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Another year, another draft steal for Golden State
For the second year in a row, the Golden State Warriors bought a second-round pick in the NBA draft. And for the second year in a row, it appears to have paid off.
Last year, the Warriors paid the Milwaukee Bucks $2.4 million for the 38th pick in the 2016 NBA Draft. That pick turned into UNLV shooting guard Patrick McCaw. McCaw panned out as well as a rookie could on a stacked Warriors roster, averaging 4 ppg on 43% shooting while starting 20 games when Kevin Durant was injured mid-season. Skeptics were forced to bite their tongues when McCaw continued to produce in the playoffs, locking down opposing guards on defense and even finishing with a surprising 18 points in Game 2 of the Western Conference Finals against the San Antonio Spurs.
After wrapping up their second title in three years, the Warriors were faced with a tricky situation. Of the 15 players on the championship roster, only six were under contract for the 2017-18 season (five if you consider that Kevin Durant had a player option). Obviously, it was expected that Durant and Stephen Curry were going to re-sign, but even then, that left eight spots to fill.
Heading into the offseason, the biggest question was at the 4/5 position. While starting center Zaza Pachulia was expected to re-sign, David West was contemplating retirement, JaVale McGee was seeking a payday that Golden State simply couldn’t afford, Kevon Looney’s hips were (and still are) a huge question mark, Damian Jones was (and still is) a fringe NBA talent, and James Michael McAdoo simply wasn’t qualified to be an NBA backup. This left the Warriors with no backup bigs as locks to re-sign and a starting center who couldn’t even put up 20 minutes a game.
This brings us to the 2017 NBA Draft. The draft was one of the most highly anticipated in recent history, with UCLA’s Lonzo Ball and Washington’s Markelle Fultz highlighting the star-studded class. The Golden State Warriors, due to the 2013 trade for Andre Iguodala, were left without a first or second-round draft pick. Despite this hindrance, general manager Bob Myers and owner Joe Lacob still created a draft board, looking for any steals or deals they could make.
About halfway through the second round, a deal presented itself. The Warriors ownership negotiated a deal in which they would acquire the 38th pick (déjà vu) from the Chicago Bulls for $3.5 million. This pick turned into Oregon big man Jordan Bell.
Never a big scorer in college, Bell made his name on the defensive end of the floor. In his junior season, an injury to now-fellow Warrior Chris Boucher forced Bell to play huge minutes in March Madness as the only real rim protector on a dynamic Ducks team.
Bell totaled 16 blocks in the tournament, trailing only Gonzaga’s seven-foot center Zach Collins (18). Impressively, half of those came in an upset victory against number one seed Kansas in the Elite Eight which saw Bell post 11 points, 13 rebounds, and eight blocks. This set a mark for the most blocks in an NCAA Tournament game by a Pac-12 player.
Despite his superb play in March Madness, Bell was still only projected as the 36th overall pick according to Sports Illustrated. But as the 36th, and even 37th pick came and went, Jordan Bell remained on the board. Finally, the Dubs paid the Bulls and the rest, they say, is history.
Still, however, the questions lingered. Despite his tremendous athleticism, could the 6’9” Bell compete in the NBA with an extremely raw offensive game, while being forced to defend bigger, stronger forwards and centers in Steve Kerr’s small ball lineups?
He wasted no time proving his worth, posting a 5×5 in just his third Summer League game. Bell finished with 5 points, 11 rebounds, 5 assists, 5 steals and 6 blocks, accumulating a plus/minus of +27 in a loss. Literally the next day, he snatched 16 rebounds, an NBA Summer League record.
Bell has said in the past that he aims to play like Draymond Green, and for good reason. After Green, the Warriors big men (even after re-signing Pachulia, McGee, West, Looney, and Jones) simply can’t contribute as effectively as Bell. This is not to say that Jordan Bell is the second best big on the team, but his combination of skills is more completed than the others.
Some of the most athletic players on the Warriors are the big men. Obviously JaVale McGee has the capability to dunk any pass that is thrown within a 40-foot radius and can block any shot as long as he is on the floor. Damian Jones, despite his limited playing time, might be one of the most athletic players in the league with an insane 37” vertical leap. For comparison’s sake, Russell Westbrook was measured at 36.5”.
However, for what these guys have in athleticism, they lack in basketball IQ. How many times have we seen JaVale blow an assignment or get pump-faked into oblivion by craft vets like Marc Gasol? In the brief minutes we’ve seen Jones play, he generally seems lost, ambivalent, or both.
Along with his athleticism, Jordan Bell provides an innate intuition on how to play the game. In the words of defensive guru Ron Adams, “He’s got great defensive aptitude…He has a lot of good physical ability and he’s got a good mind on him in terms of playing the game so, I’m excited about him.”
Sometimes blocks are a product of pure athleticism, with a guy being in the wrong place, but simply having enough raw talent to overcome that hindrance. However, when a guy like Jordan Bell can average 2.2 blocks per game over the course of a three-year career in the competitive Pac-12 conference, more often than not, they come because of IQ. To put it simply, athletic defenders can get to the right place, but smart defenders are in the right place. Luckily, Bell is athletic and smart.
In the below clip, we see Blake Griffin posting up Draymond Green as the shot clock winds down. Bell, aware of the three-point threat in his man, Lou Williams, sees the time on the clock and decides to double Griffin. This ultimately leads to a shot clock violation as Bell’s presence prevented a Griffin shot attempt, while also eating up valuable seconds as Griffin tries to decide what to do.
Though ultimately this won’t show up in the box score, it’s a simple, but telling, example of the inherent knack for the game that Bell has.
In terms of IQ, Kevon Looney, David West, and Zaza Pachulia have a better knowledge of the game than McGee and Jones, and are extremely adept at positioning themselves well and making the correct cuts and passes. However, with Pachulia and West up there in age (33 and 37, respectively) and Looney coming off two hip surgeries, the explosiveness that is often required to allow high-IQ players to translate their knowledge into production, just isn’t there anymore.
Again, this is where Bell has a leg up.
This guy can fly.
Look at this.
Need I say any more?
Though the Warriors are obviously in “win-now” mode with Steph, Klay, KD, and Dray all in their primes, they haven’t forgotten about the future. And Jordan Bell seems more than ready to show what he’s got when his number is called.