Denver Nuggets head coach Brian Shaw has quite a decision to make next season on who to start between JaVale McGee and Timofey Mozgov.
During last year's offseason, Shaw's plan was to start McGee if he could prove to be more of a consistent player on both ends of the floor. He was the starting center for the first five games, but struggled significantly and was later diagnosed with a fractured left tibia that has sidelined him for the rest of the season.
Meanwhile during Denver's injury-riddled season, Mozgov has thrived including Thursday's remarkable 23 points and 29 rebounds against the Golden State Warriors. Over the last nine games he has posted averages of 16 points, 9.4 boards and 1.6 blocks in 29.4 minutes.
So how does Shaw handle this next year? Does he go with the athletic McGee, who has been instrumental in making momentum-shifting plays? Or should he stick with Mozgov, who has proven to be an asset on both ends of the floor?
I would disregard McGee's seven points and 3.4 rebounds in his five games this season. He clearly didn't look the same before the fracture was discovered.
But when he is healthy, McGee brings a special set of physical talents.
He can jump out of the gym at 7'0", whether that's throwing the hammer down or coming out of nowhere to reject what looks like an easy basket for the opponent. Plus, you have to like it when McGee grabs the ball in midair on a shot attempt and instantly gets it to one of the guards in transition.
These kind of plays made a significant impact during the Nuggets' 2012-13 campaign when they won a franchise record 57 games. He blocked 3.9 shots per-36 minutes and increased his win shares per-48 minutes to a career-high .163.
Yes, he's still a likely candidate for Shaquille O'Neal's humorous TNT feature, "Shaqtin' A Fool." McGee even made the 2013-14 preseason edition providing us with another play we've never seen before that sent us falling to the ground laughing.
Still, his unique abilities and upside far outweigh his hilarious mistakes.
Furthermore, according to Jeff Caplan of NBA.com, back in September before the season started, McGee recognized the importance of using his post moves and mid-range shot.
I definitely have post moves. I have a mid-range shot that I really never got to use my whole career in the NBA. Coach Karl didn’t want his ‘bigs’ shootings at all. [Defenses are] probably going to leave me open for the mid-range, so I definitely got to take that shot.
You might question the mid-range shot. McGee was 28.9 percent from 10-to-16 feet and 30.3 percent from over 16 feet in his career before 2013-14.
However, his average distance on field-goal attempts went up from last year's 3.9 feet to this season's 5.6, and he made 75 percent of his 10-to-16 footers in those first five games.
It's not much of a sample size, but McGee was being utilized more in the offense. His usage percentage went up from 21.1 last year to 25.1 this season.
Plus, as we've seen Kenneth Faried make drastic improvements in his fundamentals and offensive game, there's no reason McGee can't do the same next season, especially since his shooting form actually looks pretty solid.
No one has benefited more from this injury-plagued season than Mozgov. His presence in the paint is no longer only relevant against the weak frontcourts and their bench players.
Here's a look at not only how much Mozgov is producing each night recently, but which teams he's done it against.
|Mozgov's Last Nine Games|
Remember, this is a guy who some thought didn't deserve a contract extension in the offseason. He hadn't played more than 15.6 minutes or scored more than 5.4 points before this year.
Mozgov isn't exactly dominant in one area consistently. He doesn't have Faried's or McGee's athletic talents, nor does he likely have the talent to be an All-Star.
But he contributes in nearly every area a big man should, although those three-pointers could use some more practice. He's improved in essentially every area statistically.
Mozgov fits in half-court sets, whether they involve high-ball screens or playing inside-out. He's also tremendously underrated running the floor as he attacks the rim and gets second-chance points.
This is why he has a player-efficiency rating of 16.7. Mozzy is a versatile center, and he's always doing something with or without the basketball.
Let's look at the big picture. This ultimately isn't about who the better player is, or who has greater potential.
This is about comprising the most effective starting lineup and rotation.
Ty Lawson and Faried are Denver's two definite starters for next season, likely to be joined next season by Randy Foye and Danilo Gallinari (assuming he's 100 percent). That leaves the center spot as the only one to be decided.
I would pair Mozgov with Faried. McGee and Faried are the most potent Nuggets on the fast break and fly above the rim frequently. It would be better to keep their minutes separate to always present that threat.
Even though McGee is a fantastic shot-blocker, Mozgov is the better overall defender and does more of the little things correctly. He would complement Faried more effectively in that the "Manimal" can do more things in space, while Mozgov is better around the rim and can make up for Faried's defensive deficiencies.
If you have McGee come off the bench and put J.J. Hickson at the 4, that could be a formidable combination as well. At 6'9", Hickson's natural position is power forward, but he still lead the Nuggets with 9.2 rebounds while recording 11.8 points this season.
Along with Hickson and McGee, the second unit would include Nate Robinson, Evan Fournier and Wilson Chandler. That's a pretty scary bench.
This would allow McGee to use his strengths at center, and he wouldn't be burdened with a ton of responsibility out of the gate. It took a good chunk of the season for Faried and Mozgov to get where they are right now, and McGee won't be an exception.
Plus, we've already seen how much energy McGee can bring off the bench. Imagine the firepower he and Robinson would bring together.
Given McGee's athleticism and that Shaw has a good track record of developing players, it wouldn't surprise me if McGee starts down the road, perhaps in 2015-16.
I just don't see the point in throwing him into the fire next year when the transition season has already taken place. It's unfortunate that McGee was hurt. More than any of his injured teammates, McGee needed this season to gain experience.
Nonetheless, he's in a good spot to succeed.
Mozgov is ready to start, and he's earned it.
(All statistics are from Basketball-Reference.com)