JaVale McGee, the Warriors’ 7-foot security blanket

PORTLAND, Ore. — JaVale McGee is the epitome of “a different kind of guy,” a popular phrase around the NBA.

He’s famously feuding with Shaquille O’Neal. McGee’s haircut has been the subject of several mocking Snapchats by Draymond Green. And he’s been embraced as this year’s irrationally loved Warriors big man, as evidenced by the huge applause he receives every time he checks in at Oracle Arena.

And through one playoff series, the last man during the offseason to secure a spot on the roster has proved himself invaluable. Draymond Green referred to him as a sort of security blanket. A guy who can “bail out” the offense by dunking lobs and being a positive force for the offense in pick-and-roll situations.

“It’s more than that,” Green said after Game 2 against the Portland Trail Blazers, “it’s offensive rebounds. It’s a great post move. It’s the blocks. It was the defense and the pick-and-roll coverage. I mean, he was amazing all over the court.”

Through four games, McGee has missed just five of his 23 field goal attempts while pulling down 17 rebounds and blocking nine shots.

And he exposed the shortcomings of a Portland team playing without its best big man, Jusuf Nurkic, for three of the four games.

As Nurkic attempted to play Game 3 on a fractured leg, McGee couldn’t help but cringe watching the Bosnian big man labor up and down the floor.

McGee’s empathy comes from a real place. This is the same big man who played just 28 games between 2013 and 2015 as he recovered from a leg injury.

javale mcgee
Draymond Green and JaVale McGee celebrate after he dunks all over the Portland Trail Blazers. (Jacob C. Palmer/S.F. Examiner)

The road back to basketball wasn’t an easy one for McGee, who admitted that he had several doubts about whether it was all worth it, but his reasoning for sticking with it is unique to someone who claims he runs the fastest 40-yard dash time of anyone taller than 6-foot-11.

“I don’t know nothing else. I’d rather get minimum contracts and $1.4 million is a lot of money to the average person, so why wouldn’t you just keep playing if that’s what you do?” he rhetorically asked a group of people who had no idea how to relate with what was just said.

Last summer, after playing just 34 games for the Dallas Mavericks, McGee determined his weight to be the reason he was having issues with his legs staying healthy. So, he embraced a vegan diet and lost 15 pounds.

“There’s just certain things you have to do once you get those hairline fractures in your legs,” he said. “That’s your body telling you you’re too big right now.”

McGee is with the Warriors on a one-year deal and he’s already done enough — under the brightest lights — to force a lot of teams to take a long, hard look at him in free agency this summer.

He would like to return to the Warriors, but he isn’t naive about the uncertainty inherent in the process.

“It’s the NBA, so anything could happen, really,” McGee said. “Anything. It’s crazy, so you never know.”

This is all represents a major rise for McGee, who was almost out of the league before general manager Bob Myers and Steve Kerr rolled the dice on him in hopes he would complement Zaza Pachulia, who lacks McGee’s physical gifts — as almost everyone does — to play above the rim on both ends of the floor.

But, the most impressive aspect of McGee’s personality: He doesn’t try to convert his teammates into embracing his diet.

A vegan who doesn’t constantly talk about how great it is to be a vegan? McGee really is a different guy.

Who throws the best lob on the Warriors, according to JaVale McGee:

Contact Jacob C. Palmer at jpalmer@sfexaminer.com or on Twitter, @jacobc_palmer.

Bob MyersDraymond GreenGolden State Warriorsjavale mcgeeMike BrownSteve Kerr

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