You take silver linings where you find them when you’re 3-15, have more than $125 million in salary suffering through various degrees of injuries, and the only history you’re chasing is the kind you’d really prefer didn’t make it into the record books. Steve Kerr and Co. can take some solace in knowing that this disaster season from Planet Bullshit is at least providing an opportunity to develop some new young contributors. While Golden State’s 2019 first-round pick, Jordan Poole, hasn’t yet taken advantage of that chance—only two rookies in the 3-point era have taken at least 150 shots and posted a lower effective field goal percentage than Poole thus far—two other first-year Warriors are grabbing on to it with both hands.
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The Warriors snagged former Villanova forward Eric Paschall when he slipped into the second round last June—fitting, considering our own Kevin O’Connor tabbed him before the draft as a potential Next Draymond Green (taken 35th, as you might remember). But young Draymond never had to operate as a no. 1 option, and nobody without access to some powerful dark magic could have expected that Paschall would lead Golden State in total points, made field goals, field goal attempts, and free throw attempts through 17 games. What’s wild is that he’s handled it remarkably well; among rookies who have used more than 20 percent of their team’s offensive possessions, only Miami’s Nunn has a higher true shooting percentage.
The 6-foot-6, 255-pound forward has shown a capacity to operate from the block (1.36 points per post-up possession, the fourth-best mark in the NBA, per Synergy) and as a smart cutter away from the play’s initial action (1.50 points per such possession, putting him in the 82nd percentile in the league) when he’s not working on the ball and facing up on his defender. He does that a lot: He’s gone iso on 19.2 percent of the offensive plays he’s used, the sixth-highest share of possessions in the league, behind only MVPs (James Harden, LeBron James, Russell Westbrook) and second-unit gunners (Spencer Dinwiddie, Austin Rivers). Those one-on-one trips aren’t always pretty—turnovers are an issue, and he sure does snap-kick his legs on that jumper a lot—but it’s all in the service of expanding his game during a dead-end season that’s quickly become little more than a sandbox. Paschall certainly seems to be responding to Kerr’s confidence in him with more confidence of his own:
This beautiful driving finish on LeBron was right after Paschall hit an iso midrange jumper on LeBron
12:59 PM – Nov 14, 2019
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Speaking of confidence: Bowman, an undrafted rookie, wormed his way into many watchers’ hearts with his willingness to go jaw-to-jaw—or, I guess, jaw-to-shoulder—with Hassan Whiteside after some extracurricular activity …
Ky Bowman ain’t taking that chicken wing from Hassan Whiteside without words
1:36 PM – Nov 5, 2019
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… and he just keeps earning more chances with his play as the Warriors’ lone healthy point guard. The Boston College product busts his ass on the defensive end; he’s fond of talking about how he’ll “pick up 94,” harassing opponents the length of the court. He’s also averaging 9.1 points, 2.6 assists, 2.2 rebounds, and 1.0 steals in 21.8 minutes per game on 48/44/92 shooting splits, and ranks second among rookies playing at least 10 minutes per game in assist-to-turnover ratio. He also just went toe-to-toe with Chris Paul and Shai Gilgeous-Alexander in a close loss to Oklahoma City, popping for 24 points, five assists, and three steals:
As a player on a two-way contract, Bowman can spend only 45 days with the Warriors before they have to either send him back to the G League or convert his contract into a full-time NBA deal, which would require opening up a roster spot. That could be tricky—Golden State is hard-capped, meaning it can’t exceed the “apron” (the point $6 million above the luxury tax threshold) at any point in any transaction, so they’d need to either waive a non-guaranteed player (like, say, big man Marquese Chriss) or make a trade where they send out a player and take in no salary in return to create a spot for Bowman.
If he keeps this up, though, GM Bob Myers might have to get creative. “Obviously, I want to keep him,” Kerr recently told reporters. “I think we feel really strongly about that.”
Goga Bitadze, Pacers
Ankle sprains for both Myles Turner and Domantas Sabonis pressed the 20-year-old Georgian into a larger role than anticipated early in his NBA career. But Bitadze responded to the challenge with some strong, steady minutes, quickly establishing himself as the sort of rim protector that opponents need to be mindful of as they probe the paint:
Bitadze leads all rookies in blocked shots, and ranks 17th among all players in swats per game. He’s rejecting 8.9 percent of opponents’ 2-point attempts during his floor time, which would be the third-highest block percentage of any rookie in the past 10 seasons to play at least 150 minutes, behind only the Celtics’ Robert Williams and the Knicks’ Mitchell Robinson last season. Opponents are shooting a minuscule 39.6 percent at the rim when Bitadze is defending, an elite rate; with him on the court, Indiana’s allowing a microscopic 100.6 points per 100 non-garbage-time possessions, a league-best-caliber defensive efficiency mark.
Some of that’s due to a conservative scheme under head coach Nate McMillan that calls for the 6-foot-11 Bitadze to drop back in pick-and-roll coverage and use his size and length to act as a deterrent at the rim, but he’s also flashed some quick feet when tracking drivers from the perimeter. For a 20-year-old to come in and instantly contribute to a top-10 defense is rare, and pretty special. When the rest of Bitadze’s game comes along, too—he’s taken only 11 3-pointers so far, but he’s got the touch to make them, and he’s shooting 76.5 percent from the foul line—the Pacers are going to have an awfully nice player on their hands … and, given the contracts they’ve handed out to Turner and Sabonis in the past couple of seasons, some very interesting roster management decisions to make.
Coby White, Bulls
I keep getting Patty Mills vibes when I watch White play. Maybe it’s the way he always seems to be bouncing on the balls of his feet as he springs toward the ball; maybe it’s the cool hair and smile. Maybe it’s that, like the Aussie, White can seemingly go from puttering around to wreathed in flames at the drop of a hat, as he did in incinerating the Knicks to the tune of 27 points in 27 minutes on 7-for-11 shooting from 3-point range:
As is often the case with young guards, White’s start in Chicago has been plagued by inconsistency. Look no further than his past two outings: 28 points on 12-for-19 shooting to support Zach LaVine’s superhuman effort on the road in Charlotte on Saturday, followed by a 3-for-13 stinker in a bad loss to the Blazers at home on Monday. He’s got the hops to get up and throw down, but he’s struggled with finishing inside, shooting just 46 percent on attempts at the rim. His defensive work has been spotty, too, though that’s something of a team-wide condition for the Bulls, who play a ramped-up and aggressive style that can create mistakes (no team forces turnovers on a higher share of opponents’ possessions) but can also get carved up (Portland scored 115.2 points per 100 possessions against the Bulls on Monday, repeatedly beating Chicago rotations with skip passes out of the high pick-and-roll).
The learning curve can be steep for rookie guards, especially ones stuck in combo roles on teams with veterans already entrenched in the backcourt. White might be in for an up-and-down season as he tries to navigate the uncertainty in Chicago. The ups ought to be pretty entertaining to watch, though.
De’Andre Hunter, Hawks
It’s been an awful couple of weeks for Atlanta, which has lost seven straight games and 10 of 11, completely pulverizing any of the good vibes created by Trae Young’s white-hot start. One silver lining as the losses mount, though: Hunter, the fourth pick in June’s draft, has started to come on after a slow offensive start to the season.
Through eight games, the former Virginia star was averaging 8.3 points and 1.4 assists in 27.4 minutes per game, shooting just 36.9 percent from the field and 23.1 percent from 3-point land. Over Atlanta’s past nine outings, though, Hunter has taken a step to fill the void left by John Collins’s PED suspension and Kevin Huerter’s shoulder injury, averaging 15.7 points and 2.2 assists in 34.3 minutes per game, while shooting 22-for-48 (45.8 percent) from long distance. He’s looked smooth and confident of late, willing to fire off the catch or probe with the dribble, get to his preferred spot, and either rise up for a jumper or use his 6-foot-8 frame and strength to burrow his way inside:
Everything in Atlanta revolves around Young, and his ability to stretch defenses past their breaking point with the threat of his pull-up shooting and preternatural court vision. Hunter can fit neatly into a complementary role in that ecosystem as a low-usage, defense-first athlete on the wing. If he’s capable of more than that, though—if he can soak up a larger share of possessions efficiently, hit 3s from the top of the floor as well as the corners, and put the ball on the deck to take it right at shot blockers and finish with authority—he could wind up adding some interesting wrinkles to what’s already a pretty compelling collection of young talent in Georgia.
RJ Barrett, Knicks
I wrote a bit about the sunny side of Barrett’s game in my guide to surviving yet another dire Knicks season a couple of weeks back, and he continues to rank among the rookie leaders in scoring (fourth, at 15.1 points per game), rebounding (second, 5.6), assists (second, 3.6) and steals (first, 1.4) as he toils away on a strong contender for Worst Team In The League status. One other thing worth monitoring: Barrett’s free throw shooting has started to tick up, from 44.3 percent through his first 10 games to 63.6 percent over his past six. Not exactly Mark Price, I’ll grant you, but the more consistently the 19-year-old can knock down his freebies, the more dangerous he becomes as a driver and bull-in-a-china-shop offensive rebounder.
Terence Davis, Raptors
I highlighted the Ole Miss product’s emergence last Friday. On Monday, he chipped in 11 points on 5-for-8 shooting with three rebounds and an assist in 21 minutes as the Raptors outlasted the 76ers. More importantly, when he was hit with a bogus foul on Josh Richardson early in the fourth quarter, the basketball gods intervened on his behalf: