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Initial thoughts on Brandin Podziemski’s early Summer League performance

Promising flashes that could see him play real minutes during the regular season.

Brandin Podziemski driving by a Hornets defender Photo by Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images

If you’re not overreacting to what happens during Summer League, are you really enjoying what Summer League’s really all about?

Joking aside, it’s an opportunity to watch your team’s drafted players for the first time and see if they show you stuff that stands out — albeit in a playing field that isn’t quite representative of how they’ll fare in the highest level of competition.

Nevertheless, you look for trends and habits that differentiate such prospects from the rest of the field, which consist mainly of undrafted players and fringe NBA talents looking for a shot in the big leagues. Those drafted — especially in the first round — should stand out because they possess a much-higher base talent than everyone else around them.

As such, when watching Brandin Podziemski — the Golden State Warriors’ first-round pick in this year’s NBA Draft — and how he fared during the first two games of Summer League, I was looking for a couple of things:

  1. His outside shooting — catch-and-shoot, movement, and pull-up.
  2. His ability to handle the ball and keep his dribble alive.
  3. Capability to make reads, especially under defensive pressure.
  4. His defense.

Again, the caveat behind watching whatever Podziemski does (or doesn’t do) is that it’s Summer League. But that doesn’t negate whatever takeaway there is to be had concerning his skills and how those skills scale upward if and when he gets actual rotation minutes during the regular season.

In two college seasons — first with the University of Illinois and then with Santa Clara University — Podziemski shot 42.4% on 4.1 three-point attempts per game. Those are gaudy numbers, and it certainly played a big part in the Warriors — whose shift toward an analytics-friendly shot profile has been apparent over the last few seasons — drafting him 19th overall.

But more than just the numbers, the true measure of how Podziemski will be effective as a shooter is how versatile his shooting is. That doesn’t mean to say he won’t make it to the league as a pure spot-up specialist — but having more versatility in his bag as a shooter will give him extra sticking power in the association.

From the initial Summer League film of Podziemski, it looks like his shooting won’t just be limited to spot-up looks.

On the “Get” action above (a sequence where a ball-handler passes to a big and immediately gets it back via a handoff), Podziemski calmly manipulates his defender toward the re-screen and pulls up for the three when he gets just enough room for the shot.

One thing that stands out from the possession above: Podziemski’s release is quick.

Being the highest draft pick by the Warriors entails that Summer League defenses will put a target on Podziemski’s back. Add to that the fact that he has a reputation as a knockdown shooter and he’ll command hard close-outs from defenders in an attempt to get him off the line.

Podziemski’s aware of that fact and uses it to his advantage. He has an arsenal of up-fakes and escape dribbles to create space for himself in an instant:

Garnering hard close-outs and forcing defenders to sell out on account of the threat he generates on the perimeter means that Podziemski will have opportunities to put the ball on the floor and touch the paint. His rim-attacking moxie has been fun to watch over the last two games, and he has occasionally flashed touch (and craft) around the rim:

Podziemski does a good job moving after the initial “Miami” action set (a DHO flowing into a ball screen). He garners a close-out after catching the pass, attacks, and freezes the rim protector with a pass fake before finishing.

Not all drives to the rim will be like this for Podziemski. He will see smarter defenders rotate and close his driving lanes much quicker than what he’s been seeing at the Summer League level. The lack of outlier burst means he’ll get stopped in his tracks somewhere along the way to the rim.

But that hasn’t stopped Podziemski from gathering himself, keeping his dribble alive, and finding teammates left open as a result of the help he attracts in the paint:

Podziemski being able to keep his dribble alive is key toward his development as a secondary ball-handler and playmaker. It’s safe to say that the trust level in him as a half-court decision maker — at least initially — won’t be particularly high during the regular season.

But the building blocks are already there:

Keeping calm — and his dribble alive — amid defensive pressure allows Podziemski to capitalize on the openings when they present themselves. He manages to use his handle to create the penetration above, forces the low man on the weak side to step up and help, and subsequently whips the pass to the corner.

The interior passing is also there:

Defensively, Podziemski has been projected as a work in progress. It doesn’t help that he’s disadvantaged physically — at a generous 6’5” (measured as 6’3.75” without shoes during the combine), he won’t intimidate anyone with his length. His 8’0” standing reach and 6’5.5” wingspan won’t help in that department either.

He has had moments where he flashed decent lateral movement, but the lack of length and physicality has given him trouble trying to keep his man in front. He has had to make up for those deficiencies with timing and quick hands, as well as a knack for crashing the boards.

Podziemski tallied five steals against the Charlotte Hornets. This one was probably the most eye-catching, given that it blended together a couple of skills he can bring to the table:

That’s a clean swipe-down and transition three — but not before faking two defenders out of their shoes with two consecutive up-fakes.

Progress and the journey matter more than the stats in Summer League. Podziemski had a relatively quiet scoring debut against the Sacramento Kings but put up a more eye-catching 17 points against the Hornets. But it’s the blend of everything he’s shown so far — shooting, willingness to attack, poise in the face of defensive pressure, playmaking, and tenacity on defense despite natural shortcomings — that have been more important to note.

This isn’t ironclad evidence that Podziemski will see considerable playing time during the regular season. He will be buried behind the depth chart and will most likely see heavy minutes during garbage time.

But if there ever was a path toward real minutes when it actually matters, it’s taking whatever he’s doing so far and proving that it’ll translate against much better competition.

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