When JaVale McGee shares the floor with his four All-Star teammates, the Warriors play their best basketball.
This is not so much an opinion as it is an objective statement, at least from what we’ve seen from Golden State so far this season. Going into Wednesday’s 123-92 romping of the Bulls in which McGee scored 13 points on six dunks in 16 minutes, the Warriors’ starting lineup with McGee at center had the best net rating of any lineup in the NBA this season that has played a minimum of 80 minutes. Over 100 possessions, that lineup is outscoring teams 123-86. That’s better than the Warriors “death lineup” with Draymond Green at center and Andre Iguodala, and much better than the Warriors’ starting lineup with Zaza Pachulia in the mix.
McGee’s ability as a lob threat makes the Warriors nearly unguardable when he’s sharing the floor with four shooters. Any help from the opposing center leaves the defense exposed for a lob, giving opponents who already have to figure out a way to stop arguably the most talented team we’ve ever seen, another thing to worry about.
McGee had perhaps his best game of the season Wednesday, scoring all of his points on vicious slams. The game was a microcosm of why he has been successful with Golden State. McGee knows his role is to stay around the basket and run the floor, nothing more. When he does that, the Warriors are at their best, especially in transition.
JaVale McGee mastering his simple role: contest at the rim, sprint the floor, finish if it’s tossed your way pic.twitter.com/HPEUxL0nzI
— Anthony Slater (@anthonyVslater) February 9, 2017
The only thing that could stop McGee Wednesday was biting on a Robin Lopez pump fake, leading to a hard mid-air collision and fall on his backside that led to an early exit in the third quarter.
“I asked him how he was doing and he said he landed on his butt,” Steve Kerr said after the game. “I asked him what the prognosis was and he said both cheeks really hurt. So just for your information, both cheeks are injured.”
None of this is to say that McGee is a superior player to Pachulia necessarily. Zaza has also been fantastic with the starting lineup this season, after a slow start, and his passing ability from the high post makes Golden State especially deadly on backdoor cuts to the basket. But Pachulia can barely jump, let alone be a lob threat, making McGee the better option with spacing provided with four shooters on the floor.
Whether or not McGee can stay consistent remains to be seen. There’s a reason he was nearly out of the league before the Warriors took a flyer on him in training camp (thank you Andre Iguodala), and the sample size of just 82 minutes played with the starters is still relatively small.
At this point, however, his production will at least give Kerr and Co. pause when deciding whether to slot Pachulia back into the starting lineup when he returns next week. Regardless of when he plays, McGee continues to be the biggest, and most welcome surprise for the Warriors this season.