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Ball Don't Lie

Understanding JaVale McGee’s massive new contract with the Denver Nuggets

Kelly Dwyer
Ball Don't Lie

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JaVale McGee gives it up for B.I.G. (Getty Images)

Knucklehead or libertine, if you can dunk from the free throw line and potentially reach a car's cruise control button from the rear passenger seat, you're going to get paid. And JaVale McGee is getting paid.

Four years, and $44 million, according to Yahoo! Sports' Marc Spears. Appropriate money, considering his contemporaries, and mindful of his per-minute stats. Eight figures a season, though, for a guy that seems to make eight blog-ready mistakes a week. Eight figures a season for a guy that immediately becomes the Denver Nuggets' highest-paid player. That's right, cats and kittens, JaVale McGee is apparently the franchise guy that Nuggies have been waiting for. He's their cornerstone!

Tongue taken out of cheek, no he ain't. The Nuggets aren't banking their post-Carmelo Anthony rebuilding project around McGee, and he won't be gracing the team's in-arena program and scorecard any time soon. All the Nuggets have done is lock up a chance to make things right in McGee's basketball life, ensuring that they have from now until his near-prime year at age 28 in 2015-16 to make this work on their terms, irrespective of McGee's hilarious turn as a member of the Washington Wizards.

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While taking in, it should be noted, some significant and honest-to-goodness production. We're more than aware that McGee's defensive instincts often result in the big man chasing down blocks or offensive rebounds when he could be attempting to properly defend all comers or getting back defensively, but the raw and tangible output cannot be ignored — McGee managed a Player Efficiency Rating of over 20 last year in both the regular and postseason. That takes a lot to argue away.

So, we'll try. Because not unlike Chris Andersen, the stat-grabber that Denver just waived to make room under their salary cap for Anthony Randolph, McGee's PER jumps considerably because of his block and rebound totals. PER is a fine catch-all stat, but even its creator in ESPN's John Hollinger continually acknowledges it does little for overall defensive aptitude. McGee, even after leading the league in block rate in 2010 (a ridiculous eight percent of the possessions he took part in resulted in him blocking a shot), often times destroys a team's defense by chasing down those blocks. It's almost as if he's playing an NBA video game in real life, that his is the character and body he's created, and he's just going to chase down the ball while the CPU team passes it around and uses JaVale's aggression against himself.

This can be eased out, though, and we saw some of that in Denver last year. Though his stats were about the same, and we're more than confident that Nuggets coach George Karl was telling JaVale the same things that his coaches in Washington attempted, McGee's impact seemed more certain. Per-minute, his blocks and rebounds actually went down in Denver, but he connected on more of his shots. Things seemed less frantic, in that 20-game stint.

Until the playoffs, of course. In seven games McGee managed a playoffs-leading 8.7 percent block rate, and he changed several games in Denver's favor; regardless of the eventual outcome. Perhaps not play strong enough for an average of $11 million a year, but McGee's forward/center position and youth make that batch of compensation a little easier to understand. Denver thinks they're going to get through to him. They think he's going to be a Birdman that you can actually stomach starting.

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That's a legitimate expectation, from someone who seems equal parts clueless and clever. Though often lumped in with Andray Blatche amongst the Washington knuckleheads, McGee never seemed to play the part of the malcontent. He just appeared as daffy as we all were in our early 20s, doing things that most of us probably would do with that sort of wingspan, height, and jumping ability. And now, as he readies himself to enter the second half of his 20s, Denver is paying for the right to employ the result of his growth. All with a coach in Karl that offers a healthy (pun intended, happily) sense of perspective and an edge that suggests that he's reined in wilder horses.

Denver, as has been the case during GM Masai Ujiri's run, remains an interesting experiment. And, as they've been since Karl took over in late 2004-05, an interesting watch.

JaVale McGee's just interesting, full stop, and we like rooting for the guy. We don't see a reason to stop now, regardless of his compensation.

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