What Does Being on a Perennial Contender Mean for Warriors’ Forgotten Youth?

Feeling sympathy for the Golden State Warriors is an unconscionable affront to competitive decency—not unlike worrying about how poor Godzilla’s scaly feet might get splinters from all those buildings he’s stomping on.

It’s immoral to feel sorry for the league’s most talent-rich organization while it’s in the midst of a dynastic run.

But maybe, with great effort and a clear mind, we can at least muster some mild concern by focusing on the plights of young players stuck on the fringes of a championship-chasing rotation. These are the guys surely deriving some benefit from the culture and environment but who simply aren’t in line for enough minutes to shine on the floor.

And yes, while there are several such prospects down toward the end of Golden State’s bench, this is mostly about Patrick McCaw.

As a rookie last year, McCaw played in 71 games and started 20, averaging just over 15 minutes per contest. Quietly, he averaged 9.5 points, 3.4 rebounds and 2.6 assists per 36 minutes on 54.0 percent true shooting—seemingly modest stats until you realize that only about one 21-year-old per season has managed those rates since 1975.

McCaw may not be ticketed for greatness like so many of the other 21-year-olds who previously produced those stats (the list includes LeBron James, Kevin Durant, Kobe Bryant and just about every modern wing star you can think of), but we can at least acknowledge his rookie achievements were rare.

The high-functioning system in Golden State helped, as did Andre Iguodala‘s mentorship. Spending many of his minutes with at least one attention-drawing MVP on the floor probably didn’t hurt either.

After stepping in for Iguodala and scoring 18 points in Game 2 of the Western Conference Finals, McCaw highlighted the breadth of positive influences around him, telling reporters: “For me as a basketball player, I take bits and pieces from everybody’s game. I take it as a compliment to be compared to Andre, but I not only take stuff from Andre, I take stuff from Klay (Thompson), I take stuff from Draymond (Green), all the players on our team.”

But in addition to eye-opening numbers, McCaw also flashed several equally tantalizing “unteachables”: terrific hands, slithery athleticism, unselfishness, start-stop change of pace and an advanced feel for the game. Add to that his buckets in critical moments of an NBA Finals game, and you can include “shocking composure” among McCaw’s tools.

A player like this, immediately hailed as a draft steal (38th overall pick in 2016) and then delivering on that assessment, would be in line for a starting gig and a major role on most other teams. He’d be viewed, rightly, as a major piece of that organization’s future core. Mike Schmitz of DraftExpress agreed:

Not on the Warriors, though.

Iguodala and Livingston are back. Even if they sit out games or see their minutes further reduced, it’s difficult to imagine McCaw’s role changing in a significant way. The Warriors could push the bounds of player preservation, resting Iguodala as often as possible, but the addition of Nick Young (and to a lesser extent Omri Casspi, who’ll mostly see time at the 4) means the 6’7″, 185-pounder has yet another wing in his way.

Maybe McCaw will make a such a leap forward that he forces Golden State to give him 20-something minutes per game. Having spent several paragraphs lauding his talent, we can’t rule that out. But chances are, he’ll sit somewhere around fifth on the wing depth chart.

McCaw will still enjoy valuable practice time and veteran tutelage in an optimal team environment, but with big-minute opportunities so limited in games, it’s fair to wonder if his growth will be stunted.

Not every Warriors reserve is as worth fretting over as McCaw. Kevon Looney’s bad hips never allowed him to tantalize. James Michael McAdoo, now gone, didn’t hint at greatness in his three-year stint.

But what about Damian Jones, theoretically a Festus Ezeli clone taken with the No. 30 pick in 2016? With Zaza Pachulia, David West and JaVale McGee all coming back on the cheap, he’ll be buried on the bench again, technically fifth on the center pecking order when you also factor in Draymond Green’s minutes at the 5.

And don’t forget Jordan Bell, basically this year’s version of McCaw—complete with all the “draft steal” labels and obvious fit in Golden State’s increasingly positionless and athletic frontcourt. The presence of so many high-priced vets meant the Warriors could only sign him to a two-year deal, meaning his chance to prove his worth will be even more abbreviated than most second-rounders.

For McCaw, Jones and Bell, the damage this roster situation could have on their earning potential is real. All the upside in the world may not generate big offers down the line if there’s not enough of an on-court record to judge. Worse still, this isn’t a temporary issue for Golden State’s youth. These guys aren’t in a “wait your turn” situation because as long as the Warriors stay title favorites, they’ll keep attracting ring-chasing vets.

Whenever West, Pachulia, McGee, Young, Casspi and others are through contributing, there’ll be another queue of 30-somethings waiting to sign on for the minimum. There always are.

The downside to all this for the Warriors, even if nobody cares, is the possibility of losing someone like McCaw without truly knowing how great he might have become. Maybe this means that once this era of stars is finished in Golden State, there won’t be a bridge to the next one.

Then again, the Warriors may find themselves profiting from the lack of opportunities for McCaw and friends. Lack of playing time drives down prices, and the Dubs could retain these valuable assets at rates well below market value.

It says a lot when one of the key detriments facing the organization is so easily spun into another competitive advantage.

That’s life for the defending champs these days.

        

Stats courtesy of Basketball Reference or NBA.com.

Follow Grant on Twitter and Facebook.

Read more NBA news on BleacherReport.com

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