Almost a year ago, Anthony Slater wrote an article for the Bay Area News Group about how Patrick McCaw essentially controlled his own financial destiny entering his second year in a “tricky contract situation.”
At that time, as many may recall, Golden State Warriors fans had high hopes for McCaw — not only had he shown promise as “a long, rangy, versatile, two-way wing” as Slater described, but Andre Iguodala had also given him high praise during the Warriors’ 2017 NBA championship parade by announcing to DubNation and the world that “McCaw is next.”
And that notion that McCaw would flourish as Iguodala’s understudy — and Iguodala’s open praise, which includes a comparison to former Chicago Bulls starter Ron Harper — has been a large part of what kept people optimistic about McCaw. Iguodala said during the 2017 playoff run that he was trying to get McCaw a “second round max”. McCaw had a Vegas summer league performance that had Bram Kincheloe and I ready to enshrine the man in the Naismith Hall of Fame last year. Slater reported that the coaching staff felt that the Warriors’ coaching staff believed that he was “capable of 20-plus productive minutes per night” on a championship squad looking to win their third championship in four years after adding Kevin Durant.
Dude was becoming a cult hero on Warriors Twitter. There was little concern about whether McCaw would get better; everyone just sort of assumed he would get better.
As McCaw said last year in Slater’s article, his second year was clearly going to be “huge” for him — not just in trying to boost his seemingly obvious value on the free agent market but simply because he had quite a bit of hype to live up to. And the significance of that leap from Year 1 to Year 2 was something that coach Steve Kerr put into perspective well in Slater’s article.
“I think the biggest jump you ever make in your career is between Year 1 and 2,” coach Steve Kerr said. “Year 1 you realize you can play in this league. Now he’s realizing he can be really good in this league.”
And yet nothing went as forecasted for McCaw: by the All-Star break, McCaw had asked to her be assigned to the Warriors’ G-League affiliate in Santa Cruz. Billed as a crisis of confidence by most, McCaw described how his drive to succeed was pushing him to overthink things. After returning from a late-season ankle injury, McCaw suffered what looked like a catastrophic back injury in Sacramento that kept him out until the 2018 Western Conference Finals.
So there’s no easy way to say this: McCaw’s 2017-18 season was a letdown for a player who fits the mold of a player in line with the latest NBA trends and had every reason to expect that the market for his services would be “fierce”, as Slater wrote a year ago.
The Warriors have made it clear they want McCaw back and extended him a qualifying offer, as expected, to officially make him a restricted free agent — the Warriors have been expecting him to get offers from other teams all season and are encouraging him to seek them out now.
Golden State has extended the qualifying offer to guard Patrick McCaw, making him a restricted free agent, league sources tell ESPN.— Chris Haynes (@ChrisBHaynes) June 26, 2018
And yet, as Brady Klopfer alluded to yesterday, McCaw has likely played himself out of any type of big money:
Ultimately, McCaw will almost surely be back in Warriors colors next year. The team can match any contract offer he receives, and they seem inclined to. And, in an offseason where the league’s money is tight, it seems highly unlikely that any team will throw enough money at a career 4.0 points per game player to make Golden State reconsider.
That is great for the Warriors but anti-climactic for a player who entered the season with such high hopes.
A low-usage sophomore slump
It’s hard to talk about McCaw’s season without talk about what looked like a potentially career-halting back injury — it looked bad, the initial prognosis was grim and both teammates and opponents were sending prayers up for the man. Nobody wants to see that and, similar to what he has said about the situation, it’s awesome that we can even still talk about McCaw’s career in a future tense right now — maybe that’s an exaggeration, but you can understand why he feels that way.
At the time of McCaw’s injury, Brady noted that McCaw was, “...averaging 3.7 points, 1.5 rebounds, and 1.4 assists per game, while shooting 24.6% from three-point range. He hasn’t made a three-pointer since the start of the calendar year, and hasn’t scored a point in three February contests.”
However, plenty of players have rebounded from putting up similar numbers early in their careers, including Kerr — Kerr struggled his first few years before eventually hitting a championship-winning shot with an assist from Michael Jordan. So there’s some hope there.
What’s far more ominous for McCaw’s future, statistically-speaking, is his extremely low usage percentage.
McCaw finished the season with a usage percentage of 12.8%, true shooting percentage of .477, and 3-point percentage of 23.8%. There are plenty of primers for to help you understand those numbers if you’re unfamiliar with them, but the easiest way to put those numbers in perspective is probably to just look at the list of players in NBA history who have put up similar second year numbers in the past.
3-point rate — the percentage of a player’s field goal attempts that came from beyond the 3-point line — is more predictive than 3-point percentage, according to the 538 Blog; searching for players across NBA history with a similar usage, efficiency, and 3-point rate to McCaw yields more former coaches than stars.
Usage and efficiency similar to Patrick McCaw among second year players in NBA history.
Throw in McCaw’s relatively low free throw rate — considered a reflection of “a player’s ability to work effectively in the paint,” according to 538 Blog — and you get a very small list of players who made a career for themselves in the NBA, but could be generously described as “non-elite”.
To be clear, none of this is deterministic — it’s not hard to imagine reasons that McCaw struggled so badly this season and the Warriors certainly don’t need ball-dominant high uage players anyway. But the track record for players putting up numbers this anemic in their second year is not positive, to say the least.
In Nate Silver’s 2018-19 player projections, McCaw is projected to have a total +/- of -3.0 next season, which is below replacement-level and, unsurprisingly, near the bottom of the league. McCaw’s relatively young age saves him from the cellar of Silver’s seven-year projections, but still reflects a struggling player with limited upside.
Was McCaw a victim of the team’s regular season malaise?
We’ve talked so much about the Warriors’ lackadaisical play during the 2017-18 regular season that it seems difficult to ignore when talking about the development of a player praised for his ability to patience and poise in playing next to veteran stars on a championship team.
They never seemed to take the regular season seriously and then McCaw got injured right as the playoffs approach — as a role player who was expected to rely on stars for production, is it really that much of a stretch to suggest that his comments about wanting to find his rhythm in the D-League was somehow related to the team’s struggles with rhythm as a whole? As he struggled on the court and thus struggled to earn minutes, did the team’s own struggles leave too few reps for a developing “glue guy” to build that rhythm?
Maybe the problem really is just overthinking things on the court, as both McCaw and Kerr mentioned specifically this past December, according to an article by Mark Medina of the San Jose Mercury News.
“The second season doesn’t automatically make things easier just because you had a good rookie year. Sometimes teams adjust and adapt,” Kerr said. “In Pat’s case, he just needs to play and not think too much. He’s so smart, he’s such a smart player and sometimes his brain gets in his own way. If he’d just rely on his talent, and react, and not worry about making mistakes, then he’ll do better.”
Regardless of how we explain McCaw’s struggles in his second year, the fact is that the struggles lessened the risk of the Warriors losing a well-liked member.
In the comments of yesterday’s article about the Warriors’ interest in keeping McCaw, GSoM community member Missing Barry wrote, “That reads to me like the Warriors don’t think there’s going to be much of a market for him and want to let the market cap put a cap on how much they offer him…” — it’s nearly impossible not to agree with that sentiment.
Maybe some team sees promise in a young two-way wing in this world of small ball and decides to throw some money at him. Maybe reckless general manager throws money at him to force the Warriors into a salary cap bind. But McCaw’s 2017-18 season has placed a pretty clear cap on his value on the free agent market; that’s great for the Warriors’ roster-building purposes, but an unfortunate fall from premature legend status for McCaw individually.
How would you grade Patrick McCaw’s 2017-18 season?
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