The Denver Nuggets and Portland Trail Blazers were tied in overtime on Tuesday night and Nuggets point guard Ty Lawson was dribbling far above the three-point line. JaVale McGee was standing and waiting, then sprinted toward Lawson as if he was going to set a pick. McGee gave Portland forward J.J. Hickson a slight nudge and slid back toward the basket, pointing at the ceiling to request an alley-oop.
Lawson was a bit tardy and a little high on the pass, but the 7-foot-1 McGee sprung off two feet, caught the lob, then twisted his body and directed the ball into the rim for a thunderous slam. Stunned by McGee’s dexterity and ability to convert the play, Lawson laughed to himself while apologizing for the bad pass.
McGee had two field goals in the Nuggets’ 115-111 victory over Portland, and the other was another classic example of his phenomenal athleticism, as he skied to catch a terribly high pass from Wilson Chandler in the first half. Since arriving in Denver from Washington in a trade deadline deal last March, McGee has maintained his reputation as a walking highlight real but he has also flustered his new team – as he did with the Wizards – with his inability to balance those gifts with reliable performances.
“I think he’s a tremendous talent. I think he’s an incredible, athletic, 7-1, whatever he is,” Nuggets Coach George Karl said of McGee. “For me, I just want him to be more consistent on the fundamental area of basketball and more than anything, I want him to be more committed to the concepts and philosophies and fundamentals of our team.”
McGee is averaging 10.1 points and 4.9 rebounds for the well-stocked Nuggets, but remains a reserve despite leading the team in player efficiency rating at 21.6 and signing a four-year, $44 million deal last summer. Karl continues to start Kosta Koufas at center and added that he will continue to do so until McGee proves he deserves more than his current 19 minutes a game.
“He’s playing about 20 minutes a game now, and I’d like to get it up to 25. But he’s got to earn that,” Karl said. “And he’s got three guys in Kosta and Kenneth [Faried] and Timo [Mozgov], who I think are NBA players that deserve minutes, too. So I think it’s like a competition. Sometimes I think young players think it’s an entitlement to minutes. There is no entitlement on this team. I mean, Anthony Randolph can play basketball. You earn your minutes. You earn your opportunity and produce wins. As long as he keeps working, he’ll get more minutes.”
McGee declined to speak with reporters after the Nuggets held their morning shootaround in preparation of his first game against his former team. Karl’s message to McGee is similar to the same one he heard during his nearly four years in Washington.
“Probably simple and solid,” Karl said, when asked what he tells McGee most. “I think he tries to be spectacular. Basketball is a game of possession after possession of doing things the right way, doing your job and letting the spectacular come. I think JaVale tries to find the spectacular and forces the spectacular when if you just let Andre Miller and Ty [Lawson], let us orchestrate the game, something big time will happen. But I just want him to be more Tim Duncan-like. I tell him I like Tim Duncan. I want Tim Duncan. That’s what I want.”