Nuggets hope to blend fundamentals with youth, athleticism

McGee arrives in Denver eager to show he can help a winning team

The scenario is a highlight reel waiting to happen.

JaVale McGee grabs a defensive rebound and throws an outlet pass to Ty Lawson, who sprints down the middle of the court and finds Kenneth Faried or Corey Brewer running the wing for an emphatic one-hand dunk.

Nuggets coach George Karl smiles at the fast-break possibilities but also reminds his audience that it takes more than speed and athleticism to win NBA games.

“I think athletically, it will be the most athletic team that we’ve probably had,” Karl said after a light practice Friday. “In the same sense, you need brains, you need fundamentals and you need execution. The youth of the team is refreshing, but there’s also some growing pains that come with youthful players.”

With 11 players under 27 years old, the Nuggets are among the top 10 youngest teams in the NBA.

McGee, 24, replaced 29-year-old big man Nene on Denver’s roster Thursday when the Nuggets completed a three-team trade with the Washington Wizards and Los Angeles Clippers.

McGee arrived in Denver early Friday to take his physical and meet his new coaches and teammates. Overnight, he gained 14 games in the standings by joining a Nuggets team in the midst of the Western Conference playoff race.

“The wizards were definitely a good organization but they haven’t been in the playoffs since I’ve been there,” McGee said. “It’s definitely a change of venue coming to a playoff team, and I’m really excited about it.”

McGee was taking his usual pregame nap in New Orleans when the trade took place Thursday afternoon. He woke up to a barrage of text messages informing him that he was heading West.

“Most people thought I was maybe restless or anxious, but I just took my pregame nap like nothing was going to happen,” he said. “If I get traded, I get traded. It’s a part of the business. I was like, ‘When do I leave?’ ”

Because of pending physicals for all players involved in the trade, it is uncertain whether McGee will be available for Saturday’s game against the Boston Celtics.

Once McGee is cleared to take the court, he will be asked to defend the paint and rebound. Most of his scoring opportunities likely will come on the offensive glass and in transition.

“JaVale is going to have to find shots in the rhythm of the offense,” Karl said. “I don’t think he’s going to be a first-option offensive guy. I don’t think you’re going to run plays for him. As the season goes on, we might find more situations where we think he’s more comfortable.”

Karl watched film of his newest 7-footer before practice Friday and then spent a few minutes with him after practice.

The message was simple: Work hard, play hard, defend and run the floor. Winning will take care of itself.

“That’s definitely what I’m ready to do,” McGee said. “I’m ready to get on the floor, so I can show I can win and that I’m not a loser – just because I was on a losing team. I definitely plan on showing that.”

Aaron Lopez
Aaron J. Lopez is the primary writer for, providing behind-the-scenes content, including feature stories and video for the site. Before joining the Nuggets in 2009, he spent 15 years covering Colorado sports for the Rocky Mountain News and the Associated Press, making him one of the longest-tenured sports writers in Denver. Aaron's full bio...