JaVale McGee played just 79 minutes this season before being put on the shelf, and the Denver Nuggets announced Thursday that that's all he'll get. The 26-year-old 7-footer, who hasn't played since logging 12 1/2 minutes in a Nov. 8 loss to the Phoenix Suns, underwent surgery Thursday morning to repair a stress fracture to his left tibia. Recovery from the surgery will cost him the remainder of the Nuggets' season.
“While it’s disappointing that we won’t have JaVale back on the court this season, we’re happy that he can move forward in his recovery,” Nuggets general manager Tim Connelly said in a team statement.
Closing the books on McGee's season — just five games, with the mercurial big man averaging only seven points and 3.4 rebounds in 15.8 minutes per contest — represents yet another disappointing blow for a Denver team that seemed poised to struggle from the outset this season after letting reigning Executive of the Year Masai Ujiri leave to lead the Toronto Raptors, replacing reigning Coach of the Year George Karl with respected ex-Los Angeles Lakers and Indiana Pacers assistant Brian Shaw, and making some curious offseason signings.
The anticipated troubles of a first-year coach finding his way with a roster ill-suited to his preferred style of play have been compounded by a number of key injuries. Danilo Gallinari never came back from the torn anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee. Nate Robinson's season was cut short after 44 games with a sprained left ACL of his own. Ty Lawson, the team's go-to scorer and playmaker, has missed time with a strained left rotator cuff and continues to be out of the lineup with a broken rib. Learning McGee won't come back is just the latest deflating sucker punch.
To be fair, it's not like McGee's an All-Star-caliber player when healthy — Karl's Nugs posted better offensive and defensive efficiency numbers with McGee off the court than with him on it last year. Still, he's a useful interior chaos agent — opponents' offensive possessions ended with a McGee block or steal nearly 10 percent of the time last season — whose rim protection, while often overzealous, can be helpful, as opponents shot both less frequently and less successfully when JaVale was patrolling the paint than when he was riding the pine. While Timofey Mozgov has performed pretty well in a larger role in the middle, McGee's absence has forced Denver to rely even heavier on undersized four/fives J.J. Hickson, Kenneth Faried and Darrell Arthur for big minutes up front; not coincidentally, the Nuggets rank among the league's 10 worst teams in second-chance points allowed, points allowed in the paint, field goal attempts allowed both within the restricted area and elsewhere in the lane, and points allowed per possession.
McGee might never quite be worth the $44 million contract he received before last season, the idea of him coming back firing jumpers is scary, and it's not like getting him back for the stretch run was likely to propel the 24-28 Nuggets past the Memphis Grizzlies and Minnesota Timberwolves into position to knock the Dallas Mavericks out of the eighth spot in the West, but he'd at least stand a chance of being helpful for an increasingly desperate team. Now, though, he won't be. Bummer. Get well soon, JaVale. Maybe, if we're lucky, you'll be back in time to lead Gilas.
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