JaVale McGee already has proven to be one of the NBA’s most offbeat personalities.
Now, the sixth-year pro will have the opportunity to show he can be one of the league’s top centers, too.
McGee, a former first-round draft pick out of UNR, is expected to be in the starting lineup when the Denver Nuggets open the regular season later this month, and the high-flying 7-footer will play a key role on a team that underwent an extreme makeover following a 57-win season.
“He’s going to be very important,” first-year Nuggets coach Brian Shaw said before Saturday’s preseason game against the Los Angeles Clippers at Mandalay Bay Events Center. “He’s the anchor of our defense, first and foremost. This year, we’re going to put him in a position where we’re going to go inside to him.
“It’s a part of his game that he really has to develop, but we’re willing to be patient with him through the process.”
McGee has been a target for ridicule throughout his NBA career due largely to his collection of on-court bloopers. The video “JaVale McGee Top 10 Stupid Plays” is a YouTube staple and features several of his most ignominious moments. In addition, the 25-year-old has been a frequent victim of Shaquille O’Neal during his “Shaqtin A Fool” segment on TNT.
But McGee also is known for his entertaining hijinks on social media and recently was named by Sports Illustrated as one of the top 100 sports personalities to follow on Twitter.
McGee, who uses the alter-ego “Pierre” on Twitter, went on the social media site nine days ago and offered to buy doughnuts to anyone who showed up at a Denver-area Krispy Kreme. In September, he posted a video on Instagram of himself gloating after he beat a youngster at Pop-A-Shot, and last year he duped several followers and reporters into believing he bought two platypuses.
“I don’t care what people’s perception of me is,” McGee said. “I write what I want to write as long as I don’t get fined for it. But I’m smart about it.”
Last season, McGee averaged 9.1 points, 4.8 rebounds and 1.99 blocks in 18.1 minutes, but he never earned coach George Karl’s trust after being acquired in a three-team deal on March 15, 2012. Karl was fired following the Nuggets’ loss to Golden State in the first round of the Western Conference playoffs, and there have been several reports that his failure to develop McGee was part of the reason for his departure.
In June, Denver hired Shaw and traded starting center Kosta Koufos to Memphis soon after, clearing the way for McGee to team with Kenneth Faried in the Nuggets’ frontcourt. McGee started Saturday, scoring 10 points and adding four rebounds and two blocks in 27 minutes in Denver’s 118-111 overtime loss to the Clippers in front of 9,535 fans.
Chris Paul had game highs of 40 points and 11 assists in 42 minutes for the Clippers.
“I’m working harder than I’ve ever worked before because there’s more expectations,” McGee said. “I’m definitely trying to get better every day.”
McGee signed a four-year, $44 million extension prior to the 2012-13 season, and one of the common refrains during the preseason has been that it’s time for him to prove he can play 30 to 35 minutes each game and show more of his serious side.
“I think he’s at the point now where he’s starting to mature as a man and be a little more serious about his game,” Shaw said. “It’s huge for him, because he’s gotten the contract and now he’s getting an opportunity. So now, it’s on him.”
Contact reporter David Schoen at firstname.lastname@example.org or 702-387-5203. Follow him on Twitter: @DavidSchoenLVRJ.