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JaVale McGee continues to excel in starting role

The nine-year NBA veteran is quietly putting together the most efficient season of his career.

NBA: Sacramento Kings at Golden State Warriors Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

OAKLAND, Calif. — JaVale McGee is a pretty cool dude. There is really no disputing that.

While rocking a black #JUGLIFE dad hat — with a brand new, unopened drone in his hand — the nine-year veteran quietly answered questions outside the Warriors’ locker room following the team’s 109-86 beatdown of the Kings.

He wasn’t asked about the clean water well that his foundation helped build in Uganda, which brings fresh water to over 500 school children. Nor was he asked about his love for filmmaking — hence, the drone. More importantly, he was grilled about why he and so many of his teammates have decided to sport headbands as of late.

The topic was certainly on everyone’s mind.

“We were being random, as we usually are,” McGee jokingly stated. He also referred to the unforgettable style of Darius Miles, Quentin Richardson and Lamar Odom, the headband heroes of the Los Angeles Clippers in the early 2000s.

Headband or not, McGee is quietly putting together the most efficient season of his career.

His numbers in his first year with Golden State are far from overwhelming. The seven-foot big man is averaging just 6.2 points and 3.0 rebounds in 9.5 minutes per game. McGee’s numbers this season are actually below his career averages in every major statistical category across the board.

But that is just the tip of the iceberg.

McGee has appeared in 51 games this season, his most for a single team since playing in 79 games for the Wizards in 2011. He is also shooting .678% from the field this season — 12 percentage points higher than his career average.

Per 36 minutes played, McGee averages 23.5 points and 11 rebounds. In the nine games that he has started since Zaza Pachulia went down with an injury, McGee has averaged a modest 9 points and 5.5 rebounds on .634% shooting.

Again, these numbers are not going to blow anyone away. But McGee’s mere presence on the court presents a magnitude of problems for opposing teams. A hearty amount of McGee’s points come on simple rim runs, which are as uncomplicated as they sound. When the Warriors get a rebound, McGee sprints up the court to the rim. If he beats his man, then he is often rewarded with the ball and an easy bucket.

McGee’s quickness and size make him an obvious threat in transition. But his athleticism makes him just as dangerous in the half court. Playing with the likes of Stephen Curry, Kevin Durant, Klay Thompson and Draymond Green can take all the attention off of the center position.

When the Warriors choose to run a pick-and-roll with McGee, they place the defense in quite the precarious position — either play McGee tight and protect the rim, thus, leaving the defender on an island to guard the likes of Curry by his lonesome, or, place all attention on the ball handler while McGee runs freely to the rim to catch a lob.

This is a dynamic that the Warriors don’t have when Zaza Pachulia is on the court. Rather, they are blessed with Pachulia’s own unique set of skills, such as great court vision and the ability to pass out of the high post. In other words, neither player is extraordinarily better than the other; both have their strengths and weaknesses.

The Warriors spent much of the early season figuring out how to play to Pachulia’s strengths as he is more of a complex offensive player. McGee, on the other hand, is more of a plug-and-play type of player, which can often result in sporadic playing time from game to game.

But with Pachulia out for the last nine games, McGee has had the opportunity to settle into a role in which he knows he is getting at least 15 minutes per game. This allows him to play with a little more slack and without fear of getting yanked for the occasional mistake.

Through the first 26 minutes in last night’s game against the Kings, the Warriors looked like a team ready to enter the All-Star break. Green got tossed late in the first half and then McGee received a technical within the first few minutes of the 3rd quarter.

But that’s when everything changed. McGee continued to battle through the adversity, providing the Warriors with a much-needed spark that did not go unnoticed by his teammates or the media.

“JaVale brought us energy in that second half — it was awesome to see,” Curry said after the game. McGee finished with a season-high 10 rebounds to go along with 8 points, which include a pair of vicious dunks.

McGee let out a thunderous roar after catching a perfectly placed lob from Curry. The dunk came in the midst of a 22-0 run by the Warriors in the decisive third quarter. It was the most emotion that McGee has displayed this season with Golden State.

Mercury News’ Anthony Slate asked McGee if it was the most fired up that he has been in a game this season, to which McGee responded, “This year, yeah definitely. It was just exciting how hard we were playing and how well we were playing, so I just got a little excited. I’m going to tone it down next time.”

While the status of Pachulia remains unclear, it seems like he is primed to return after the All-Star break. But, whether McGee starts next Wednesday versus the Clippers or comes off the bench, let’s hope he forgets about toning it down.

Andrew Flohr is the credentialed writer for GSoM. You can follow him along at every Warriors’ game on Twitter and Instagram.

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