During a recent Nuggets game, I was sitting with a friend of mine who is in the Denver media. As we watched the game, my friend became more agitated as JaVale McGee's minutes on the court were reaching five minutes of straight game action. He nudged me and pointed ...
"Watch this. They can't play JaVale more than five minutes at a time."
I squinted and looked at my friend out of the corner of my eye, "What?" I said. "Why is that?"
He said, "Just watch."
As JaVale crossed the five minute mark I didn't notice anything too different. Then (I say this only because I was intently watching JaVale) abruptly things changed. I noticed certain things that brought the enigma that is McGee into some sort of clarity. After contributing solidly, with some great moments for a five minute stretch, McGee began to reach for blocks he shouldn't, not run back on defense, slow down in pick-and-roll defense (which he isn't spectacular at anyway), and was so bad on offense that he turned the ball over twice. This occurred in approximately a minute and a half span once McGee passed the mythical five minute mark stressed by my friend. It was so abrupt it was jarring to watch. George Karl took a timeout and inserted his small lineup: a front court of Danilo Gallinari and Wilson Chandler ... JaVale was out.
I leaned back in my seat and looked at my friend, "Wow, you called it", I laughed. "What made you pick up on that?"
He shook his head and said, "A little birdie told me."
My oldest brother suffers from asthma so severe that he spent time at the National Jewish hospital in Denver when he was a teenager. National Jewish is a hospital solely dedicated to pulmonary issues and is well known for its treatment of severe asthma (a condition of the lungs which makes breathing extremely difficult). There are many levels to the condition, and not everyone suffers from it the same way. Living with asthma can affect your life in many different ways depending on its severity. In a couple weeks I will post an interview I did with my brother about this subject. It is extremely enlightening.
There are different ways you can deal with an asthmatic's condition. It doesn't affect everyone the same way outside of the obvious difficulty breathing. However, it has been said that living in Denver better conditions your lungs than most any other place in the United States due to the altitude. This is why so many professional endurance and Olympic athletes train in Colorado. Yet in basketball, where the pace is erratic and inconsistent the affect is wholly different than in most any other sport. How would it affect the lungs of someone who plays professional basketball?
We will probably never be fully aware of how McGee is affected by his asthma. However we can draw some suppositions that maybe his condition contributed to his limited minutes in George Karl's run heavy system. With the up-and-down nature of Karl's style, did that limit McGee's ability to play? Did the rapid-fire stop and start make JaVale more prone to mental mistakes due to lack of oxygen?
My brother informed me that an asthmatic's "window" can be short for traditional wind-sprinting based on many different factors such as location, physical fitness, and "atmosphere" (how much pollution/ozone is in the air at a given time) so an asthma attack (in which the lungs are severely restricted and a rescue inhaler is needed) can be actually more random than simply just exerting yourself physically. All of these can contribute to your overall physical function and can affect your mental capacity.
In reference to my friend above, I'm not entirely sure we can draw a black and white conclusion that McGee's asthma affects his overall play. It would stand to reason that a more slow it down pace could help his minutes on the court, but due to the randomness of asthma we can't draw a hard and fast conclusion on the matter. If the Nuggets move to a slower pace next season (depending on the coach) will that be an indication they are going all in with JaVale? While we can never be sure how much his condition affects him, there is no doubt that it is a factor.
How can the Nuggets maximize McGee's obvious talents? What kind of "system" benefits him the most? I can't help but wonder if there are not-so-obvious factors contributing to the enigma that is JaVale that we haven't even tapped in to it. He has displayed obvious ability alongside crushing moments of pure confusion and pain. Is that just something we have to live with as Nuggets fans, or is there something physical that can be adapted to exploit what JaVale does best?
We, as yet, don't know. Part of this had to do with Karl's unwillingness to play JaVale more than 20 minutes a game (of JaVale's 79 regular season games, he only played more than 20 minutes 22 times, that's 27% of the time and just two times in Denver's six playoff games). You can't help but wonder, though, if there was a very good reason for that.
We will find out next season.
Twitter: @jmorton78 https://twitter.com/#!/jmorton78