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Why JaVale McGee's Growing Pains Are Worth It for the Denver Nuggets

LOS ANGELES, CA - MAY 08:  JaVale McGee #34 of the Denver Nuggets dunks the ball as Kobe Bryant #24 of the Los Angeles Lakers looks on in the second half in Game Five of the Western Conference Quarterfinals in the 2012 NBA Playoffs on May 8, 2012 at Staples Center in Los Angeles, California. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Jeff Gross/Getty Images)
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Rich KurtzmanSenior Analyst IJuly 17, 2012

JaVale McGee is a microcosm of the NBA today. 

He's a young player with a lot of potential to be one of the most dominant big men in the game. 

His true seven-foot size warrants a big-time, eight-figure contract—the Denver Nuggets offered McGee a five-year, $50 million deal Friday—though he's more raw than crude oil.

That contract could be just as poisonous. 

McGee has enjoyed a solid, yet unspectacular, four-year career in the NBA. 

It's been filled with sky-highs (his triple-double performance against the Bulls last year with 11 points, 12 rebounds and 12 blocks) and laughable lows (ending up on "Shaqtin' a Fool" nearly every week for doing something silly on the hardwood).

McGee's basically improved every single season, going from 6.5 points and four rebounds per game to 11.3 and 7.8 last year with both Washington and Denver. And when he was playing starter minutes in the nation's capital, the center nearly put up a double-double every night in 2010-11.

McGee is blessed with incredible length: His 7'4" wingspan makes it easy to deflect shots, and his 2.16 blocks per game were No. 2 in the NBA last season. When he puts his hand up, McGee looks like a giraffe—with a long and lanky, skeleton-skinny arm blowing in the wind—and the giraffe has bite. 

He can swat it into the crowd to get the fans on their feet and clowning the opponents, or tip it ever so lightly to himself and earn extra possessions for his team. 

He also utilizes that size to rebound the basketball, inexplicably climbing an imaginary ladder into the Mile High nights. 

But McGee's not just a mountain in the middle of Denver's defense; he's quick, agile and fleet of foot for a seven-footer. 

He runs the floor better than nearly any center in the game today, able to easily scoot past his would-be defender for simple transition buckets—something George Karl's offense loves to utilize. 

The Nuggets were the No. 1 fast-break team in the NBA last year. 

While he's not the most skilled player on the offensive end, McGee is an ostentatious ooper, almost unstoppable when going up to grab the rock as it majestically floats to earth like an asteroid and then throwing it down with a force that could crack the hardwood. 

Other than just catching lobs from Andre Miller, the big man has also shown that he has the beginnings of a post game in his 20-game audition with the Nuggets. 

But can he sustain those brief flashes of brilliance throughout entire games and seasons?

His 21-point, 14-rebound performance in Game 4 against the Lakers was a positive sign that he can be bigger than life in the biggest of games. But he's also vanished in contests when the Nuggets needed him to come through the most. 

McGee is far from a finished product, which makes him a huge gamble at this point in time. 

But for the Nuggets, whose depth chart includes Timofey Mozgov (who is better now but has a much lower ceiling than McGee) and Chris Andersen (who should soon be amnestied) at center, re-signing McGee is a must. 

He's their only hope of having at least a halfway competent center for the immediate future, and in the best-case scenario, McGee could become a star in the NBA. 

He's got all the pieces: a good attitude, great work ethic, physical gifts of height, length and quickness and a phenomenal coach to learn under.

But can he put them all together to create a special product?

 

Rich Kurtzman is a freelance journalist. Follow Rich on Twitter and/or Facebook.

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