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Deep-dive: How will Donte DiVincenzo fit with the Warriors?

Looking at how DiVincenzo will fill the shoes of Gary Payton II.

Golden State Warriors v Sacramento Kings Photo by Rocky Widner/NBAE via Getty Images

The Golden State Warriors’ offseason has been somewhat of a bittersweet endeavor. Amidst the departures of beloved role players and valued contributors, the fact that a championship was just won has pretty much been forgotten — or set aside toward the fringes of the subconscious.

Kevon Looney opted to stay with the organization that drafted him, cultivated his talent, and gives him the comfort of familiarity. Gary Payton II opted for financial security, a completely valid reason for someone who has toiled his way toward deserved recognition. Otto Porter Jr. was always expected to be a one-off signing, a rehabilitation project who used the prestige of a winning culture to springboard himself toward renewed relevance.

What should be taken into consideration concerning the recent signing of Donte DiVincenzo to a two-year, $9.3 million contract — a clear move to compensate for the loss of Payton II — is the Warriors’ knack for taking injury-plagued causes and turning them into positive-impact pieces.

Porter Jr. is one successful case. Shaun Livingston was forced into a life of a journeyman due to a devastating knee injury, before he found his way to the Warriors and became a foundational piece of their dynasty. DiVincenzo becomes the latest low-risk, high-reward undertaking that could pay dividends.

DiVincenzo doesn’t have Payton II’s pedigree in terms of elite perimeter defense. The combination of size and shooting that Porter Jr. provided isn’t something he’ll replicate with the Warriors. He lacks the height and length that made Livingston such an invaluable part of the Warriors’ versatile switch-everything scheme; at a height of 6’4”, his 6’6” wingspan grades out as “decent”, but not above average.

What stands out about his profile as a defender, however, is his defensive IQ. In an ecosystem that requires a high level of schematic understanding — and one that is led by arguably the brightest defensive mind to have ever graced an NBA court — DiVincenzo raises the collective intelligence of a unit that already has a ton of it.

Stationing a 6’4” wing as the help-side low man can be counterproductive, considering how players with that profile provide little in terms of effective rim protection. But DiVincenzo makes up for a lack of disruptive length with timely positioning.

Timely positioning coupled with anticipatory guile defines DiVincenzo as an off-ball defender. He gets his hands within tight corridors, deflecting ill-advised handoffs and short passes. His understanding of passing lanes, as well as his excellent ball-tracking skills, has garnered him plenty of deflections and steals. He’s a good helper at the nail (free-throw line area), showing early help and stunting/digging at middle penetration, which occasionally forces turnovers.

He’s not as explosive as Payton II, nor does he cap off defensive possessions with the same kind of panache — but it doesn’t take away from his effectiveness as a thief.

Payton II led the league in steals per 36 minutes (2.8) last season. DiVincenzo won’t replicate that kind of production, but assuming he regains his peak form, he can come fairly close to it.

During the 2019-20 season, his 2.1 steals per 36 placed him 9th overall, while his steal rate of 2.6% tied him for 7th. He put up 2.0 steals per 36 in 25 games with the Sacramento Kings — a mark equivalent to 7th last season had he played more games — and a steal rate of 2.7%, equivalent to 4th.

Another hallmark of DiVincenzo’s defense is his screen navigation. His effort and high motor when fighting around screens stand out, enabling him to stay relatively close to his assignments.

Before injuring a ligament in his left ankle during the 2020-21 season, DiVincenzo was one of the more underrated off-ball defenders. The process toward regaining his pre-injury form — as well as inconsistent playing time — has seen him suffer a slight drop-off in that department, but in an environment that will allow him to recover and thrive as a defender, it’s not far-fetched to expect him to do things like these:

When defending off-ball screening action during his tenure with the Kings, DiVincenzo allowed 12 points on 19 recorded possessions — a stingy 0.63 points per possession on such play types, per Synergy. It’s a small sample size, but it’s still indicative of his excellence as a chaser and tracker around screens.

As an on-ball defender, DiVincenzo isn’t as adventurous as Payton II. He isn’t as handsy, and he rarely risks reaching in to strip the ball. The difference is evident when you compare foul rates: DiVincenzo averaged 2.5 fouls per 75 possessions last season, while Payton II averaged nearly 4 fouls per 75 possessions.

DiVincenzo can handle like-sized guards, occasionally using physicality to overwhelm them on drives. Bigger wings present more of a challenge, and while he can briefly hold his own on switches against bigs, he can’t last long on them, which may necessitate him being scram switched (off-ball switch between a small and a big to erase potential mismatches) out of such matchups.

DiVincenzo may not be able to switch up the positional spectrum in the same manner that Payton II could, but his fundamentally sound 1-on-1 defense against matchups he can handle stands out. Having previously played with an elite help defender in Giannis Antetokounmpo, he’s adept in funneling his man toward help — and it’s not hard to imagine him doing the same with an all-time help defender in Draymond Green behind him.

One aspect of DiVincenzo’s game that has often flown under the radar is his rebounding. He averages nearly 7 rebounds per 75 possessions for his career — a huge number for a 6’4” guard. Stephen Curry, considered an above-average rebounder at the guard position, averages nearly 5 rebounds per 75 possessions for his career.

On a team that already has rebounding hounds in Kevon Looney and Andrew Wiggins, DiVincenzo adds an additional element of board crashing that can compensate for the lack of vertical size across the board.

On offense, DiVincenzo profiles as more of a spot-up threat compared to Payton II, while also being able to handle the ball on occasion as a creator and playmaker in a pinch, although that shouldn’t be his primary role on a roster that already contains plenty of capable on-ball operators.

He’s a career 34.7% shooter from beyond the arc, which isn’t extraordinary — but it also isn’t terrible. His career-high came during the 2020-21 season, where he shot 37.9% on threes on 5.2 attempts per game. Relative to Payton II, he’s an upgrade in terms of spacing equity.

With the Kings, he shot 46-of-109 on catch-and-shoot threes — a nifty 42.2%:

DiVincenzo will never be able to replicate Payton’s screening ability, downhill explosiveness as a roller, and finishing at the rim as a lob threat. But being better as a ball handler gives him a slight edge in terms of playmaking. His 16.1% assist rate last season is a career high, perhaps boosted by being on a team that demanded a bit more from him as an on-ball creator.

One particular possession stood out — one that meshed his ability to pass out of the pick-and-roll and subsequently relocate toward valuable real estate to make himself available for a corner three:

But DiVincenzo’s most valuable role on this Warriors offense is probably his ability to cut into space. On the Milwaukee Bucks, attention-sucking teammates in Antetokounmpo and Khris Middleton opened up cutting lanes along the baseline, as well as 45 cuts from the wing and the slot.

On the Kings, teaming up with a highly capable low-post passer such as Domantas Sabonis allowed DiVincenzo to take advantage of defenses’ relative inattention toward him. It’s safe to say he’ll continue that tradition with the likes of Curry, Klay Thompson, and Jordan Poole sucking the attention.

DiVincenzo isn’t Payton II — which is why he’s receiving part of the Warriors’ taxpayer mid-level exception, and Payton II opted for a much deserved payday of $28 million over three years. The Warriors chose savings over a potential $60 million added to their luxury tax bill, and that may cost them on the court down the line.

But DiVincenzo is by no means a bad low-cost option. Barring injuries, there’s a fairly good chance he will contribute on both ends of the floor and play his way toward a lucrative situation down the line — much like what happened with Payton II and Porter Jr.

He has earned the chance to prove himself, while the front office — as much as their decision to let go of a beloved impact player on a championship-winning team ruffled feathers — has earned the benefit of the doubt.