When the Denver Nuggets traded longtime center/power forward Nene Hilario for Washington Wizards tantalizing yet frustratingly disappointing center JaVale McGee in February of 2012 ... the bar for "expectations" was set. The assumption that the Nuggets good developmental core, along with veteran coach George Karl could mold the athletically talented McGee into something of a force in the NBA.
This hope was teased by McGee's one and a half game performance (half of game 3 and most game 5) against the Los Angeles Lakers in the 2012 Playoffs first round. The Nuggets played valiantly that series but ultimately lost in 7 games. This lead to the Nuggets giving McGee a 4 year $44 million contract in the offseason of 2012-13.
We are still waiting. While there are some built-in excuses (Karl choosing to bring McGee off the bench in 2012-13, fractured tibia that caused him to miss all but 4 games last season) but in the sample size we have seen we are left routinely frustrated at the lack of true development from McGee. Most of all, however, we all want to see one thing and one thing only from the athletic big man.
When players take the next step, it is always accompanied by a fierceness and dedication to improving their game, becoming more aware and having the game slow down and come to them. These are all parts of Basketball IQ that are essential to anyone who wants to make it big in the Association. More than that though, the fortunes of those who take their game seriously are intrinsically linked to fortunes of the team. If a player is growing his game, the team grows with him.
We just don't know if JaVale McGee is going to take that step. It's frustrating to watch because you KNOW the athletic talent is there. Everyone does. The lack of putting two and two together is what halts McGee in a state of arrested development. Forget the athleticism, the blocks, the dunks ... the seriousness and avid dedication to your craft needs to be there.
In a strange way, from the Nuggets perspective, the pressure on the team for McGee to become the player they want him to be isn't as acute as it was say after he signed his new contract. With the emergence of Timofey Mozgov, and the drafting of Jusuf Nurkic the Nuggets don't have their eggs all in one basket ... so to speak. The pressure is on McGee to become the player he should be.
No one faults McGee for being enigmatic and quirky. It's wonderful that he has a side to his personality that is eccentric. Yet so far, entering in to his 8th season in the NBA, we have yet to see the promise that he has shown glimpses of so tantalizingly over the years. For every grand performance against Tim Duncan (twice in the 2012-13 regular season) there's been many more ineffectual games punctuated by moments of head shaking hilarity (not in a good way).
The games against Duncan were the best and most within himself I've ever seen McGee play. He let the game come to him and just concentrated on his positioning, verticality and most importantly didn't try to force things on the offensive end. These are the things the Nuggets will most likely ask him to do this upcoming season. The key is for McGee to be open to this and not feel the need to force things that aren't there.
That, however, will take seriousness that he has yet to consistently display. If JaVale McGee can bridge the gap between his obvious physical talent, and the mental part of the game ... the Nuggets will reap the benefits this season. We need more seriousness...
... we DON'T need more of this. Forget about the developmental duties of Brian Shaw, and just know that whatever steps McGee will take will be because he takes those steps upon himself. No one else.