I was given the task of playing the recently-promoted Mike Dunleavy Jr. and selecting for the Golden State Warriors at the No. 19 slot. With the important caveat that trades are not allowed, I opted to go in a route that might make some fans unhappy...
No. 19 pick — Noah Clowney, C, Alabama
Info: 18 years, 11 months old, 6’10, 210 pounds, righty
2022-23 stats: 25.4 minutes, 9.8 points, 7.9 rebounds, 0.8 assists, 0.9 blocks, 0.6 steals, 1.3 turnovers, and 2.5 fouls per game, 66.9% two-point shooting, 28.3% three-point shooting, 64.9% free-throw shooting
I’m well aware of the fact that many Warriors fans will dislike this pick. Clowney is one of the youngest players in the draft, which is not exactly who you would peg for the Dubs. Golden State is in clear win-now mode, and already has a handful of young, raw prospects who are fighting for minutes and taking up valuable roster spots.
So why did I select a player who won’t turn 19 until he’s in Las Vegas playing in Summer League?
A few reasons...
Mike Tyson once famously said, “Everyone has a plan until they get punched in the mouth.” The NBA version of that quote would probably go something like this: “Everyone wants an NBA-ready player until they’re picking 19th in the draft.”
OK, maybe that’s a little editorializing on my behalf, but the point remains. Trying to draft a win-now player is a futile game no matter where you’re picking, but it’s an especially futile game in the mid-late first round.
Take a look at last year’s draft and see how many players taken at No. 19 or later would have helped the Warriors in their rookie years (or even in their upcoming second years). You can only make a case for two: Christian Braun, who did just win a title with the Denver Nuggets, but who was forced into action due to a lack of depth at the position, and who the advanced stats absolutely hate; and Walker Kessler, who became a high-quality player in large part because he played for a team (the Utah Jazz) that wasn’t trying to win, and was able to play him large minutes.
The reality is that, if you’re trying to draft a player who can help you win in the short term, you’re much better off just trading the pick. And I couldn’t trade the pick (another option is to move down in the draft towards the four-year players, but since I couldn’t trade down either, I’m operating under the assumption that the Warriors are going to use a mid-first round pick on a mid-first round player, and not overdraft).
I should also add to this: there’s a narrative that the Warriors have too many young players, and I’m not sure that’s true. Yes, if they don’t make a trade, they’ll enter the season with five young, unproven players in Jonathan Kuminga, Moses Moody, Ryan Rollins, Patrick Baldwin Jr., and the No. 19 pick. But that still leaves them with four veteran contracts to hand out in addition to their core of Steph Curry, Klay Thompson, Draymond Green, Andrew Wiggins, Kevon Looney, and Jordan Poole (assuming they retain all six), and a trio of two-way contracts. A roster that’s 10-deep with proven veteran players and Kuminga and Moody is, in my opinion, plenty deep enough to deal with loading the back end with raw prospects.
With that out of the way ...
Let me start by offering up two scouting reports.
The first, from The Ringer’s Kevin O’Connor:
Super mobile defender with a 7-foot-2 wingspan and great energy. He constantly hustles, showing a willingness to step in front of drives to contest shots. He makes second and third efforts, and does it with great awareness and anticipation. Despite his youth, he also shows good discipline by not biting on fakes.
Projects as a versatile piece of a defense that asks its bigs to switch, hedge, and drop depending on the opponent. He had a play against Houston in which he hedged a ball screen, recovered to his original man, then rotated to a corner 3 shooter and elevated to block his shot. A combination of athleticism, effort, and intelligence was required to make the play.
Hard-nosed rebounder who boxes out and fights for boards.
Versatile ball-screen threat since he could become a shooter, and he’s already skilled on the roll. He has soft hands to catch tough passes, and in the paint he has great patience going up for layups.
And the second, from NBA.com’s Taylor C. Snow:
He’s a long, gifted athlete who looks like a natural basketball player on the court, yet his jumper is inconsistent and he possesses no post moves. His jumper is, however, free-flowing and smooth; I believe it will improve greatly with time ... He does have a nice touch around the basket and regularly finishes above the rim. I love his body control, and he shows great patience with the ball ... If he figures that jumper out and develops some post moves, he’s going to be in the NBA for a long time ... a fantastic rebounder. He possesses elite timing and, coupled with that length and those great hands, he’s able to snatch loose balls out of the air before other players get to them ... does a great job of contesting shots around the basket. His length is a legitimate weapon, and his body control allows him to contest without fouling. The tools are all there ... to become a very versatile defender in the NBA.
Here’s the catch: only one of those scouting reports, the first one, is about Clowney. The other is about Kevon Looney.
We know the Warriors haven’t always had the best success from a developmental standpoint, but we do know that they’ve done an excellent job with Looney, and that he is a perfect player for the system. The Dubs have been searching for his backup for ages ... why not go with a clone?
The short-term play
While I stand by what I said about NBA-ready players not being reliably available at No. 19, and while it’s true that Clowney is extremely young, I do think he has a real shot at playing meaningful minutes as a rookie.
Here’s a blurb from The Athletic’s Sam Vecenie:
I think Clowney is most impressive as a potential switch defender right now. Has real potential to be switchable in ball screens, which could make him incredibly valuable in high-leverage situations. Uses his length to really impact plays. Contests shots at a very high level on the perimeter.
It’s not exactly a secret that, if you want to play minutes as a youngster for Steve Kerr, you need to be a quality defender (or a lightning bolt on offense, a la Poole).
If Clowney can provide smart, disciplined, and talented switchable defense as a rookie, he’ll play. Maybe not a lot, but he’ll play. The Warriors will take 10-12 minutes of a lengthy, switchable big with strong defensive instincts and good rebounding over JaMychal Green eight days a week.
That’s an if, but it’s an if that’s on the table. Clowney may be one of the youngest players in the draft, but he’s also one of the closest players in the draft to being able to provide defensive value in the NBA.
The long-term play
Despite the mediocre numbers from distance and the free throw line, scouts are high on Clowney’s ability to be a shooter down the road. Even if he’s not, he sets good enough screens, makes good enough decisions, and is talented enough finishing around the rim (with soft hands!) that he should have a high-upside future working the pick and roll with Curry in a similar way to how Looney does. And if the shot develops? Then he becomes the pick and pop threat that so many envisioned happening with James Wiseman.
For a player with his length, athleticism, and instincts, it’s fair to project Clowney as a quality defender. Even if it doesn’t happen this year, it will probably happen eventually. Quality defensive bigs are not exactly easy to come by, as the Warriors veteran minimum signings have, unfortunately, proven. Clowney could be a chance to get one in the system, and under team control.
Do I think the Warriors will draft a player as young as Clowney, as currently constructed? No. I think adding a three or four-year college player is more likely if they keep the roster as is, but there’s a very good chance that they’re making a pick with the assumption that one or two of their young players will be traded in the coming weeks. That makes it easier to select an 18 year old (and easier to sell it to Draymond as they work on re-signing him...).
But if they do what I think they should, and seek immediate help in free agency and trades, rather than in the draft ... you can do a lot worse than drafting someone cut from the same mold as your starting center. Clowney could provide immediate help on defense, and long-term value all over the court. At No. 19, you can’t ask for much more.