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Warriors season review: JaVale McGee was the Cinderella story of the year

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McGee had a quietly awesome season. Let’s take a look and hope we get to see more of him.

2017 NBA Finals - Game Five Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

JaVale McGee wasn’t exactly the most exciting player coming into a 2016-2017 season that featured, well, the rest of the Golden State Warriors roster. But he was certainly one of the most interesting.

McGee was coming off of a rough stretch of years where he had been limited in playing time due to injury, and he wasn’t sure if he was going to get another job in the league. His affable personality and penchant for less than ideal, overcompensating plays made him a target for the likes of Shaquille O’Neal and those who like to kick people while they’re down.

McGee was given an invite to training camp and unexpectedly became the last Warrior to get a spot on the roster during preseason play, thanks to a great first impression and the recommendation of former teammate, Andre Iguodala.

Expectations weren’t exactly high at the time, but McGee ended up surpassing them and more.

On a team with some of the best offensive players in the game, McGee was able to find defensive holes and attract lobs like a magnet. They said before the season that “there’s only one ball” but no one was expecting that ball to be funneled to McGee as often as it was. Defenders were forced to either allow him free reign in the paint, or leave the likes of Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson and Kevin Durant open for a three-point shot.

The downside to that approach was that it quickly became apparent that was their plan when McGee was on the court, leading to some unfortunate turnovers. Also, McGee’s ambitious defensive attempts sometimes led to unnecessary fouls and generally sloppy play.

McGee worked regularly with coach Ron Adams to improve his defense, reduce those errors and refine his judgement on when to attempt a block, rather than attempting to block literally all of the shots and getting foul calls for his trouble.

Offensively, this was McGee’s best season since 2012-2013. It helps that this was the most he’s played in a season since then and he even boasted a career-high field goal percentage of 65.2.

Truthfully, the per game averages don’t paint a full picture with McGee. He was an X-factor off the bench. His plus/minus average for the season was +4.1 per game and +15.2 per 36 minutes, placing him 27th in the league. However, when you break it down by minute, he not only had the highest on the Warriors, he had the highest in the league.

McGee had the 12th most dunks in the NBA this season, behind 11 starting players. He finished second in offensive rebounding rate in all of the NBA. The man had a seriously underrated and impactful season.

Andrew wrote a great assessment back in February and the facts really haven’t changed too much. McGee wasn’t necessarily better or worse than Zaza Pachulia, he was simply another option for Kerr, along with David West. Three bigs who can play distinctly separate styles and be effective in different ways. It was an embarrassment of riches at times.

McGee made his biggest playoff impact in the first round against Portland, where he averaged 12 minutes and 2.25 blocks per game, shooting 75 percent from the floor. He had an incredibly efficient performance in Game 2 of that series where he shot a perfect 7-of-7 from the field, racking up 15 points, five rebounds and four blocks in just over 13 minutes.

To add some perspective, in the minutes McGee was not playing in Games 1-3 of the Portland series, the Warriors were -4 points. In the 39 minutes he did play, they were +51

Though he wasn’t as much of a factor in the Finals — not playing at all in Game 5 -- he had an outstanding first quarter in Game 1, which came on the heels of an unnamed Cleveland Cavaliers’ player saying they didn’t think he was smart enough to play in the Finals.

First of all, an unnamed player on the Cavaliers thinks the Earth is flat so really, no one should have been throwing stones there. But McGee showed up in a Shaq hat and showed out. It was definitely a feel-good moment early in the series.

One of the things that made McGee such an endearing player to watch throughout the season was his battle against the narrative that had been built around him as a “fool.” On top of the comment from the Cavaliers’ player, Shaquille O’Neal continued his quest to make a living off of mocking McGee, bringing their feud to a boiling point, as McGee now had the national stage and a great team to back him up.

Bram wrote about this back in February and included a quote from Kevin Durant:

“JaVale, he works extremely hard. He’s come in here and done so much for us, as a player. He only wants to be respected, just like anyone else.”

It’s been fantastic to watch this team stand up for each other throughout the season and it felt like just the thing McGee needed to get back on track and thrive.

Not only that, but it seemed as though the coaching staff really took the time to work with him to improve his natural talents and reign it in when it came to the more overcompensating aspects of his play from the past, which allowed him to be more confident and precise on the court, if still not free of a few head-scratching moments. I wouldn’t have it any other way.

Though it is currently unclear where he will he playing next season, what is clear is that he had one of the best stories of the 2016-2017 season. Training camp invite leads to the 15th roster spot. The 15th roster spot leads to a career resurgence. Career resurgence leads to ten regular season starts. Those lead to a start in the Western Conference Finals. And all roads end in a parade, a trophy and a ring.

Good on you, JaVale. And if he leaves to get paid? I can’t be even a little bit mad, though I’ll miss him.

Let’s just watch him work:

Poll

How would you grade JaVale McGee’s 2016-17 season?

This poll is closed

  • 69%
    A
    (1024 votes)
  • 27%
    B
    (410 votes)
  • 1%
    C
    (29 votes)
  • 0%
    D
    (3 votes)
  • 0%
    F
    (5 votes)
  • 0%
    Inc.
    (2 votes)
1473 votes total Vote Now