For the first move on the day of the 2021 NBA trade deadline, the Denver Nuggets landed big man JaVale McGee from the Cleveland Cavaliers.
McGee, known for his size and athleticism, has always performed well as a rebounder and rim protector. The veteran is a good interior defender who is able to step out to the perimeter and make an impact, forcing turnovers and making his defensive skill set known against opponents.
Throughout the course of his professional career, we have seen less from McGee on the offensive side of the ball. He has never been much of a scorer, even near the rim, and has provided little other value otherwise.
However, there has been a distinct change in his playmaking since joining the Cavaliers during the offseason. Before the 2020-21 season, McGee’s assist percentage was just 3.6 percent. For comparison, this season, that number is 11.2 percent.
That puts his assist percentage in the 75th percentile among all big men, via Cleaning the Glass, which is notable considering he had never graded above average in this figure before.
JaVale McGee threads the needle to Cedi Osman on NBA League Pass. pic.twitter.com/sjq12VeoDA
— NBA (@NBA) March 23, 2021
Watch the play above from earlier this week and you will see that this is far more finesse than we are used to seeing from a powerful force like McGee.
But simply put, McGee has become a far more willing passer than he had been in previous seasons. For example, last season, the big man averaged 35.4 passes per 75 possessions for the Lakers. Compare that to this season, where he has recorded 50.4 passes per 75.
During earlier seasons from McGee, if the ball went to him in the post, that is likely where the possession would end. The big man would either score, miss or turn the ball over. Now, however, it is more likely than ever that he is able to keep the play alive until his team finds the best possible look.
McGee is effective enough finishing on ball screens that when he rolls to the basket, the defense has to pay attention. That means that if he does a slower roll to the rim, he may then be able to pass it out to a wide-open shooter who is waiting on the perimeter.
There is no team in the league that has maximalized the playmaking of a big man than the Nuggets have with Nikola Jokic under coach Mike Malone. If he can offer even some of the same principles to McGee for the second unit, it will give them a more intimidating bench for their upcoming playoff run.