Patrick McCaw played the best basketball of his career in the spring of 2017, late in his rookie season. With Kevin Durant out due to injury, McCaw was a starter on one of the hottest teams in the league. He was a promising defender, capable shooter, and great complement to the Stephen Curry-led offense.
The Warriors bought the draft rights to McCaw from the Bucks without giving up any valuable assets, and he immediately became one of the most important young players on the team. Some even thought he’d be the heir apparent to the aging Andre Iguodala.
But last year, in his second season, McCaw regressed. McCaw became invisible during most of his playing time, rarely touching the ball on offense and passing up open shots. Defensively, he struggled to contain larger wings because of his thin frame.
The culprit for his sophomore slump was mainly his shot. He shot only 23.8% from three last year, much worse than his 33% during his rookie year. This led to McCaw playing extremely passively on offense, recording one of the lowest usage rates of any player in the league.
This phenomenon has happened multiple times on recent Warriors teams. Because of the abundance of star power, the role players have second thoughts about pulling the trigger, and become passive rather than assertive on offense. Omri Casspi also had trouble shooting threes, and even Nick Young said he was more hesitant about pulling up from deep on the Warriors.
The season ended even worse: McCaw’s scary injury in March robbed him almost the entire rest of the season. Although it didn’t turn out to be as dangerous as it looked, it was still an awful end to a disappointing season for him. Heading into restricted free agency, I thought he would easily accept the Warriors’ qualifying offer, because no other offers would materialize.
McCaw’s holdout was surprising and confusing, but it worked: his two-year, six million contract with the Cavaliers is more money than the Warriors offered, and he should get a better chance to work on his game there. Playing on the Warriors may have hindered his growth: as a young player, it’s probably better to work on all aspects of the game rather than committing to be a low-usage role player right away. On the Cavs, McCaw should receive opportunities to make plays that he never would’ve gotten with the Warriors.
So what can we take away from the McCaw experience? One is that being a role player on a star-studded team is not easy. Many players do not excel at playing at a championship level in a small role, and asking young players to do so is not always going to work.
Another recent second-round draft pick, Jordan Bell, is also struggling after a promising rookie year. I don’t worry as much about Bell as I did about McCaw, because Bell’s athleticism, defensive potential, and playmaking should lead to a productive career. With his restricted free agency approaching, Bell too might want to go to a team that will give him more opportunities than he’s given now.
It’s hard to groom talent on a team that has championship aspirations. With Damian Jones, Kevon Looney, and Jordan Bell, the Warriors may have exceeded expectations already. Losing McCaw as an asset hurts a little bit, but finding Alfonzo McKinnie, who has outplayed him in the same role, has helped lessen the blow.
I wish Patrick McCaw a bright future with the Cavaliers. Hopefully, he gets his career back on track by taking advantage of a larger role.