The 10 or 15 minutes JaVale McGee plays in each game of the Finals will be the most important 10-15 minute stretches of every one of those games. It’s hard to fathom that a player known mostly for his hijinks on Shaqtin’ A Fool will have such a significant impact in a series as star-studded as this one. Bench players who average 6.1 points in 9.6 minutes over the course of a season rarely move the meter once the stakes are this high, but McGee has proven to be so much more than that for a Golden State team entering Game 1 as a touchdown favorite per NBA sportsbook TopBet.
I’m not saying I called it, but:
The play of JaVale McGee might be the key to a Warriors championship. What a time.
— Kyle Madson (@KyleAMadson) November 27, 2016
Golden State found a brilliant niche for the player most people consider to be a caricature of an actual NBA player. His high motor and sometimes uncoordinated hyper-athleticism lead to some uniquely strange plays on the court. My buddy Nate Goodyear described this phenomenon perfectly:
“He’s a dude that, in a stretch of ten seconds, can do the dumbest thing you’ll ever see and then follow it up with something that like, a dozen people on the planet are capable of pulling off. And really, that’s what is so great about his blunders, too. He f–ks up in ways that only an absolute genetic outlier could f–k up.”
The Warriors have turned what used to be seen as McGee’s insurmountable pitfall into a weapon they can deploy to turn the game into the organized chaos they thrive on.
McGee’s job is to wreak havoc for a few minutes at a time, a couple times a game. He is a spark for the Warriors lineup who goes 100 percent every minute he’s on the floor. His job is to generate rebound opportunities, grab loose balls, affect shots at the rim and throw down lobs. It isn’t always pretty, but it basically always works.
McGee has been especially effective during the Warriors’ 12-0 start to the postseason. In those games, he’s averaging 24 points, 10.8 rebounds and 3.7 blocks per 36 minutes.
The backup center also leads the team with a 125.4 offensive rating and his 26.3 net rating is second-highest on the squad. This isn’t due to a small playoff sample size either. He was also the team’s leader in offensive rating during the regular season. His ability to slide in and catch lobs when teams collapse on the ball handler in the paint gives the already dynamic Warriors offense an additional wrinkle that is impossible to stop in those truncated bursts.
McGee also makes plenty of hustle plays that don’t show up in a box score. His helter-skelter style doesn’t always result in rebounds for the big man, but it does result in extra possessions for the Warriors. His willingness to fly in and tip a rebound out or dive for a loose ball creates a couple extra possessions per game. Those possessions could be the difference in a series as tight as this one should be.
JAVALE. DUBS. pic.twitter.com/67nK2mjkxV
— Kyle Madson (@KyleAMadson) November 24, 2016
None of this is to say McGee should start or play 30 minutes a game. His effectiveness plummets in that scenario. He started the final two games against San Antonio and managed a -4.8 net rating. However, his minutes will still be vital in this series.
The fact is teams have to game plan for those few minutes bursts where McGee is in the game. Sagging off the ball handler to keep McGee out of the paint leads to easy layups. Leaving him unguarded leaves the defense susceptible to the lob. Not to mention he’s a big, athletic body to help keep the Cavs’ bigs off the glass.
McGee simply provides an element the Warriors haven’t had the last couple seasons. His size and hustle can frustrate teams and spark the already lethal Warriors offense. You may think JaVale McGee isn’t smart enough to play in this series or that he’s just a big, goofy guy in a headband, but he’s made a difference for Golden State this season. If you haven’t noticed yet, McGee will prove it to you in the Finals 10 to 15 minutes at a time.
Experiment 626. Coffee drinker and cat enthusiast. Pro-avocado. Anti-sac bunt. Habitual bat flipper. Alex Smith apologist. Yoenis Cespedes fanboy.