2023 NBA mock draft: Warriors select Noah Clowney

As we do every year, SB Nation spent the last week completing our own 2023 NBA Mock Draft. You can find the full results from the first round here.

I was assigned to play the newly promoted Mike Dunleavy Jr. and pick the Golden State Warriors at No. 19. With the important caveat that no trades are allowed, I chose to go a route that might upset some fans…

Pick No. 19 – Noah Clowney, C, Alabama

Info: 18 years, 11 months old, 6’10, 210 pounds, rightfully so

2022-23 statistics: 25.4 minutes, 9.8 points, 7.9 rebounds, 0.8 assists, 0.9 blocks, 0.6 steals, 1.3 turnovers and 2.5 fouls per game.

I am well aware that many Warriors fans do not like this pick. Clowney is one of the youngest players in the draft, which is not exactly who you would put for the Dubs. Golden State is in clear win-now mode and already has a handful of young, raw prospects fighting for minutes and taking up valuable guard spots.

So why did I pick a player who won’t turn 19 until he’s in Las Vegas playing in Summer League?

A few reasons…

Reality check

Mike Tyson once famously said, “Everybody has a plan until they get punched in the mouth.” The NBA version of that quote would probably go something like this: “Everybody wants an NBA-ready player until they pick No. 19 in the draft.”

OK, that might be a little editorial on my part, but the point remains. Trying to draft a win-now player is a futile gamble no matter where you pick, but it’s an especially futile gamble in the mid-late first round.

Look at last year’s draft and see how many players taken at No. 19 or later would have helped the Warriors in their rookie year (or even in their upcoming sophomore year). You can only make a case for two: Christian Braun, who just won a title with the Denver Nuggets but was forced into action due to a lack of depth at the position and whom the advanced stats absolutely hate; and Walker Kessler, who became a quality player in large part because he played for one team (the Utah Jazz), who didn’t try to win, and was able to play him big minutes.

The reality is, if you’re trying to draft a player that can help you win in the short term, you’re much better off just trading the pick. And I couldn’t trade the pick (another option is to move down in the draft against the four-year players, but since I couldn’t trade down either, I’m operating under the assumption that the Warriors will use a mid-first round pick on a mid- first round player, and not overdraft).

I should also add to this: There is a narrative that the Warriors have too many young players, and I’m not sure that’s true. Yes, if they don’t make a trade, they enter the season with five young, unproven players in Jonathan Kuminga, Moses Moody, Ryan Rollins, Patrick Baldwin Jr., and No. 19. But that still leaves them four veteran contracts to dish out beyond their core of Steph Curry, Klay Thompson, Draymond Green, Andrew Wiggins, Kevon Looney and Jordan Poole (assuming they keep all six), and a trio of two-way contracts. A roster that is 10-deep with proven veteran players and Kuminga and Moody are, in my opinion, plenty deep enough to handle loading the back end with raw prospects.

With that out of the way…

Why Clowney?

Let me start by offering two scouting reports.

The first, from The Caller’s Kevin O’Connor:

Super mobile defender with a 7-foot-2 wingspan and great energy. He hustles constantly and shows a willingness to step in front of drives to contest shots. He makes second and third efforts, and does so with great awareness and anticipation. Despite his youth, he also shows good discipline by not biting on fakes.

Projects as a versatile part of a defense that asks its bigs to switch, hedge and release depending on the opponent. He had one play against Houston where he secured a ball screen, recovered to his original man, then rotated to a corner 3-shooter and elevated to block his shot. A combination of athleticism, effort and intelligence was required to make the play.

Hard-nosed rebounder who boxes out and fights for the boards.

Versatile threat with ball screens as he could become a shooter and is already adept on the roll. He has soft hands to catch hard passes, and in the paint he has great patience to go up for layups.

And the other, from NBA.com’s Taylor C. Snow:

He is a long, talented athlete who looks like a natural basketball player on the court, yet his jumper is inconsistent and he possesses no post moves. However, his jumper is free-flowing and smooth; I think it will improve a lot over time … He has a good touch around the basket and finishes above the rim regularly. I love his body control and he shows great patience with the ball… If he finds it pops out and develops some post moves, he’s going to be in the NBA for a long time… a great rebounder. He possesses elite timing, and combined with that length and good hands, is able to snag loose balls out of the air before other players reach them…does a great job of contesting shots around the basket. His length is a legitimate weapon and his body control allows him to compete without fouling. The tools are all there … to become a very versatile defender in the NBA.

Here’s the catch: only one of those scouting reports, the first one, is about Clowney. The other is about Kevon Looney.

We know the Warriors haven’t always had the best success from a developmental standpoint, but we know they’ve done an excellent job with Looney and he’s a perfect fit for the system. The Dubs have been looking for his backup for ages…why not go with a clone?

The short-term play

While I stand by what I said about NBA-ready players not being reliably available at No. 19, and while it’s true that Clowney is extremely young, I think he has a real chance to play meaningful minutes as a rookie.

Here’s a blurb from The Athletic’s Sam Vecenie:

I think Clowney is most impressive as a potential switch defender right now. Has real potential to be switchable in ball screens, which can make him incredibly valuable in high leverage situations. Uses his length to really impact plays. Contests shots at a very high level on the perimeter.

It’s not exactly a secret that if you want to play minutes as a youngster for Steve Kerr, you have to be a quality defenseman (or a lightning bolt on offense, a la Poole).

If Clowney can provide smart, disciplined and talented shifty defense as a rookie, he will play. Maybe not much, but he wants to play. The Warriors will take 10-12 minutes from a long, shifty big with strong defensive instincts and good rebounding over JaMychal Green eight days a week.

It’s an if, but it’s an if it’s on the table. Clowney may be one of the youngest players in the draft, but he’s also one of the closest players in the draft to being able to provide defensive value in the NBA.

The long-term play

Despite the mediocre numbers from distance and the free throw line, scouts are high on Clowney’s ability to be a shooter down the road. Even if he isn’t, he sets good enough screens, makes good enough decisions, and is talented enough to finish around the rim (with soft hands!) that he should have a high future working the pick and roll with Curry on similar way how Looney does. And if the shot develops? Then he becomes the pick and pop threat that so many imagined would happen with James Wiseman.

For a player with his length, athleticism and instincts, it’s fair to project Clowney as a quality defender. Even if it doesn’t happen this year, it will probably happen eventually. Quality defensive stores aren’t exactly easy to come by, as the Warriors veteran’s minimum signings have unfortunately proven. Clowney could be a chance to get one in the system and under team control.

In summary

Do I think the Warriors will draft a player as young as Clowney as currently built? No. I think adding a three- or four-year college player is more likely if they keep the watch as it is, but there’s a very good chance they’ll make a pick with the assumption that one or two of their young players will be traded in the coming weeks. That makes it easier to pick an 18-year-old (and easier to sell it to Draymond as they work to re-sign him…).

But if they do what I think they should, and look for immediate help in free agency and trades, instead of in the draft … you could do a lot worse than drafting someone cut from the same mold as your starting center. Clowney could provide immediate help on defense and long-term value all over the field. You can’t ask for much more from No. 19.

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