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Highlighting Brandin Podziemski’s unprecedented feel as a Warriors rookie

It’s been fun watching him do all the little and big things.

Portland Trail Blazers v Golden State Warriors Photo by Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images

Defining what “feel” means in a basketball context can widely vary, depending on team context, needs, and individual opinion. It’s like trying to transform the abstract into something concrete — the definition can very much be arbitrary and can change from context to context.

For the Golden State Warriors, “feel” is something that can readily be defined. In general terms, someone who has a feel for the Warriors’ brand of basketball means someone who knows how to blend into their communal style of offense.

What does being “communal” mean within this team? Typically, it means knowing how to be a “connector,” someone who can act as a bridge between play initiation and play finishing. It can also mean doing all the little blue-collar work that sometimes goes unnoticed: screen-setting to set shooters free, boxing out, crashing the boards, doing one’s work early defensively, etc.

On a team that places emphasis on knowing how to be useful when the main moneymakers are getting all the attention from defenses, having feel also means knowing when to slot into those spaces created by such attention — for example, going to the ball and driving inside when no one is minding you.

Brandin Podziemski definitely knows how to do that:

Consider the context — the Warriors trying to run split action for Steph Curry above but faced with the difficulty of having the post entry be fronted, while Curry is faceguarded and hugged by Toumani Camara. There seems to be no recourse left for them — until Podziemski creates the recourse himself.

With Malcolm Brogdon not even opting to pay attention to him, Podziemski relocates to the slot, gets the ball, and virtually uses Curry as a screener on his way to the rim.

It’s these moments of knowing what to do that defines what “feel” is for this team — something that is either there from the beginning of one’s career, or that is steadily built through years of experience. The Warriors, with their aging core and win-now mentality, place more value on the former because they simply have no time to wait for the latter.

Which is why Podziemski — 20-years old, a rookie, and the 19th pick in this year’s NBA Draft — is a rare breed.

The box-score averages are modest: 8.7 points, 5.3 rebounds, and 2.9 assists, on a shooting split of 51.0% on twos, 38.6% on threes (on three attempts per game), and 68.0% on free throws. But the minutes (22.3 per game) have been the stat that has stood out, considering his status as a rookie.

Compare his minutes per game to other young Warriors players’ (both current and former) rookie seasons:

  • Jonathan Kuminga: 16.9
  • Moses Moody: 11.7
  • James Wiseman: 21.4
  • Jordan Poole: 22.3

Both Kuminga and Moody were rookies during the 2022 championship season, and while they made their own contributions, they were faced with more reliable veteran options in the pecking order. Wiseman — the second pick in the 2020 draft — was slotted in immediately as the starting center but had troubles fitting in partly due to an underdeveloped “feel” and sense for the game. Poole was drafted in a year where Klay Thompson was out for the season and Curry was injured four games in — which allowed him to play a considerable number of games and minutes in a lost season.

While minutes may have opened with the absences of Draymond Green and Gary Payton II, Podziemski’s 22 minutes is with a roster that has a fully healthy Curry and Thompson — and yet, he has barged his way into playing time, not only as a rotation mainstay but as a starter.

And “feel” has arguably been the main factor behind it.

Again, someone who has feel in spades on this team is someone who can connect play initiation with play finishing. That involves knowing what to do with the ball according to one’s role. For Podziemski, scoring is a bonus — while passing and making plays for others is what his role entails.

From seeking out Thompson, initiating handoff action, and setting the screen to free up his veteran:

To directing traffic in the half-court — pointing out to veteran Kevon Looney to set the wide pindown for Thompson, only for him to hit Thompson on the cut to counter the heavy top-lock and overplay on the screen:

Podziemski certainly fits the bill of a “connector” on this team, with the added benefit of being an energy boost on defense, particularly as a charge-drawer and as a pest, despite his short stature (6-foot-4) and a mere plus-one wingspan (6-foot-5). Without noted wing/guard defenders in Payton and Andrew Wiggins, Podziemski was even counted on to faceguard Anfernee Simons in a box-and-one setup — and was able to accomplish the goal of denying Simons involvement in the half court.

With the added bonus of making a highlight pass to fellow rookie Trayce Jackson-Davis:

When evaluating Podziemski as a scorer, two things stand out: his individual scoring craft, and his ability to finish plays while playing off of other teammates.

His craft as a ballhandler, with stable handles and deft footwork, allows him to get shots off despite the lack of outlier burst, athleticism, and height. It gets him out of pickles where it looks like there’s nowhere to go — until Podziemski unleashes a counter move to create an opening:

As a play finisher playing off of others, it can take two forms: as a shooter on the perimeter, either one pass away or on the weak side:

(He’s shooting *only* 38.6% on three attempts per game from beyond the arc — but the expectation is for that to trend upward, given his pedigree as a 42.4% three-point shooter in college.)

Or as a downhill threat, creating paint touches and either scoring at the rim or finding the open man if the defense commits. In the instance below — a set called “Angle Pop”, a quick-hitting set that the Warriors use to create an empty-corner screen-and-roll — Podziemski goes all the way to the rim due to his linkage with Jackson-Davis, whose roll with an empty corner nails his man to him, which opens the downhill drive for Podziemski:

In the six games since Draymond Green was suspended and Podziemski was inserted into the starting lineup, he has averaged 10.5 points, 6.5 rebounds, and 4.2 assists, while averaging 29.5 minutes. In those minutes, the Warriors have outscored opponents by a total of 36 points.

More importantly, the Warriors are 5-1 over those last six games. While Podziemski isn’t the only reason for the recent success, he’s played a non-insignificant part — all by playing his role to near perfection.

The joy in watching Podziemski is zeroing in on him — with or without the ball — and taking in all the little things he does to boost himself and his teammates. And it’s all fueled by the unprecedented feel he has shown as a Warriors rookie.

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