbert is receiving more money than McGee and how he’s been playing the second half of the season and the playoffs most people aren’t sure which direction Hibbert’s career is headed.
The leaves the option of either releasing him or keeping him. If the Nuggets do release McGee they would still have to pay McGee over 23 million left of his $44 million contract. They could use the amnesty clause on McGee and his contract would be off the books. While that would be financially beneficial for the Nuggets it doesn’t make sense to release him if winning is the team’s mentality now. McGee is only 26 and brings physical talent that not many in the NBA can match. He wasn’t able to play this year, which didn’t allow us to see if McGee made improvements with new head coach Brian Shaw, who did help develop Paul George and Roy Hibbert (back when he was actually playing like Roy Hibbert).
The best option for the Denver Nuggets is to keep McGee for the upcoming year. It is unfair to place an evaluation on him for last year since he only played in 5 games. Coach Brian Shaw admires the athletic skill set that McGee has, and feels he can develop McGee into a low-post player. The Nuggets also have other options at the center position. Timofey Mozgov, considered the backup center, had his best season as a pro and is more of the low-post type big man. JJ Hickson will return from injury next season and provides energy and hustle that made him a starter before his injury. So if McGee should continue to play below whats expected don’t be surprised to see him benched at some point of the season.
JaVale McGee is a player unlike any other in the NBA. A guy that has tremendous physical attributes but struggles with the fundamentals and mechanics of basketball. A guy who can jump near 12 feet in the air to block a shot, but doesn’t even know what a left hand is offensively. A guy who has just as many highlights as he does bloopers.
McGee has been labeled as a work in progress since he came into the league in 2008. He can no longer be a guy in development, he’s reaching the prime age of his career, yet there’s still so many questions that haven’t been answered about him and the Nuggets are losing their patience. McGee needs to have a big year not only for his career with the Denver Nuggets, but his career as a professional basketball player, or we’ll one day look back on JaVale McGee as a physical phenomenon that couldn’t become a basketball player.