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Trayce Jackson-Davis’ contract could be an absolute steal

A four-year deal could be one of the better moves of the draft.

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Trayce Jackson-Davis holding up his jersey at a press conference Photo by Jed Jacobsohn/NBAE via Getty Images

The Golden State Warriors entered the 2023 NBA Draft holding just one pick, but they made a move late in the night to grab the No. 57 pick from the Washington Wizards, and then used it to select four-year college big Trayce Jackson-Davis.

Draft picks are fun the same way that MLB at-bats are fun: they’re cool, they’re exciting, and they have the potential to be really good, but ultimately the odds are stacked against you. Most draft picks do not end up being good players, and that’s doubly true once you make it out of the lottery.

Jackson-Davis provides plenty of reason for both pessimism and optimism. If you want the former, you can easily look at the history of the No. 57 pick, and note how grim it is. The last 57th pick to turn into a quality NBA player was Marcin Gortat, who was selected in the same draft as the other newest Warrior, Chris Paul.

If you want optimism, it’s equally easy to find. Jackson-Davis fell to No. 57 in large part because of new rules and trends that make the second round a little different than it used to be. Most second-round picks are now signed to two-way contracts, which means a team that’s willing to offer a player a guaranteed deal can control the draft a little bit. There were surely teams interested in Jackson-Davis but not willing to commit to a guaranteed contract ... knowing he had one in the hand from Golden State, he was able to tell teams he wouldn’t sign a two-way deal, and thus fell to the Dubs.

Jackson-Davis was viewed by most draft analysts as a late-first or early-second round pick (The Ringer listed him at No. 27 on their big board, The Athletic had him at No. 39, and NBADraft.Net had him at No. 21). The Warriors, it’s worth noting, have had a lot of luck drafting in that range, winning championships in large part due to the stellar play of Jordan Poole (No. 28), Kevon Looney (No. 30), and Draymond Green (No. 35). So you can have hope for TJD. It’s allowed, and arguably even warranted.

I’m not here to talk about whether or not Jackson-Davis will be a great player, or even a good player. I’m just here to talk about how excellent his contract is. The Warriors formally announced his deal on Thursday, and while they didn’t provide terms of the contract, it didn’t take them long to leak: it’s a four-year deal with two guaranteed years, starting at around $1.1 million for his rookie season with modest upgrades.

Here’s why it could be a great deal.

High-reward, low-risk

There is, essentially, no risk to Jackson-Davis’ deal. He’ll be paid as small an amount of money as the Warriors are allowed to pay anyone, and taxed as such. The worst-case scenario is that he’s awful and the Warriors don’t want him anymore. If that happens, they can almost surely get off his tiny contract next offseason (as they just got off Ryan Rollins’). Or, if they don’t realize until next season that he isn’t good, all they have to do is not pick up his third-year option, and voila! The experiment is complete.

The reward is obviously high. The Warriors have TJD locked into a very modest four-year deal. If he’s good, he’ll be paid substantially less than a free agent or a first-round player would get. Spotrac, for instance, estimates Jackson-Davis’ third year team option at $2.2 million and his fourth year at $2.8 million. Those figures for the Warriors first-round pick, Brandin Podziemski, are $3.7 million and $5.7 million, respectively.

No Austin Reaves situation

I’ve heard a lot of fans clamor for the Warriors to have signed TJD as an undrafted free agent, rather than trading for the pick (technically the Warriors bought the pick from Washington, but it seems to be a handshake deal to get Patrick Baldwin Jr. in the Paul/Poole trade). Setting aside the logistical difficulties there — the Warriors would have to hope that Jackson-Davis didn’t get selected at No. 57 or 58, and would then have to hope that he chose them over another team that might offer him more playing time — the finances explain why this is a good deal.

And for that, we turn to Austin Reaves. Reaves went undrafted in 2021 and signed with the Los Angeles Lakers. While first-round picks (and some second-round picks, as TJD is evidence of) are locked into four-year deals, Reaves became a free agent after just two years. Because of his stellar play in his first two years, Reaves was able to cash in, and signed for the early bird maximum of four years, $56 million ... and, frankly, the Lakers got stupendously lucky, because Reaves was a restricted free agent and could have signed a much larger offer sheet elsewhere (which LA could have matched).

The odds of Jackson-Davis turning into the next Reaves are quite low, but it could certainly happen. And even if he doesn’t end up at Reaves’ level, it’s not hard to envision Jackson-Davis — already 23 — turning into the caliber of player that would command much more than a two-year, $5 million deal in the 2025 offseason, which is essentially what the Warriors will have him for, should they choose.

Jackson-Davis may end up an anecdote in Warriors history, like Rollins and Baldwin. Or he may end up as a briefly-encouraging player who quickly tapers off, like Jordan Bell, Patrick McCaw, and Eric Paschall. If that happens, it will barely cost the Warriors anything.

But he might end up good, or even really good, like Poole, Looney, and Green. And if that happens, they’ll hold the keys to one of the best contracts in the NBA.

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