JaVale McGee

Analysis: Gifted young stars no match for Warriors' group of veteran big men

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USATSI

Analysis: Gifted young stars no match for Warriors' group of veteran big men

When the Warriors brought back 37-year-old David West, 33-year-old Zaza Pachulia and 29-year-old JaVale McGee back for second seasons, the common response was a yawn and a shrug.

OK, fine, maybe that’s enough to do it again. Maybe.

The Warriors stayed pat at center because they liked what they had. Three veterans, none close to All-Star status, dividing playing time were good enough for them to sprint to a record 16-1 postseason and an NBA championship.

At a time when the NBA is rife with gifted young big men, the Super Team Warriors are content with part-timers. Hmm. Weird? Perhaps. Recent results, however, indicate they’re onto something.

The vets, with assistance mostly from firebrand Draymond Green, are teaching harsh lessons to the gifted youth -- and sometimes simply dismissing them from the classroom altogether.

The latest to be schooled by this tag-team was Minnesota’s Karl-Anthony Towns on Wednesday night. His name may be the most popular answer to the hypothetical question: If you could pick any player to start a franchise, which would you choose?

Towns played 27 minutes, his second-lowest total of the season. He gave the Timberwolves 16 points, on 5-of-11 shooting, and 12 rebounds. The man who shoots 55.4 percent and averages 22 and 11 didn’t quite disappear, but he was barely there.

Before Towns there was Hassan Whiteside, averaging 18.3 points and 14 rebounds when coming into Oakland with the Miami Heat on Monday. He’s coming off a season in which he was the league’s No. 1 rebounder and a top-10 paint scorer.

Whiteside lost his courage early, lost it so transparently that Heat coach Eric Spoelstra benched him for good barely a minute into the third quarter -- after Pachulia opened the half by scoring four points in 59 seconds. Whiteside lasted all of 16 minutes, delivering three points (1-of-9 shooting), six rebounds and one block.

Some of this forgettable performance was on Whiteside; he’s a head case. But some of it was his reaction to the opposition.

Whiteside had 21 points and 17 rebounds one night earlier, against Clippers big man DeAndre Jordan. Two nights after being stifled by the Warriors, Whiteside hung 23 and 10, with four blocks, on the Suns.

Before Towns and Whiteside, there was Denver’s Nikola Jokic, who in the six games before facing the Warriors averaged 20.1 points and 14.7 rebounds. And that’s with an 8-point game in which he had 16 rebounds and 10 assists.

The Warriors never let Jokic get anything close to a rhythm. Facing different looks from four different players, five when Kevin Durant got involved, he played a season-low 20 minutes and finished with 8 points on 2-of-6 shooting, seven rebounds and three assists.

Three nights later, Jokic lit up the Nets for 41 points, along with 12 rebounds and five assists -- all before fouling out in 31 minutes.

That’s one of the telltale signs. The gifted youth look like stars before facing the Warriors and against afterward. The NBA’s Player Efficiency Ratings has Towns, Whiteside and Jokic all among the top 12. They’re fabulous.

The Pachulia-West-McGee tag team puts up terrific numbers, combining for 15.4 points, 9.8 rebounds and 2.5 blocks. Their collective field-goal percentage is 58.4. West is ninth in PER, while Pachulia and McGee are posting strong plus-minus numbers.

They offer little in the way of spectacle, aside from McGee’s soaring slams that bring citizens of JaVale Nation coming out of their seats. They are, McGee included, decidedly blue-collar but highly effective, kind of like reliable pickup trucks.

It’s early, yes, but Pachulia, West and McGee have been precisely what the Warriors need. They’re budget friendly, combining for less than $8 million in salary. They have different skills, span the athletic spectrum and give coach Steve Kerr and his staff a lot of flexibility at center.

They’re shining right now, and here comes another youngster to test them: Philadelphia’s Joel Embiid, if healthy, will step into the classroom Saturday.

JaVale McGee finally has what he always wanted: respect and appreciation

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USATSI

JaVale McGee finally has what he always wanted: respect and appreciation

OAKLAND -- Though he was born with genes for immense height and a predisposition for athletics, both of which helped him earn $50 million by age 27, the affirmation JaVale McGee craved most were the hardest to achieve.

He liked the money, loved being in the NBA and enjoyed his teammates. The 7-foot, 270-pound center relished making plays that altered the trajectory of a game. Life was, on the whole, quite good for McGee.

But not until last season, his ninth in the NBA and first with the Warriors, did McGee get what he really wanted, in addition to a winning environment: respect and appreciation.

And, please, do not confuse them with fame and adulation.

For so long respect and appreciation were buried under copious images of goofy moments, some mental and others physical. Nothing unnerved McGee more than knowing that, in the eyes of some, he associated mostly with being the most frequent punch line on Shaquille O’Neal’s video clips show, “Shaqtin’ A Fool.”

McGee’s play last season kicked that caricature in the teeth. He became a regular contributor to a championship Warriors team and gained status as a fan favorite, the most popular player coming off the bench.

“The crowd roars, and they’re happy for me to come in,” McGee told NBC Sports Bay Area on Thursday. “And I’m happy to perform for them. It’s entertainment. That’s what we’re doing. And that’s what I’m trying to do to the best of my possibilities.”

McGee’s entrance into games at Oracle Arena is routinely greeted with a wave of applause and an edge-of-seat anticipation. He’s an energizer, throwing lob passes through the rim, blocking shots and, perhaps most of all, sprinting up and down the court as if his salary were based merely on effort.

It’s apparent that as much as Dub Nation loves what Four All-Stars bring to the Warriors, nothing warms hearts quite as much as McGee’s story of redemption, perseverance and salvation.

Think of it. One year ago, McGee as a free agent went through an entire summer without being pursued by any of the NBA’s 30 teams. Two weeks before training camp, he settled for a non-guaranteed one-year contract with the Warriors.

The man who was coming off a four-year contract worth $45 million was battling with an array of upstarts to earn the team’s 15th and final roster spot.

McGee won the job, and won over the Warriors. His per-game averages of 6.1 points and 3.2 rebounds, over 9.6 minutes, don’t seem like much until one considers those numbers jump to about 23 points and 11.5 rebounds per 36 minutes. As for efficiency, McGee shot a career-best 65.2 percent from the field.

It wasn’t enough, though, to prompt teams to chase McGee this summer. Though there was communication with several teams, there is little doubt that his asthma, which limits him minutes total, hurt his value on the open market.

So, with the Warriors essentially keeping his seat warm, McGee ended up signing another one-year deal -- this one guaranteed -- to return.

“I just took my time, and then I decided to come back, basically, that's about it,” he said. “It wasn't really a crazy . . . ‘Oh, no, I get to go back to Golden State, win a championship, oh no!’ ”

McGee’s role will be much the same as it was last season. He’ll get the occasional start, but on most nights he’ll enter midway through the first and third quarters, stirring the crowd and sending a shot of adrenaline through the building.

“It feels great,” McGee said of the reception he gets at Oracle.

“But I’m not really a star. I don’t like fame and being in the spotlight. That’s not really my thing. But it comes with the territory. It’s like, ‘Do you want to be famous? Or do you not want to play in the NBA?’ I want to play in the NBA, so that’s what comes with it.”

Fame is easier to accept when much of the past is associated with infamy and now, to the surprise of many, you’re waving a championship ring. It’s absolutely OK when that ring is accompanied by respect and appreciation.

JaVale McGee's new tattoo: 'Couldn't of got it without my brothers!'

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AP

JaVale McGee's new tattoo: 'Couldn't of got it without my brothers!'

JaVale McGee got some new ink this summer.

How do we know?

Because he posted a picture of the tattoo on Instagram:

Remember the story Steve Kerr revealed on The Lowe Post podcast two days after the Warriors beat the Cavs in Game 5?

When asked if there was a specific moment from the celebration that stood out the most, Kerr said:

"The party was great but what I'm gonna remember -- the thing that's gonna jump out -- is my exchange with JaVale McGee as the stage was being set on the court, literally minutes after the buzzer sounded. JaVale came up to me -- he was hugging his daugther, his daugther is about six months old I think -- and he was bawling. He was bawling.

[RELATED: Durant: 'Unbelievable teammate; he's the reason why we're so tight']

"He just came over to me and gave me a huge hug and he just told me how happy he was and how much he loved the team and the season he just had and how meaningful it was. And that's what will jump out."

After the Warriors drafted Jordan Bell, re-signed Zaza Pachulia and gave the full taxpayer mid-level exception to Nick Young, it appeared McGee wouldn't be back with Golden State for a second season.

He was reportedly unhappy with the Warriors and was seeking a salary more than the veteran minimum.

Although that never materialized, McGee had a great experience in the Bay Area and decided to return.

If the Warriors win the title again in 2018, perhaps McGee will get the same tattoo on the other forearm?

Drew Shiller is the co-host of Warriors Outsiders and a Web Producer at NBC Sports Bay Area. Follow him on Twitter @DrewShiller