When the Nuggets traded Kosta Koufos on draft night it clearly signaled that they felt it was time to turn over the starting job to JaVale McGee.
But it also signaled something else, a belief that they have and one that in the end may come back to hurt them.
It signaled that they, like plenty of other teams see potential more in physical gifts than in mental ones.
Now that makes sense, after all in the case of two similar players the guy who can run faster and jump higher has a clear advantage in potential.
But the Nuggets didn’t have two similar players.
They had one in Kosta Koufos who was a jack-of-all-trades but a master of none, someone who unlike any other big in the Nuggets rotation understood rotations, both on offense and defense. He constantly made the right cut into space so that Andre Iguodala or Ty Lawson could find him for a shot right at the rim and constantly made the right rotation on defense to meet an opposing player in front of the rim.
In the end Kosta never did anything at an elite level but he never pretended or tried to. He played within himself, understanding his strengths and limitations and played very well.
On the other hand the Nuggets had JaVale McGee. Someone with incredible length and athletic ability but also someone who almost never made the right rotation, who constantly was attempting to do things he wasn’t able to, who at points looks like he is playing a game he just learned.
And yet the Nuggets valued the athleticism, hoping that in his sixth year, on his fifth coach, something will click.
And it may.
After all big men tend to develop a bit later, taking more time to understand things like rotations since they typically have the most responsibility in that regard. But the Nuggets had someone who already understood those things in Koufos, who also happens to be a bit younger than McGee.
It isn’t hard to see Koufos getting better as he adds some more strength to help him finish at the rim better, or hold off more physical centers on the glass, and even as he learns and understands more of the game which could help things such as passing and even rebounding. He probably won’t ever be great but he will stick in the league as a very good option at center, someone who will crash the offensive glass, block a few shots and not try and do too much.
It is harder, much harder, to see how JaVale gets better because at this point it just doesn’t seem like he will ever understand the game as well as Koufos did this past season. Maybe Shaw is finally the coach that can make him do so but I find it hard to believe that none of the five McGee has had before have tried.
But the Nuggets made their decision. In a league filled with athletic specimens they would rather have another of those with a small understanding of the game over an average specimen with a great understanding of it.
Those two types of players have four different outcomes.
The great mental mind can improve upon his less gifted body by adding more strength and training hard and potentially become a very good player. While greatness isn’t common they normally end up being someone always valuable to a team.
The great physical body can gain that mental prowess and become a great player beyond the realm that the physically limited player can hit.
If they don’t though the consequences are ugly; because if not that type of player tends to become useless and the franchise that lost the gamble pays dearly.
The Nuggets made their choice. But was it the right one?