JaVale McGee has been among the most impactful and efficient players in the NBA thus far this season.
Although he has gotten just under seven minutes of court time per game, the back-up big man has maximized his value.
Playing in 13 of the Golden State Warriors first 17 games — and a mere 6.9 minutes per appearance — McGee has ridden his freakish size, jaw-dropping athleticism and awe-inspiring hustle to a plus-47 point differential. His plus-18.8 per 36 minutes played is tops on the Golden State roster and No. 13 in the league.
The association’s back-to-back MVP Stephen Curry said that when the first-year Warrior is on the court, he brings a presence that can be felt:
“The last two weeks or so he doesn’t know when he’s going to come in, when his minutes are going to come, but as soon as he sets foot on the floor he makes an instant impact, and you can feel it.”
Those sporadic minutes have seen a steady increase, including playing time in each of the past five games. And head coach Steve Kerr said that McGee is forcing his way into an even greater role:
“Every time we’ve called on him, he’s done a nice job. He’s probably earning more consistent minutes.”
“He’s a pro. He never complained early in the season, when we weren’t playing him, he kept working. … The guys really enjoy playing with him, too.”
When the Warriors signed the eight-year veteran, they had expectations that he could provide a large, discounted impact on the defensive end. When the University of Nevada, Reno product entered the league in 2008 he quickly gained a reputation for his ability to challenge shots.
By his third season in the NBA, McGee was among the best shot blockers the game had to offer, finishing second in the league in 2011 with 193 swats (2.4 per game). He fell one spot, to No. 3 (with 2.2 per game), the following year — a strike-shortened 2011-12 season.
Even through his diminished court time over the past two seasons, the McGee boasts a career average of 1.7 blocks per game — in less than 19 minutes per game.
The Flint, Michigan native has delivered on that expectancy, swatting nearly a block per every seven minutes played with Golden State.
The 28 year-old’s 7-foot frame, 7-foot-6 wingspan and 33-inch vertical make him more than just a presence in the defensive paint. According to Curry, McGee is the most explosive scoring big he has ever played with:
“We’ve had a few (big men who have rim-run in the past), but he adds another dynamic with his length. And he’s obviously extremely athletic, so he can cover a lot of ground really quickly.”
Kerr concurred, adding:
“He’s fast. JaVale gives us that burst of speed, it’s a different look, and obviously the ability to throw the ball up for a lob which helps our spacing quite a bit.”
The combination of explosive above-the-rim offense and high-flying paint defense makes McGee among the most effective Warriors — his 19.5 player efficiency rating is good enough for fifth-best on the roster, tied with Draymond Green and well ahead of Klay Thompson.
While his huge impact has steadily earned the McGee more minutes, and earlier entry into each game, maximizing his value is based upon finding balance between he and starting center Zaza Pachulia.
According to Kevin Durant, their differing game demand drastically varying counter schemes.
Said the 2014 MVP:
“It’s a different look. Zaza is more of a cerebral — on-the-ground, makes the correct pass. JaVale is more put pressure on the rim, toss it up. … Having those two different types of players definitely makes us unpredictable, and makes us better.”