After the All-Star Break, Steve Kerr made a significant change to his rotation, electing to start JaVale McGee instead of Zaza Pachulia. He specifically wanted to improve Warriors’ defense at the very beginning of games to improve.
JaVale McGee’s energy can be infectious on the court: his teammates love when he dunks high lobs, does acrobatic blocks, and grabs offensive boards. But defensively, he lacks the fundamentals and patience, and can really be exposed by talented offensive players. After an impressive run last season, he had been mostly relegated to the bench this year before the rotation change.
As a starter, he’s done a decent job: he’s had a positive plus-minus in all but two games, and has scored in double digits four times. He even recorded four blocks against the Spurs on Friday. Naturally, playing with the starters has produced far better results for McGee than when he was playing mostly with end-of-bench lineups.
Still, the Warriors don’t have a clear answer at center against the best teams in the league. Karl-Anthony Towns absolutely exposed McGee on Sunday, and other teams can pick and roll him to death. He’s not going to play much in the latter rounds of the playoffs.
The Warriors have an interesting stable of centers, each with their own strengths and weaknesses. David West is the best center on the Warriors, but he can’t play many minutes at his age. Zaza Pachulia is slow but sturdy, Jordan Bell is athletic but inexperienced, and Kevon Looney is switchy but often invisible. Throughout the rest of the season, I expect McGee to mostly remain the starter, but we’ve seen both Pachulia and Bell start depending on the matchups.
Pachulia started on Wednesday, but so many Warriors were injured that that particular starting lineup will likely never occur again. Bell started games against the Cavaliers earlier this season, but due to his ankle injuries and inexperience, his future in the playoff rotation is uncertain.
For now, JaVale McGee, former NBA joke, is the starting center for the defending world champions. Currently, I see him staying there until the Warriors play the Rockets in the playoffs. That’s still an impressive accomplishment for somebody who was almost out of the league just two years ago.