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Denver signed JaVale McGee $44 million last summer. Kosta Koufos starts.

Jan 2, 2013, 3:17 PM EDT

Golden State Warriors v Denver Nuggets Getty Images

Last season, the Denver Nuggets were willing to move a quality (if often injured) big man in Nene for JaVale McGee. Then last summer they inked McGee to a four-year, $44 million contract to be part of the future in Denver.

If you have watched a Nuggets game recently — or even looked at a box score — you’ll notice Kosta Koufos is the starter at center.

McGee is giving Denver 10.7 points and 5.2 rebounds a game in just less than 20 minutes a night, and doing it as efficiently has he ever has (shooting 58.3 percent). He blocks shots but his lust for those blocks often takes him out of rebounding position. His decision making can be confounding, but he has the athleticism to overcome some of those errors. On the season his +/- is -.4 — he’s basically a break even player when on the floor, although that doesn’t do justice to the “good JaVale/bad JaVale” nature of his game.. Still, it’s good production for your backup center.

It’s not good production for a guy getting $11 million. The Nuggets paid McGee on potential and got basically the same player he was last season — inconsistent, capable of huge numbers or a blooper reel highlight at any moment. That’s not what a coach can trust.

Ask Nuggets coach George Karl why Koufos starts — as Jeff Caplan of did — and he is straightforward.

“I think he’s a really good, important player for us,” Karl said. “But in the same sense I’m going to play the guys who I think can help you win the game….

“I think he’s showing me he’s about a 20-minute basketball player,” Karl said. “For me, I go into most games, I have no idea who’s going to finish the game and it’s earned as the game goes on.”

Denver is about to go on a hot streak. They are 18-15 this season but 10-1 at home where they play 14 of their next 17. Denver is currently the seven seed in a deep and crowded West and the next month is huge for them, it is the chance to create some cushion and move up in the standings. The bottom of the West is going to be a dog fight — right now 4.5 games separate the six and 12 seeds. In there Minnesota and the Lakers are getting healthy, Dallas got Dirk Nowitzki back (even though it hasn’t helped yet) and teams like the Rockets are finding themselves. Every game matters for Denver right now.

How much McGee is going to be a part of that run will depend on McGee. And if he earns those huge checks.

  1. jhuck92 - Jan 2, 2013 at 3:51 PM

    Are decent NBA centers so few and far between that Javale McGee gets paid $44 million only to be a bench warmer?

    • mtminadeo - Jan 2, 2013 at 4:31 PM

      No, they are all just sad. i.e. Roy Hibbert’s epic fail of a season.

      • jhuck92 - Jan 3, 2013 at 5:07 PM

        That could be a reason why the center position was removed from the all star game. I know the game itself has evolved since the days of Wilt and Bill Russell, so I’m wondering if that is just a decision for this year or if it’s permanent.

  2. 4thquartermagic - Jan 2, 2013 at 5:08 PM

    Too soon to judge, Kurt.

    JaVale has shown improvement this year, albeit slight improvement. But the Nuggets knew he was going to be a project.

    McGee took it upon himself to spend some of that 44 mil to get tutored by the best (Hakeem) over the summer so its not like he thinks he is just going to wake up one day and be a better player.

    I think its too soon to deem JaVale overpaid. Besides isn’t almost EVERY big man overpaid in the NBA?

    • abchome - Jan 2, 2013 at 9:46 PM

      Hard earned money (Hakeem) lol

  3. sellahh - Jan 2, 2013 at 6:10 PM

    It’s Kofos not Koufas.

    • sellahh - Jan 2, 2013 at 6:11 PM

      or Koufos, typo

  4. shanelsweet - Jan 2, 2013 at 6:39 PM

    Remember last summer when JaVale was working with Hakeem to sharpen his skills? Is it time for a refresher course already?

  5. urodaddy07 - Jan 2, 2013 at 6:50 PM

    I always think watching him that he hold be the most unstoppable center in the league, he so long and he can jump. Why is he only averaging 5 rebounds? Disappointing

    • moseskkim - Jan 2, 2013 at 7:12 PM

      Cuz he only plays like 19 minutes a game.. And the aforementioned block happiness. But per minute, those are very good stats. But that’s not what Karl wants. He wants javale to play smart fundamental ball and when he consistently does that, he’ll get more playing time.

  6. gamedate15 - Jan 2, 2013 at 7:21 PM

    Definately one of my favorite players

  7. ricoq45 - Jan 2, 2013 at 10:33 PM

    not worth $44 mil he’s a good player but not that good

  8. amlowlife - Jan 3, 2013 at 1:08 PM

    McGee is an on-going project. He’s improved dramatically in the short time he’s been with the Nuggs compared to the entire time he was with the Wiz.

    You don’t see all that many “goofy Javale” moments anymore but his highlights are getting more and more frequent. He doesn’t fall for the fake as much and he isn’t out of defensive position as much (although in both cases he’s still deficient). He’s also put on 20 pounds of muscle and doesn’t get pushed around quite so much.

    He used to be ONLY paired up with Andre Miller (“lob man”) but little by little he’s entering games within a variety of lineups.

    Someone was going to pay him the dough and Denver ponied up with the idea of bringing him along slowly. He’s making good progress. By March he’ll be quite the topic of conversation (in a good way).

    It’s OK that he doesn’t start right now. There’s a method to the madness.

  9. qdog112 - Jan 3, 2013 at 3:24 PM

    The problem is Karl. He’s trying his damnest to be Larry brown 2.0. Those Carolina guys can be full of themselves. JaVale should be given the minutes to prove himself and learn. He gains zero from being on the bench. His numbers are crazy when projected over 30 minutes.

    It’s all on Karl.

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