news world

Thompson: Warriors add 2 more draft picks to their development machine

SAN FRANCISCO — Patrick Baldwin Jr. and Ryan Rollins, the Nos. 28 and 44 picks in the 2022 NBA Draft, will land at SFO on Friday. They will deplane and exit the terminal, past the threshold where they can’t turn around. Eventually, they will arrive at baggage claim. That’s where the Warriors’ plan for them starts. The Warriors’ system, a structure for the growth of young players, initiates right there in the airport. If all goes well, one of them could find himself getting minutes in important moments in a coming postseason.

It begins with welcoming handshakes from Ryan Atkinson, 37, and Mujtaba Elgoodah, 28, the director and manager, respectively, of the Warriors’ team development crew — headed by Kent Lacob. They handle the lifestyle integration of the Warriors’ youngsters. They become concierge and professional groomers.

The newcomers won’t be in town long before Jama Mahlalela enters the equation. Mahlalela, a Warriors assistant coach and the director of player development, then crafts a plan with the development team to map out their rookie years. And the robust Warriors staff works together to put it into action. Eventually, they’ll get live-action schooling from Hall of Famers and champions.

This year’s draft picks figure to test the revised infrastructure. It worked wonders for the likes of Jonathan Kuminga and Moses Moody, the 2021 first-round picks. But the Warriors just added two more 19-year-olds in Baldwin and Rollins and potentially a 20-year-old in No. 55 pick Gio Santos, a forward out of Brazil. So with Kuminga, 19, Moody, 20, and James Wiseman, 21, that’s at least five players on the roster who are 21 or younger.

On top of that, with Baldwin, the prize of the late-first-round pick, the Warriors are essentially banking on their potential-harvesting powers.

A highly touted high school player, Baldwin bombed his one year at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. He played in just 11 games, hampered by ankle injuries, and failed to dominate the Horizon League — which was expected for a McDonald’s All-American. Baldwin didn’t have a real workout with the Warriors so he didn’t impress them by cooking other prospects in draft prep. Despite that and his rough collegiate career, the Warriors still had Baldwin higher than No. 28 on their draft board.

Why? Because some voices in the front office were big fans of Baldwin early, and voices in the room have been on a roll lately. Because they believe in their new machine, which produced a gem in Jordan Poole and rookies who contributed to a title run.

“It is definitely an upside swing for a guy that was highly touted and probably underperformed in college,” director of basketball operations Bob Myers said of Baldwin. “But we feel like with talent, with our player development, we can develop some of these guys. They’re all so young. It’s hard to find guys that big and that skilled. … So we think we put him in our system, and we give him a shot, surround him with guys he respects. That’s the advantage of having some of these guys that we have that have won before. When I was up there with Draymond, we were talking about how important leadership is. We’re lucky to have a guy like him, Steph, Klay — guys that have just won quite a bit. And we think if we plugged talent into that equation, we can get a good outcome.”

The Warriors also traded up to get Rollins, even spending $2 million to go from No. 51 to No. 44. The point guard out of Toledo needs some work before he can earn minutes with the defending champions.


Second-round pick Ryan Rollins, right, will need some development before he’s contributing to the Warriors, but the team feels well equipped to provide it. (Dale Young / USA Today)

This year’s draft was a player development heat check.

Four years ago, the Warriors didn’t have this setup in place. Golden State was in, essentially, the same situation in 2018. The Warriors were coming off a championship, their second in two years, and drafting No. 28. They weren’t in the market for a franchise changer, or even a difference-maker. They merely wanted a player who could complement what they had and grow into a role player at some point.

The 2018 selection was Jacob Evans. It didn’t work.

But the swing-and-miss on Evans paid dividends still being felt. After the Warriors lost the title in 2019, and lost two core players, the empty cupboard highlighted their need for improved development. On top of Evans not panning out, they had lost Patrick McCaw, the 2016 second-round pick who was unhappy enough to hold out until he was traded. And Damian Jones, the center out of Vanderbilt the Warriors took with the No. 30 pick in 2016, hadn’t become a rotational player in three years. They were burning the candle on the championship end and paying the price on the development side.

Then they got the No. 2 pick in 2020 after the worst season in franchise history. They drafted Wiseman and, in the middle of a pandemic, didn’t have an optimal setup to embed their top pick. So they reconfigured, adding Mahlalela and analytics-driven assistant coach Kenny Atkinson. They also increased the number of bodies and minds in the front office.

Four years ago, the Warriors’ basketball operations staff had about 16 executives, video coordinators, scouts, trainers and liaisons. For the 2021-22 season, their staff was about 30 deep. And neither number even counts their G League staff.

The Warriors are better positioned to prune the talent out of players. They have a structure in place much more conducive to adding projects and prodigies to a championship contender — and not losing them because they’re so focused on the present season. They now have a machine in place. It is more diverse. It is more holistic, addressing young players’ needs emotionally, physically and strategically.

“Yeah, staffing-wise … we’re better,” Myers said Thursday night after the draft ended. “Having to build out an infrastructure to work with 19-year-olds is something that we just assumed would happen before. But we do a much better job now of surrounding some of these players with help, with guidance that we should have done a better job of back then. And coaching obviously has gotten a lot better as far as how we integrate those guys.”

The prized pupil of the Warriors’ development is Poole, now 23. He was the No. 28 pick after Evans. He was on a path to Bust Boulevard. Yet, three years later, he was pivotal in the NBA Finals as the Warriors beat the Boston Celtics to win their fourth title in eight years. All of those years working with assistant coach Chris DeMarco, that stint in the G League, those intimate lessons from the Warriors’ quartet of future Hall of Famers turned a major question mark into an answer.

The Warriors have now picked late in the first round five times under Steve Kerr. They took Kevon Looney at No. 30 in 2015, Damian Jones 30th in 2016, Evans in 2018 and Poole in 2019. That’s a 50 percent hit rate late in the draft, objectively impressive considering the low success rate in that section of the first round.

Now they add Baldwin to the mix. Normally, his selection, which in a sense came out of nowhere, would be met with intense scrutiny. But the selection of Baldwin is being applauded by some as a sneaky good move. Even the strongest skeptics have to hold off before killing the choice. Because it’s the Warriors. They have a system, and a robust infrastructure for molding young talent, and a few gems to show for their mining.

This is a heat check they’ve earned.

(Top photo of Patrick Baldwin Jr.: USA Today)

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

Back to top button