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How Brandin Podziemski flashed rotation-ready skills against the Timberwolves

Podziemski took the opportunity given to him and ran with it.

In-Season Tournament - Minnesota Timberwolves v Golden State Warriors Photo by Noah Graham/NBAE via Getty Images

If you predicted Brandin Podziemski to be the second player on the Golden State Warriors this season to score more than 20 points — I’m gonna have to hit you up for some lotto numbers.

Podziemski *almost* led an improbable win against the Minnesota Timberwolves — improbable for three main reasons:

  • Steph Curry was ruled out due to a right knee sprain he suffered in the previous game against the Wolves. He underwent an MRI and the results — according to Steve Kerr after the game — present “good news,” and that he is “day-to-day” and that “it won’t be a long” absence.
  • Klay Thompson got into a scuffle with Jaden McDaniels that got both of them ejected.
  • Draymond Green put Rudy Gobert in a headlock, supposedly to protect Thompson who was being held by Gobert. He was assessed a Flagrant-2 penalty — an automatic ejection.

In one fell swoop, the Warriors found themselves without their big three — and suddenly searching for ways to boost their already suffering half-court offense.

In a sense, not having Curry and Thompson paved the way for Podziemski, who was averaging 8.7 minutes in six games prior to tonight — mostly relegated to garbage time minutes. This was an opportunity for him to prove to the coaching staff that he deserved a spot in the rotation.

Podziemski took it upon himself to take the scoring reins. He led the Warriors with his 23 points on 9-of-18 shooting (6-of-10 on twos, 3-of-8 on threes) and 60.9% True Shooting, to go along with 7 rebounds and 5 assists.

(Podziemski wasn’t alone in the 20-plus-points department. Dario Šarić had 21 points on 6-of-15 shooting and 59.5% True Shooting.)

Two aspects of Podziemski’s offense that were highly touted coming into this season — but two that haven’t materialized prior to tonight’s game — were his touch on floaters and three-point shooting. The volume hasn’t been there because of the scant opportunities he has been given, but heavy minutes tonight dictated that Podziemski take those shot profiles, especially with the Wolves playing Gobert in their base drop coverage scheme.

It was clear that the Warriors intended to weaponize Podziemski by running half-court sets that got him downhill — not to attack the drop head on against a supreme rim protector in Gobert, but to get to his in-between sweet spots in the paint that a drop-back scheme naturally gives up.

“Chicago” action — a pindown flowing into a dribble handoff (DHO) — was one such set the Warriors used to get Podziemski paint touches:

With help from a solid screen by fellow rookie Trayce Jackson-Davis to get Kyle Anderson trailing behind, Podziemski gets two feet in the paint and calmly drills a floater over Gobert’s drop coverage.

The next offensive possession, the Warriors run “Chicago” for Podziemski again:

This time, Jackson-Davis plays an even bigger role. His roll gravity after Podziemski comes off the DHO forces Shake Milton to “tag” him, leaving Gary Payton II open in the corner. Podziemski quickly deduces that fact and dishes to Payton, who drills the three.

Podziemski proving that he can punish drop coverage at this level will go a long way toward how defenses perceive him as an on-ball threat. The Wolves play drop with Gobert, but they typically have Karl-Anthony Towns play up to the level of the ball screen whenever he’s brought up to defend pick-and-rolls.

Whether it’s a case of unfamiliarity or overlooking the scouting report (i.e., the report on Podziemski wasn’t extensively viewed due to the Wolves not expecting him to play this many minutes), Towns doesn’t go up to the level against Podziemski on this possession:

Besides the energy and intensity he plays with, Podziemski was a key connecting piece in the half court for the Warriors. Offensively, he can moonlight as both a one-guard and a two-guard — and can be trusted to make the good decision more often than not, which can’t be said for many rookies in the NBA.

A key driving force behind his effectiveness on the floor is an ability to see things on the floor develop before they happen. It doesn’t manifest itself on a consistent basis — he’s still a rookie with few reps on the floor to gain experience and prove that he can do it every night, after all — but the flashes that were seen provided enough reason for everyone to be bullish on his prospects as a rotation piece.

An example: In a play that he doesn’t finish, nor gets the outright assist, he acts as the organizer and floor general to direct his veteran teammates toward a position to create a bucket:

With Šarić in an advantageous position against a smaller defender but being fronted to make a direct entry pass difficult, Podziemski signals to Kevon Looney to flash toward the “nail” (the middle of the free-throw line) in order to create a better angle. Once Looney gets the ball, he immediately hits Šarić on the high-low pass, giving him the layup and a chance to make it a three-point possession.

Podziemski virtually does the same in the possession below — the difference being that it’s against a zone, with Podziemski flashing to the middle of the zone (the classic zone counter) and making a quick decision by hitting Payton on the baseline cut:

I’m not sure if Podziemski can develop into a dependable shot-creating option down the line. The opportunities he will get on this team with a healthy Curry and Thompson will be scarce, which won’t give him the time to prove that he can be one, to develop into one if he’s not there yet, or to see if he’s not that kind of player.

But you can’t help marveling at the flashes, especially against more experienced competition:

According to Kerr after the game, Podziemski will be playing “every night.” You can take that at face value, or doubt that it’ll be the case once there’s some semblance of normality in his rotation (i.e., when Thompson returns the next game and Curry fully recovers from his injury).

There’s no doubt that Podziemski does deserve to be considered as a rotation mainstay. Despite the best night of his young NBA career, it’s to be determined if the coaching staff is genuinely thinking along the same lines.

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