The NBA rests for no one, not even the champions.
Less than a week after the Warriors won their fourth title in eight years, they’ll select new players for their team in Thursday’s NBA Draft (5 pm, ESPN).
The Warriors own selections Nos. 28, 51, and 57, the first coming in the first round.
And that’s where our focus lies in the days – no, hours – preceding the draft.
The second round is the NBA at its strangest. But the first round is where bad teams become good and good teams become great.
Or, in the case of the Warriors, it’s where they stay great.
There are three ways the Warriors can handle pick No. 28 on Thursday, and there is no right answer.
All I can say is this: Thank goodness I started watching these guys months ago, because this is a strong draft class and the Warriors should have multiple positive options.
Here’s what they could do and some players they could do it with come Thursday:
Maximize for the here and now
This means getting a role player – whether that be a backup point guard, a 3-and-D wing, or a big man who is going to provide 15 minutes a night, what matters is that he can contribute this upcoming season and for the remainder of his rookie contract.
Effectively, this is getting a player on the veteran minimum with upside for later.
Last season, the No. 28 pick had a slotted first-year salary of $ 1.6 million that increases by less than 10 percent by the third year.
For a team that is deep in luxury tax hell like the Warriors, these are the kind of locked-in cost savings that go a long way to building a championship team.
But that pick has to pan out, and that’s anything but a guarantee in the late first round.
There’s no question that Jordan Poole – pick No. 28 in 2019 – has been a hit for the Warriors and a vital part of this championship team, but in his first two seasons, he was one of the worst players in the NBA, spending time in the G League to build confidence.
And with the Warriors likely paying as much as six dollars in luxury tax on every dollar in this contract, yeah, you can bet they’d be interested in immediate returns.
Of course, those are the hardest to find. In 2018, the Warriors thought they had an immediate-impact role player in point guard Jacob Evans, who was also selected at No. 28.
Two years later, he was a toss-in in the Andrew Wiggins trade, as the Warriors wanted to rid themselves of his contract. He’s now playing center (yes, center) for the Santa Cruz Warriors.
Jake LaRavia • 20-year-old wing • Wake Forest
»An exceptional cutter who can pass, shoot and finish at an NBA level. His strength and smarts will make him a switchable defender and he’s a deft rebounder. He looks tailor-made for the Warriors’ motion offense and a role as a stat-sheet filler that positively affects winning. LaRavia is a hot name right now, so the Warriors might have to keep their fingers crossed that he is still around at No. 28.
Dalen Terry • 19-year-old wing • Arizona
»If Terry is available at No. 28, the Warriors must take him and not think twice about it. He’s not the perfect win-now option – there’s upside to be found with him, no doubt – but the floor is plenty high to go with a high ceiling.
I can’t believe he won’t be a lottery pick, but I’ve been assured that he should be picked in the late first. I must be missing something, because he’s a long wing who shows a high basketball IQ, outstanding passing, and athleticism to defend on the perimeter from Day 1. The 3-point shot is serviceable in catch-and-shoot situations as well.
Christian Braun • 21-year-old wing • Kansas
»A do-it-all option. He’s not going to be an All-Star, but he won’t lose you games, either. Comes in with polish on his jumper and a nose for the basketball. He can cover a lot of ground and is tremendous around the rim. Plug-and-play depth wing.
Play for the future
The NBA Draft is a crapshoot – so why not bet big?
While the primary attribute of the draft is upside, there are players who are longer-term projects who stay in the draft longer than you would expect.
And while no one knows if that talent will pan out, the value comes not in the initial contract, but in the rights to keep that player after they blossom.
If they blossom.
The risk is relatively low for most teams. The relative benefits are huge, especially for a team that is looking to remain at the top of the NBA for decades to come.
You can’t do that without stars, so anytime you have a chance to add one – even if it’s a slim chance – you need to go for that. The Warriors can’t add anyone outside of mid-level exceptions and minimum contracts in free agency for a while, so the Draft is the one mechanism to add players that can be part of the team’s young, future core without giving anything up in the process.
Take Poole, or Boston’s Robert Williams (pick No. 27 in 2018), or Pascal Siakam (No. 27 in 2016). All are impact players, worthy of big money, that were grabbed late but took some time to fully actualize (hence their placement in the draft).
Above all, the Warriors model themselves after the Spurs, and San Antonio was better than anyone at drafting talent that, years later, far outperformed their draft position.
This is the Warriors’ chance to be truly Spursy.
There are a few players who might defy the odds and reach that All-Star level in two time, despite being a late first-round pick.
Nikola Jović • 18-year-old wing • Mega Basket
»A 6-foot-11 wing with strong ball-handling skills and an impressive isolation game, Jović has one of the highest talent ceilings in this class, but at 18, has a few years (at least) before he’ll be able to consistently show it.
Josh Minott • 19-year-old wing • Memphis
»An athlete that’s too good to be hanging out late in the draft, Minott falls because he has a massive developmental curve. Right now he’s just a 6-foot-9 kid with a bounce who can finish at the rim with his nearly 7-foot wingspan. Everything else needs years of polishing.
But there’s something about his defense – the ball seems to find him, in a good way, on that side of the court – that hints at elite potential. At the end of the curve could be a prototypical winning wing.
Wendell Moore • 20-year-old wing • Duke
»Moore will come in as a viable team defender from Day 1 and his passing and cutting ability will make him a solid rotation player in the NBA, especially if he’s with a team like the Warriors that values those things more than others.
The upside comes on the offensive side of the court. He’ll be 21 when he starts his rookie season, but his shot has come a long way over the last few years, taking a leap as a junior. Still, it’s still a serious work in progress and the leap in competition could negate his recent success. But if that progress as a shooter can continue at the NBA level – a big ask – he could be much better than a role player in this league.
Patrick Baldwin Jr. • 19-year-old wing • UW-Milwaukee
»Baldwin might have the prettiest jump shot in this class, and that hints at an extremely valuable skill. He was once the No. 1 ranked prospect in his recruiting class. He can dribble, defend, and shows a high basketball IQ at 6-foot-10 with a 7-foot-1 wingspan. So why is he hanging around the Warriors’ spot in the draft? Injuries. He had a left ankle injury in high school that didn’t fully heal in his one year playing for his father at Milwaukee. It was part of a disastrous freshman season that plummeted his draft stock.
Had he not gone to college, he likely would have been a top-10 pick last season. Instead, he’s a fringe first-rounder. Did he do NBA GMs a favor, or will one team be a beneficiary of 29 other teams overthinking it?
As admirable as the Warriors’ spending has been, there is a bottom to even the deepest pockets. Paying roughly $ 10 million a season for a late first-round pick might be that limit, as that’s what the Warriors ’luxury tax bill might demand.
Plus, the Warriors, with their run to the championship and the subsequent celebrations, will only have a few days to shift their organizational focus to the draft.
Some teams have spent months – if not a year – focusing on this class.
Now, there’s little doubt that the Dubs will find a few players they like, but any analysis will lack the level of comprehension we saw in 2020 and 2021. Of course, this pick isn’t as important as those, but it could cost just as much.
Forgive me, but using this pick – unless there’s someone who created a love-at-first-sight feeling – seems like bad business. Especially with the team needing to find minutes for James Wiseman, Jonathan Kuminga, and Moses Moody next season.
The Warriors have two second-round picks (Nos. 51 and 57) and their 2023 first-round pick. They’ll be fine on the talent acquisition front.
Punt the pick by either trading it or using it on a player that can be stashed overseas (meaning the Warriors don’t have to pay him), and maybe move up in the second round to land one of the players targeted at No. 28.
Some second-round options:
Gabe Brown • 22-year-old wing • Michigan State
»The prototypical 3-and-D wing. Nice stroke from the outside, brings energy to every possession, and has some fringe small-ball 5 potential.
Keon Ellis • 22-year-old wing • Alabama
»Shades of Patrick McCaw, if McCaw could shoot.
Hyun-Jung Lee • 21-year-old wing • Davidson
»Lee is an impressive cutter and passer who sees the whole floor and plays with great anticipation. He also is a lights-out catch-and-shoot option. He could be a liability on defense, but his basketball IQ might be enough to mitigate that.