Javale McGee: Golden State Warriors Brought Out The Best In Him

CLEVELAND, OH - JUNE 07: JaVale McGee /

JaVale McGee thrived in the Golden State Warriors’ system – but are they the only team to truly figure out how to utilize his special set of talents? Will he be successful on another team?

The rat tail. How can you ever forget that rat tail? Players, coaches, and Oakland alike latched on to JaVale McGee and his personality unlike any other city. He was exciting on the court for the Golden State Warriors. In the ten minutes he averaged per game, the fans rooted for him the same way they rooted for Marreese Speights last year – emphatically.

However, the fans are now rooting for a different reason — to keep McGee in a blue and yellow jersey for next season. The roster currently sits at 14, and the Warriors can only offer the center the veteran minimum.

Seeing as his basketball career could be in its final chapter, McGee might look to get a bigger pay day elsewhere. Plus, they already have Zaza Pachulia, David West, and Damian Jones waiting in the wings.

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With McGee’s future so uncertain, it’s the perfect time to look back and ask: Are the Warriors the only team who have used McGee’s talents successfully?

Remember, he was absolutely on the downswing of his career before joining the Warriors. In the three seasons prior, McGee played in a grand total of 62 games.

A large part of that was due to injury, but an equally important part was his inability to find his groove with other teams.

Drafted by the Wizards, he found himself in an offense that simply couldn’t work for him. Designed for big men who could shoot, JaVale was at a disadvantage – he didn’t have a jump shot. He also played too fast for his seven-foot frame.

The Nuggets came calling next, and things didn’t go smoothly there either. Soon, he was painted as lazy, uncommitted, and unintelligent – a fool. He couldn’t play more than a couple minutes at a time, and he made bone-headed mistakes.

That description couldn’t be further from the truth. In reality, McGee was constantly getting extra reps and more conditioning. His body simply couldn’t keep up with his drive and his mind. Before long, he was using his inhaler on the sideline — something many saw as a weakness.

After a short stint with both the 76ers and the Mavericks, McGee didn’t garner a lot of attention on the free agent market and his stock dropped severely. The Warriors gave the center an invite to training camp for a chance to show them something. Surprisingly, he snagged the last roster spot on a stacked team.

The team restored his career, confidence, and made him a force under the basket. Sure, it might be easier to play for a team that has four NBA All-Stars on the roster, but it can be just as difficult to find your spot on that team.

The coaches worked tirelessly with McGee, helping to instill good habits into his game. They taught him to be patient on offense, how to look for the open man, and how to be aggressive but disciplined on defense.

All of the sudden a new JaVale was born. The Warriors undoubtedly gave McGee his groove back.

The coaching staff understood his limitations in ways other teams didn’t. The big man could still be effective, even if his body only allowed for a few minutes at a time. Steve Kerr had three big men with seriously different styles, and he used them all brilliantly — Zaza started, McGee came in for short but aggressive spurts, and West rounded them out.

JaVale McGee
CLEVELAND, OH – JUNE 09: JaVale McGee /

The ball was like a moth to the flame with McGee. If there was a lob anywhere close to McGee, you could bet he was going to grab it and slam it home. He even shot 65.2 percent from the field — a career high.

Since his revival, teams have had a hard time figuring out how to guard McGee. Do they leave McGee open? If they do, the ball will find him and it’s an easy bucket. Or do they risk leaving Kevin Durant or Curry open behind the arc?

McGee turned into quite an effective passer, so that wouldn’t work either. He had certainly found his rhythm, and fit in perfectly with the Warriors style.

The player that people used to mock and dismiss became a key part of the Warriors championship run. McGee’s renaissance has been a perfect storm of a misunderstood and determined player and a relentless coaching staff who never gave up on him.

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But it wasn’t just his play that improved in Oakland. He became a part of a team. There was respect. When Shaquille O’Neal and others came after McGee, everyone in that organization had his back. The Warriors did not hesitate to change the “fool” narrative that others were attempting to paint McGee with.

The Warriors took a guy who was more recognizable for his flubs than his monster dunks and turned him into a legitimate threat. They transformed him from a player who used to skyhook from the free throw line and get tangled up dribbling the ball down the court, to the guy that grabs the ball under the hoop and either jams it home or dishes it effortlessly out to Curry.

McGee had all the tools, he just hadn’t been with a team who knew how to use them to their best effect.