NBA Draft 2022: Warriors’ G League usage brings confidence late in first round

NBA Draft 2022: Warriors' G League usage brings confidence late in first round

SAN FRANCISCO — Exactly one week ago, the Warriors beat the Boston Celtics 103-90 at TD Garden in Game 6 of the NBA Finals to win their fourth title in the last eight seasons. And in the blink of an eye, the 2022 NBA Draft is here.

Jordan Poole scored 15 points off the bench and hit three 3-pointers during the Warriors’ historic 21-0 run in the series-clinching victory. Three years ago, Golden State grabbed Poole out of Michigan with the No. 28 overall pick. They find themselves in the same spot this year after owning two lottery picks last year.

General manager Bob Myers told reporters Wednesday that the Warriors had 15 to 20 people on the ninth floor of Chase Center watching film of draft prospects and getting their big board together. Poole is Exhibit A of finding value late in the first round, a slot that usually doesn’t turn into a rising star.

No matter which direction the Warriors go with their first of three picks in this year’s draft, coach Steve Kerr fully trusts in Myers’ decision. There’s strong buzz the Warriors could push to trade the pick. If they do decide to add a player with the pick, they have every right to have all the confidence in the world with their selection.

The numbers speak for themselves.

“I trust Bob and his staff,” Kerr told reporters Wednesday. “When you’re picking 28th or 30th, there’s such a low chance of hitting, and the reality is our guys upstairs have hit for a really high average. You just look at the Finals, drafting Jordan and [Kevon Looney]. …Between those two guys, and going back, [Draymond Green] at 35 and [Festus Ezeli] before he got injured he was a really valuable player for us.

“So our group has done an amazing job late in the first round, into the second round. I’m glad it’s not my job. I just coach whoever they put out there, but they’ve done a great job putting our rosters together .”

Myers became Warriors GM in April 2012, and Kerr was hired as their head coach in May 2014. Since Myers stepped into his role, he has made late first-round draft picks like Ezeli at 30 in 2012, Looney at 30 in 2015, Damion Jones at 30 in 2016, Jacob Evans at 28 in 2018 and Poole at 28 in 2019. That doesn’t even include Green in the second round of his first draft at No. 35 overall.

Among those picks, Evans is the only real disaster. He has lasted 57 games with the Warriors, averaging 2.9 points and 1.2 rebounds per game. Jones didn’t exactly grow into a star over his three years with the Warriors, but he at least started 22 games his final season with them and even started Game 3 of the 2019 Western Conference finals against the Portland Trail Blazers.

This past season with the Sacramento Kings, Jones scored 17 points both times he played the Warriors and put up at least 20 points three times on the season. At 26 years old, his career is far from over.

To have two franchise cornerstones in Poole and Looney drafted that late and contributing players in Jones and Ezeli is remarkable. With a decade of experience under his belt, Myers now feels even more comfortable with finding value late in the draft. A lot of that has to do with how much better the Warriors are utilizing their G League affiliate in Santa Cruz.

“If the question is player development, structure, organization — yeah, we’re better,” Myers said when asked if the Warriors are better positioned to bring on rookies now than they were in 2018 when they took Evans. “We’re utilizing the G League better.”

As Myers continued his answer, one name he mentioned is Mujtaba Elgoodah, who has been with the organization for nearly four years but just finished his first full season as manager of team development. Elgoodah is a liaison of sorts on and off the court for the Warriors and has a key voice in Santa Cruz. For the Warriors’ G League affiliate, he helps assist the GM with scouting, draft interviews, strategy and more.

Santa Cruz coach Seth Cooper was always seen around the big club during practices and games at home and on the road throughout the NBA playoffs.

The Warriors trusted sending Klay Thompson to G League practice when coming back from his two leg injuries. They trusted Santa Cruz when trying to get James Wiseman back this season. Sending Poole to the Orlando G League bubble in February of 2021 was a major turning point in his young career. Jonathan Kuminga, the No. 7 pick in last year’s draft, played six games with Santa Cruz this past season, and Moses Moody, the No. 14 pick last year, played in five.

“Our Santa Cruz affiliate is so strong and the connection is so strong between the coaching staffs and the roster,” Myers said. “Now, compared to six, seven years ago, it’s completely different. We’ve got such a strong connection.

“We’re monitoring development every single day. We’re running the exact same offense, the same terminology, and that really matters. So when we send a guy to Santa Cruz and he comes back, he’s got a head start. We didn’t ‘t have that seven, eight years ago. We also have more development coaches and more people in our training room, and so each guy, each young guy is getting more and more individual attention, and so that matters.”

The reality also is that with the Warriors’ need to find even bigger roles for young players next season such as Poole, Wiseman, Kuminga and Moody, Golden State’s desire to trade the pick could increase, but Myers and the rest of the front office might be even more inclined to take a swing.

Without giving away all their secrets, Myers hinted that the Warriors’ plan of attack is to take the best player available at No. 28 instead of trying to find a player that perfectly fits their theoretical roster. Perhaps that makes them likely to shoot for potential or a draft-and-stash type of player.

Good luck finding major minutes as a rookie next season.

RELATED: Warriors’ last three top picks have big opportunity ahead

“I don’t think we’ll draft tomorrow and say, ‘Well, that guy is going to play 20 minutes a night,'” Myers said. “I don’t believe we will do that. We might look ahead two years, three years and say, ‘Maybe in three years he can help us.'”

There’s no way around it: Every draft is a major gamble. There’s no exact science to all this. Finding the answers just becomes that much harder the later your top selection is slotted.

Luckily for the Warriors, history is on their side.

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