Buried in Mike Dunleavy Jr.’s lengthy introductory press conference Monday morning was a single question about Thursday’s NBA Draft and a brief admission from the Warriors’ new general manager about an approach that affected the back end of last season’s struggling rotation.
“You could argue last year we were too young in some ways,” Dunleavy said. “Yeah. That’s what we’ll take a look at after the draft has passed.”
The Warriors added five teenagers in the previous three drafts: James Wiseman, Jonathan Kuminga, Moses Moody, Patrick Baldwin Jr. and Ryan Rollins. The first three, all lottery picks, were expected to be ready for elevated roles. The last two, Baldwin and Rollins, were not.
Add in the mostly inactive Andre Iguodala and the empty 15th spot (for tax reasons) and seven of the team’s 15 roster spots were either inconsequential or unknown from a pitching perspective. It stymied them at several points during a rocky regular season that bled into a second-round playoff flameout. They didn’t have an extra veteran like Damion Lee or Juan Toscano-Anderson or Nemanja Bjelica to go to in a pinch.
Wiseman was flipped to Gary Payton II at the trade deadline. Moody and Kuminga have grown and should be more reliable in their third season. Baldwin at least flashed as a floor spacer when he got a short run. Rollins broke his foot and remains far from rotation legitimacy. There is an expectation that the 15th slot will remain vacant again, given the tax bill.
So the problem at the back of the list may not be as serious, but it remains. That can be better resolved during July free agency on the minimum market, where the Warriors must find value. But the draft is the first domino of the offseason, the Warriors have the 19th pick, and that begs the question: Can they even afford to add another newbie to the mix, and if they do, is it a prerequisite that they identify a lighter (perhaps older) customer who could theoretically help more quickly?
“I’ll let Mike handle it because it’s his responsibility,” Warriors owner Joe Lacob said before deflecting with a joke. “I’m just going to say they all seem young to me so…I’m a lot older so they’re all young.”
“I think our main focus is to draft a really good basketball player,” Dunleavy said. “Like Joe said, it’s pretty hard not to draft a young guy. The difference between 19 and 23, for sure. You can debate that. I think our focus is to draft players who are actually good at basketball.”
Warriors draft options
Let’s get into what the Warriors can do with the 19th overall pick.
Despite their tax bill rising into previously untouchable territory and the new second base looming as a major issue during the 2024 offseason, league sources indicate they won’t make pure salary-cutting deals this summer and there will be a competitive purpose with their moving.
That would preclude a giveaway of the 19th pick just to avoid the guaranteed salary. The 19th pick is projected to make $2.75 million in his first season and $2.9 million in his second season. That’s greater than the veteran minimum (tied to exponential tax penalties), but it’s not enough of a difference to avoid the salary altogether. But if they trade down for an additional asset or out of the draft for a veteran or future draft pick, keep that aspect in mind.
The Warriors have plenty of prospects they are looking at with the 19th pick. Most of the players they brought into the facility expected in that area are on the older (Readers) side. That includes Kris Murray, Jaime Jaquez Jr., Trayce Jackson-Davis and Brandin Podziemski. All four are perennial college players already in their 20s.
But they don’t avoid the idea of a younger upside swing entirely. For example, they scheduled a workout with Dereck Lively II, but he pulled out the day before. Lively is a raw center with some elite measurables, theoretical defensive tools, and a long way to go offensively. He is 19 and just finished his freshman season at Duke. If he drops to 19, there would be interest from the Warriors, who need to add more size this summer.
But will he drop to 19? Lively’s representatives do not think so. That seems to be the reason they canceled practice in San Francisco. Which is a problem the Warriors have encountered in this draft cycle. In 2021, the year they had the seventh and 14th picks, it was easy for them to get almost any lottery pick in the building. This time, when they’re 19, it’s hard for them to get many prospects in their mid-teens because agents won’t even entertain the notion that their guy could drop to 19.
But history suggests there will be a few prospects who slip through the cracks and are still there when the Warriors are on the clock. Just because they didn’t (or couldn’t) solve them doesn’t mean they aren’t interested. What if a Gradey Dick falls? He’s a motion shooter who could fit well in Steve Kerr’s system, which is a factor for Dunleavy as he rebuilds this roster.
“What works for our team might not work for other teams,” Dunleavy said. “Knowing what our coaching staff likes and what works here is an important part of the evaluation.”
What the latest Warriors draft history tells us
The Warriors have a win-now streak in their recent past that serves as a cautionary tale in the front office. In 2018, after a second straight title, they drafted Jacob Evans with the 28th pick, believing he profiled as an older, helpful, versatile wing who could step into the rotation, even if his upside wasn’t huge .
Evans was never able to help. They traded him in the middle of his second season. He was out of the league before his third season. After Evans, here are some players selected in the next 14 picks: Jalen Brunson, Mitchell Robinson, Gary Trent Jr., Jarred Vanderbilt and Bruce Brown.
It may be unlikely for a contender to find a rookie in the draft, especially outside of the lottery, who can help a title team right away. It takes time for someone to influence winning, but it’s nowhere near unprecedented. Just look at the final draft. Christian Braun was 21st overall. Walker Kessler went 22nd. Being in the Rudy Gobert business, Kessler was so good as a rookie some people were already convinced he was better than Gobert. Braun was just a positive rotation piece for the NBA champion Nuggets.
Warriors trade options
There have been various trade ideas floating around the Warriors’ front office over the past few weeks. Their phone lines have been open. The increased aggressiveness in seeking out the landscape has been the talk of the league.
One of the probing conversations that emerged, via ESPN, was a swap scenario involving Kuminga. My understanding is that it was an inbound call from a team in the lottery that has registered regular interest in Kuminga going back a year. Several team sources have been adamant that the Warriors are not trading Kuminga around.
But continued league-wide interest in his talent tied to an unknown spot in Kerr’s rotation as he approaches his third season has thrown his future into doubt. Kuminga for a top 10 pick would be a mini-draft night blockbuster and could make sense if the Warriors love someone in, say, the Pacers lineup — Anthony Black maybe? — but would only reset the youth movement further.
“Jonathan has shown progress and growth in his first two years,” Dunleavy said. “Unfortunately for him, the playing time has not been there. It’s on all of our shoulders to figure out how to get him more into the game. It’s on Jonathan’s shoulders to improve and make the right adjustments to his game, as well as our front office, our coaching staff to figure out what works.”
Kuminga’s future opportunity (and spot in the pecking order) is at least partially tied to Draymond Green. Should the Green situation go sideways over the next few weeks, should he walk away from the Warriors for a more expensive offer on the open market, Kuminga would suddenly step into a massive role. He could start at power forward and would find himself in various lineup combinations with better spacing.
But if Green stays — and that remains the most likely scenario, as both sides still believe a deal can be reached on a multi-year deal — then Kuminga is still somewhat buried in the frontcourt rotation, behind Andrew Wiggins, Green and Kevon Looney and even re-acquired Payton.
But answers will come in the coming days and weeks.
(Photo by Jonathan Kuminga: Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images)