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Why did Steve Kerr start JaVale McGee?

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In an effort to spark the Warriors after All-Star break, Steve Kerr inserted fan favorite McGee, who has been mostly out of the rotation so far this season, into the starting lineup

NBA: Golden State Warriors at Sacramento Kings Sergio Estrada-USA TODAY Sports

The Warriors have had a sluggish couple of weeks, playing sloppy basketball going into All-Star break. They’ve been worse than league average on the defensive end, and have struggled with their shooting, turnovers, and bench play.

One of their most glaring weaknesses as of late is their poor first quarter performances. Often, they’d dig deep holes early on and struggle to get back into it as the game went on.

Before Friday’s game, Kerr explained that analytics showed that the Warriors’ defense during the first five minutes of the game has been terrible. In fact, the defensive rating has fallen from 100 points per 100 possessions last year (a very good rate) to 114 points this year. That’s unexpected and concerning.

Part of that could be Zaza Pachulia. Usually playing the beginning of first and third quarters, Pachulia is the nominal starting center, but he’s not expected to play much in the later rounds of the playoffs. His size and rebounding is useful in the regular season, but he was too slow and inathletic to play meaningful minutes against the Cleveland Cavaliers in the Finals.

This year, Pachulia has become less effective. He’s on the wrong side of thirty, and he’s shown signs of age. But more importantly, according to Steve Kerr, the team and the league is moving away from him. The Warriors haven’t nearly had the same defensive intensity this year as in years’ past, and the athleticism of bigs around the league can reveal Pachulia’s flaws.

JaVale McGee is a totally different type of player. A leaper with great finishing ability, he sparked the Warriors last year with his alley-oops and energy. But he is a defensive liability, and can be exposed by good players. Nevertheless, he was a humongous net positive during his minutes on the court last year, and his teammates always seemed to enjoy playing with him.

This year, the crowded center rotation has made McGee the odd man out. He was rumored to be on the trade block, but nothing materialized. On Thursday, he got his shot.

McGee didn’t have his best game, matched up against DeAndre Jordan. But he did fine: He scored six points, corralled four boards, and was a +9 in fourteen minutes. Zaza Pachulia only managed seven minutes off the bench, and though he scored six points as well, was a -4.

More importantly, whenever McGee was on the floor, the activity and focus of his teammates was strong. For now, I think this experiment is a good one.

Steve Kerr mentioned that JaVale McGee will start again against the Thunder on Saturday. I’m not sure how permanent his starting role is, but it’s already given the team a different look heading into the last third of the season.

Poll

Who was your Warrior Wonder for the win against the Clippers?

This poll is closed

  • 79%
    Steph Curry
    (1120 votes)
  • 3%
    Kevin Durant
    (47 votes)
  • 0%
    Draymond Green
    (12 votes)
  • 3%
    Klay Thompson
    (46 votes)
  • 8%
    JaVale McGee
    (127 votes)
  • 0%
    Andre Iguodala
    (4 votes)
  • 1%
    Zaza Pachulia
    (21 votes)
  • 0%
    Nick Young
    (14 votes)
  • 1%
    David West
    (16 votes)
  • 0%
    Shaun Livingston
    (8 votes)
1415 votes total Vote Now