JaVale McGee deserves a bigger role in the face of elimination.
After huge expectations for the postseason, the Denver Nuggets are surprisingly down 3-1 to the underdog Golden State Warriors. With the threat of another disappointing playoff performance looming, Nuggets head coach George Karl needs to make an immediate adjustment to ensure the survival of his squad.
The Warriors have been shooting the lights out as of late, and these long-range barrages are just what comes with the territory when facing a hot team like the Dubs. Other than closing out on shooters and sticking to guys in transition, there is nothing the Nuggets can do about this, but there is something Karl can adjust that will have a dramatic impact on both ends of the floor.
Despite All-Star power forward David Lee going down with an injury in the first game of the series, the Nugs have been out-rebounded in three of the last four contests. Clearly the Warriors are just out-working them on both sides of the ball. Kenneth Faried is still trying to get back into form after a late-season ankle injury, and it’s clear the size of Andrew Bogut is giving Kosta Koufos a tough time matchup wise.
To address the size mismatch and rebounding struggles, George Karl needs to inject a dose of athleticism and energy into his team. He needs to unleash arguably the most talented center in the NBA, the same center he’s kept restrained on the bench the entire season at under 20 minutes per game.
It’s time that George Karl finally let JaVale McGee start, and while the risks of McGee making mistakes come with the territory, being down 3-1, there is no way he can afford to play it safe for yet another game.
After playing 23 minutes and contributing nine points and six boards off the bench in the Nuggets’ Game 1 victory, McGee has played no more than 14 minutes in two straight losses. It’s apparent that Karl is trying to split the minutes between him and Koufos, but after an abysmal Game 3 with no points, two boards and one turnover, there’s no way Koufos can get more minutes than McGee.
What makes Karl’s coddling of McGee throughout the season so frustrating is the fact that he is going to have to get psyched up on the fly. McGee is certainly comfortable in his role as the energizer off the bench, but being the starter means he has to temper his antics just a bit, and he needs to do this while getting a lot more minutes than he might be accustomed to.
Regardless of his confounding decisions on the court, McGee gives the Nuggets a flat-out better chance than Kosta Koufos does from a physicality standpoint. Koufos is fundamentally better around the rim, and his game is safer in the respect that you know what you’re going to get from him, but he is nowhere near the athletic specimen that McGee is.
McGee can jump out of the gym, run the floor and swat shots—unlike Koufos. Both are seven-footers, but it’s the size and athletic combination that McGee possesses that sets him apart from his frontcourt counterpart. This isn't to suggest Koufos should be benched the entire game, either.
McGee isn't superhuman. He's going to get tired, and when does, that's when Karl has to let Koufos check back in and contribute however he can, but it's all about managing the momentum of the game. The major knock on Karl is his conservative coaching. He has experimented with going smaller against the Warriors this series, but it has not proven effective for a full 48 minutes.
Karl needs to utilize his talent to the best of its ability, and that includes giving McGee a shot at a lot more minutes. For a team that is balanced but lacks a clear catalyst at the moment, McGee would have the opportunity to prove the doubters and naysayers wrong.
McGee is certainly willing to step up, but it all depends on whether or not his coach will finally ease up on the reigns.