The 2023 NBA Draft is already less than a month away. Or, depending on your view point, it might be that the draft is almost an entire month away.
It’s a longer wait than the Golden State Warriors are used to having. Last year there was exactly one week that separated the Warriors splashing champagne at the TD Garden and making emotional phone calls to Patrick Baldwin Jr., Ryan Rollins, and Gui Santos.
The Warriors have one selection in this year’s 58-pick draft: their first-round pick, at No. 19. They don’t have their second-round pick, because it’s been passed around more than a joint at Woodstock, which is customary for second-round picks. Consider: of the 28 second-round picks this year, 18 of them have already been traded, and 12 have been traded multiple times.
Just for a fun little detour, here’s the history of the Warriors second-round pick this year: they traded it, along with their 2021 second-round pick (which eventually became David Johnson) to the New Orleans Pelicans on draft day in 2019, in exchange for the No. 39 pick ... Alen Smailagić. A few weeks later, the Pelicans sent both picks to the Utah Jazz in exchange for Derrick Favors. On Christmas eve, the Jazz sent the 2023 pick, along with another second-round pick and Dante Exum, to the Cleveland Cavaliers for Jordan Clarkson. At the trade deadline that year the Cavs sent John Henson and Brandon Knight to the Detroit Pistons for Andre Drummond, and also agreed to send either their own 2023 second-round pick or the Warriors’, whichever was worse. The Cavs had a better record than the Dubs this year, so they kept Golden State’s pick, which will be No. 49, while Cleveland’s own pick (No. 55) got sent to Detroit, who rerouted it to the Milwaukee Bucks, who passed it on to the Indiana Pacers.
So yeah. Second-round picks. They do be movin’.
Anyway, back to the topic at hand. The Warriors have the No. 19 pick in the draft, and they have a month to figure out what to do with it. They probably won’t make any big decisions until Bob Myers decides whether or not to return, but don’t worry: that doesn’t mean they’re not doing the work. Almost all of the scouting for the draft has already been done ... now it’s just about making organizational decisions and perhaps having a few nice dinners with Steve Kerr and other front office folks, where you get a chance to show off any second languages you might know.
It’s fair to wonder if the Warriors will keep the pick at all. Since they owe their 2024 first-round pick (top four protected) to the Memphis Grizzlies as part of the Andre Iguodala trade, they’re not allowed to trade their first-round pick this year. But they can trade the player they select, which means they can agree to the terms of a trade before the draft, select a player for another team, and finalize the deal afterwards.
Let’s dive into why they might trade the pick ... and why they might not.
Why the Warriors might trade the No. 19 pick
Fans who want the Warriors to try and capitalize on their veteran core’s closing championship window are probably in favor of trading the pick. Here’s why.
The Warriors are already super young
OK, that’s perhaps an inaccurate sentence. The Warriors average age isn’t super young, but their roster is populated with young players.
Assuming they don’t make any trades, the Warriors will have three 21 year olds on opening night: Jonathan Kuminga, Moses Moody, and Rollins. They’ll also have a 20 year old in Baldwin, and an option to bring a fourth 21 year old over in Santos.
While there’s a strong case to be made for Kuminga and Moody to be staples of the rotation next year, and for Baldwin and Rollins to get a steady amount of minutes, none of these four players are proven. Adding a rookie means the Warriors would be committing a fifth of their guaranteed roster spots to unproven players who still haven’t figured out what their favorite drink to order at a bar is.
The Warriors were 17th in the NBA in bench net rating in 2022-23. They were second in 2021-22. When you factor in the ever-increasing importance of a bench, given that Steph Curry, Klay Thompson, and Draymond Green probably need built-in rest days, you can understand why the team might be looking to have fewer raw prospects instead of more. Especially if they’re spending so much money that they only use 14 of their roster spots, as they did for the bulk of this season.
No. 19 picks aren’t very good
I love the NBA Draft. As someone who spent the first 18 years of his life trying like hell to become a professional basketball player, I love seeing young players have their biggest dream actualized, as all their hard work pays off. And as a fan, nothing is more exciting than the ceiling-less unknown. Even at the No. 19 pick you can dream that your team drafted the next Giannis Antetokounmpo, Manu Ginobili, Nikola Jokić ..... or Draymond Green.
But the reality is that most draft picks don’t materialize, especially as you move further and further away from the top.
Here’s the last decade’s worth of No. 19 picks: Jake LaRavia, Kai Jones, Saddiq Bey, Luka Šamanić, Kevin Huerter, John Collins, Malik Beasley, Jerian Grant, Gary Harris, and Sergey Karasev.
There are some good players in there, to be sure. The Dubs would certainly be happy to land Collins or Huerter, and Beasley or Harris would be nice, too. But you’re betting against the house, and the payout isn’t very high even if you hit.
We all know that the Warriors are in cap and tax hell. They might shed a large salary, likely Jordan Poole’s. But they might not. And even if they do, they’ll still owe such an obscene amount of money that they’ll be looking for any and all ways to cut costs.
The Warriors are set to be taxed a trillion dollars for every dollar they spend (okay, that might be slightly hyperbolic, but only slightly). The rookie scale contract (which teams can go a hair above or below) for the No. 19 pick is just over $2.75 million this year, with the veteran minimum being taxed at just under $2 million. That’s not a big difference, but with the Warriors tax payments, it ain’t nothing, either.
Get a higher-paid player
It seems unlikely that the Warriors would try and find ways to spend more money, but I’m past the point of being surprised by this franchise (and perhaps they’d be more willing to if they also shed someone’s salary first).
Having a tradable asset can help them do that.
The new CBA means the Warriors will no longer get to use the mid-level exception, which is how they landed Donte DiVincenzo last offseason. The Warriors are stuck with the players they have, the players they draft, veteran minimums, and ... players they trade for. In other words, the Warriors can’t sign a $4.5 million free agent ... but they can trade Rollins and the No. 19 pick for a $4.5 million player.
Seems unlikely, but certainly not impossible.
Note: a previous version of this article struck out the above blurb, noting that the new CBA doesn’t allow teams over the second tax apron to aggregate salaries (thanks to the smart commenter who pointed this out). I’ve now reinstated the blurb after being reminded that that element of the CBA doesn’t come into play until next offseason (thanks to the other smart commenter who pointed that out).
Why the Warriors might keep the No. 19 pick
Fans who want to keep the two timeline dream alive — or who think that young players can contribute to the current timeline — are probably scouring draft tape, hoping the Warriors get a fun player. Here’s why the Warriors might do exactly that.
It’s still a decently-high pick
I read off the last decade of No. 19 picks in an effort to prove how unlikely it is to get a high-quality player there. But you could also look at those picks optimistically. A 10% chance at landing Collins, with a 30% chance at settling for Huerter, Harris, or Beasley? You could do a whole lot worse.
Yes, it’s funny that the last All-Star to be taken No. 19 was the glorious Jeff Teague (taken 12 spots after Steph Curry in 2009), but still. You have a coin flip’s chance of getting a decent NBA player, even if you have to wait a few years. And you have a significantly better than zero percent chance of getting a good NBA player.
They can try the safe route
Part of the frustration for fans with the Warriors recent first-round picks has been how young Golden State has gone. Young players are low floor, high ceiling, and require a lot of patience. You potentially get a much better player, but you usually have to wait a few years to get them ... and they might not ever be there.
It’s the right move when you have a top pick. You have to swing for the fences. But lower down you don’t have to quite as much.
Most first-round picks are young, unproven players, with the older, more proven dudes falling to the second round or sometimes even being undrafted (Austin Reaves notably had multiple teams interested in drafting him in the second round, but he told them he wouldn’t sign a two-way contract).
The Warriors could go the safer route and draft a lower-ceiling, higher-floor 22 or 23-year old. You see that most years, whether it’s undrafted players like Reaves, or the Pelicans taking Herbert Jones (who was 23 when he his rookie season started) at No. 35 in 2021, or the Grizzlies taking Desmond Bane with the No. 30 pick in 2020, when he was 22 years old.
There’s no guarantee that you can find someone good, but the Warriors could compromise between the two timelines thing and pick an older, lower-ceiling player who would have a decent chance at playing immediately.
Later trade bait
Like I mentioned, the Warriors can’t technically trade the No. 19 pick until after the draft. They can skirt around that by agreeing to a deal before the draft, but they can also wait and simply trade the player later. Maybe the right trade doesn’t materialize. Maybe they’re high on their chances of competing with their youngsters, and will make a shift if things don’t work out.
The Warriors got significantly better — in the short term, at least — by effectively trading James Wiseman for Gary Payton II at the deadline. They probably can’t make that big of a move with a No. 19 pick, but it’s a tool at their disposal.
Maybe they’re not that young?
There are two opposite ways of looking at the Warriors youth (and a whole lot of views in the middle). You can say the Warriors youngsters are raw and unproven. We’ve seen next to nothing from Baldwin and Rollins. We’ve seen only bits and pieces from Kuminga and Moody. And on top of that, Poole is a massive question mark after his sizable regression this year.
On the other hand, you can say that Poole earned a nine-figure contract for a reason, and will likely rebound to it next year. Moody turned a corner and gained Kerr’s trust in the playoffs which, combined with Kerr’s quotes about him, suggest that he’s written into next year’s rotation in pen. Kuminga impressed, even if he might not have yet been ready to really contribute to winning, and Kerr laid out a very clear and easy-to-achieve path for how he can get minutes.
In the first view, keeping the No. 19 pick would be adding a sixth unproven prospect to a team that is in title-hunting mode. That won’t work. In the second view, keeping the No. 19 pick would be adding a third intriguing prospect to the back of the bench while the Warriors return to contention by supplementing their championship core with three rapidly-developing young players who are ready to play big minutes. Which side of the aisle the Warriors land on might determine what happens with their lone pick in this year’s draft.
What would you do?
Should the Warriors trade the No. 19 pick?
Only if it’s a great offer