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Scaletta | JaVale McGee letter shows Warriors are still light years ahead

Kelly Scaletta

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Golden State Warriors center JaVale McGee, right, dunks over Portland Trail Blazers forward Noah Vonleh during the first half of Game 3 of an NBA basketball first-round playoff series Saturday, April 22, 2017, in Portland, Ore. (AP Photo/Craig Mitchelldyer)
AP Photo/Craig Mitchelldyer

Remember back in February when there were all kinds of controversy because the Golden State Warriors reached out to Turner Sports to ask that Shaquille O’Neal stop deriding JaVale McGee? Seems like once again they were playing chess while everyone else was playing checkers. Because, as much as they caught flak for that, they’re reaping all the rewards now.

They probably hadn’t caught that much slack since Joe Lacob spoke to  Bruce Schoenfeld of The New York Times Magazine, stating that the Dubs were “light-years” ahead of everyone else in March of 2016.

“We’ve crushed them on the basketball court, and we’re going to for years because of the way we’ve built this team,” he said. But what really set the franchise apart, he said, was the way it operated as a business. “We’re light-years ahead of probably every other team in structure, in planning, in how we’re going to go about things,” he said. “We’re going to be a handful for the rest of the N.B.A. to deal with for a long time.”

And while people can get mad that he said it, it’s true. The Warriors have been the best team in the NBA over the course of the last three NBA seasons, even factoring in the “blown” 3-1 lead, and they’re only getting better. And some of that has to do with adding a player of Kevin Durant’s stature, but a lot has to do with how they fill in around their stars.

The fact is that they developed players like Stephen Curry, Draymond Green and Klay Thompson, who though brilliant in some areas were also flawed in others.

The Dubs succeed by getting the most out of a player’s strengths and minimizing his weaknesses. They turn castoffs and late picks into role players, role players into starters, starters into stars and stars into superstars.

When they had to trade Andrew Bogut to make room for Durant, people fretted about what would happen to the rim protection and defense. So the Warriors went out and signed JaVale McGee, who was last seen being laughed off the NBA scene due to the “Shaqutin a Fool” nonsense.

Then the Warriors did what they do. They started making McGee a better player by letting him do what he does well and filling in for what he doesn’t do.

As McGee started to improve, though, the jokes kept coming. That’s when the Dubs wrote their letter. And while they got criticized, the funny thing is it worked. Suddenly people started noticing that McGee was playing better and that started people writing more positive stories about him. He went from league joke to league feel-good story. Do a news search on McGee now, and all you see are positive articles.

And how can you not love it when you see him doing things like this?

It’s fascinating when you look at the per-36-minute splits from before McGee was a Warriors, before the letter, since the letter and just during the playoffs.

JAVALE MCGEE  PER-36 MINUTE SPLITS
Split PTS TRB FG% FT%
Pre-Golden State 15.3 10.1 54.2 58.3
Before Letter 22.9 11.4 67.3 48.6
After Letter 24.0 12.8 64.1 55.6
Playoffs 28.7 12.5 78.3 75.0

There’s ample evidence that he has improved as a Warrior, and even some to suggest that the Warriors having his back has given him a confidence boost which has helped even more.

His overall improvement since the letter is statistically apparent, and he’s been downright impressive in the postseason. In fact, his 42.2 net rating is the highest of any player with at least five minutes. Furthermore, both the Warriors offensive rating (132.5) and defensive rating (90.3) are at their best when he is on the court.

No, he’s not being asked to play a ton of minutes, and no, he’s not the best player in the playoffs or on the Warriors. But when he is on the court, they are at their best because he is at his best. And it’s easy to connect the dots here.

Having someone go to bat for McGee is helping him.

That’s just another example of the Warriors being light years ahead. They helped their player and their image.

Going forward, it’s not hard to envision how that can help other players whose once promising careers have been derailed for various reasons, and why they might come calling.

Kelly Scaletta is an assistant editor for Today's Fastbreak and Today's Pigskin. He has also written for Bleacher Report, BBallBreakdown, Vantage Sports, SportsNet, the Cauldron and others. You might not always agree with him, but he does.

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