Rise of the Warriors’ Rookies

Recapping the Rookie Seasons of Eric Paschall, Jordan Poole, Alen Smailagić and Ky Bowman

There are no two ways about it: the Warriors’ 2019-20 season was a rough one, as a 15-50 record would indicate. Injuries took their toll, and the Warriors were occasionally even more short-handed when their two-way players reached their maximum amount of time with Golden State. The silver lining — the Warriors’ 2019-20 rookie class gained more NBA experience than most in their first season.

Though the Warriors entered the 2019 NBA Draft with two draft picks, they ended draft night with four rookies heading into the 2019-20 season in Eric Paschall, Jordan Poole, Alen Smailagić (acquired via draft night trade) and Ky Bowman (undrafted free agent). Each in their own way proved an ability to learn, adapt, and provide a boost to the Dubs through the year.

Final outcome of the 2019-20 season aside, the Warriors found bright spots for their future from their young talent. Take look back at the campaigns of the latest rookie class and what they brought to the hardwood.

Eric Paschall

Though he was the 41st pick of the 2019 NBA Draft, Eric Paschall proved to be not just one of the most reliable contributors for the Warriors, but also one of the most NBA-ready rookies of his draft class.

When the NBA shutdown arrived in mid-March, Paschall ranked fourth among rookies in scoring (14 points per game) and field-goal percentage (49.7), fifth in rebounding (4.6), eighth in minutes per game (27.6), ninth in free-throw percentage (77.4) and tied for 10th in assists (2.1).

The rookie demonstrated a versatile offensive skillset and was especially tenacious when working around the rim. Paschall finished the season shooting 55 percent on his two-point attempts, including a 45.3 percent made between 16 feet out and to the three-pint line. But what Dub Nation saw most was the six-foot-six-inch forward’s ability to do work against his opponents at the rim where he finished at a 72.5 percent clip on some of the league’s top defenders, including LeBron James.

In his first full month in the NBA, Paschall averaged 16.8 points per game including his two 30-point games of the season. His outing on Nov. 4 made for a happy birthday for the rookie as his 34 points came with 13 rebounds for his first career double-double against the Portland Trail Blazers at Chase Center. Two weeks later on Nov. 17, Paschall erupted again on the road against the New Orleans Pelicans for a 30-point night.

Paschall’s numbers fell off through December and into the new year. While meeting with media after what would become the Dubs’ final game of the season on Mar. 10, Paschall noted one of the takeaways from his rookie season was the wear and tear of the first-year grind.

“There’s a lot of games. In a rookie season I feel like you get no rest. You come straight from your college season to pre-draft, training, to summer league, to workouts, to training camp, to preseason, to regular season.”

Despite the drop in his production, Paschall was named to the NBA’s Rising Stars Challenge on All-Star Weekend, making him the Warriors’ lone ambassador to the festivities. The weekend seemed to bring a renewed energy to Paschall as he led event winners Team USA in scoring with 23 points.

Paschall kept that momentum from All-Star Weekend and came back in a big way prior to the NBA shutdown due to the COVID-19 pandemic. In the Warriors’ final 10 games, the rookie finished in double-digit scoring each game, averaging 17.5 points through those contests.

One thing was clear through the 2019-20 season: Paschall knows no fear as he has taken on some of the toughest assignments in the NBA in his rookie year, and has prepared himself for the challenges of playing in the NBA.

Jordan Poole

First round pick Jordan Poole had two drastically different halves in his first NBA campaign, showing vast improvement as the season went on.

Through his first 29 games, the rookie averaged 7.1 points on 24.2 percent shooting from beyond the three-point line. It was a rough start for the former Michigan Wolverine who was a career 37 percent shooter on treys through his two years in college.

In a recent video chat video chat with Dubs broadcaster Bob Fitzgerald and teammate Eric Paschall, Poole addressed the first half of the season and how he kept a positive outlook.

“I think when you’re surrounded by some of the greatest players to every play the game in Steph (Curry) and Klay (Thompson) and Draymond (Green), and you realize they were going through the same thing that you’re going through and you look at where they are now, it’s kind of inevitable,” Poole said of his rookie learning curve. “You can’t let it weigh you down, just continue to push forward.”

It took just one reassignment to Santa Cruz and the Warriors’ G League team at the end of December for Poole to show flashes of the player the Dubs drafted. In his three-game stint down Highway 1, he averaged 26 points on 42.3 shooting from three-point range with 6.0 rebounds and 5.3 assists.

Revitalized, Poole returned to the Warriors and NBA on Jan. 4 to continue his “push forward.” The hard work came to fruition in February.

From Feb. 5 and through the end of the Warriors’ season, Poole played in 13 of the Dubs’ 14 games (he missed one game with a sore ankle) during which time he scored in double figures in all but one of those contests. Besides finding his scoring touch and averaging 14.3 points per game, the rookie showed a playmaking side of his game as well, averaging 3.9 assists in that span to eclipse his average from either of his two years in college.

When Poole found his stride, it was just a matter of keeping it up from there: “I feel like I had some really good momentum going, I tried to keep it up for the rest of the team.”

Alen Smailagić

Alen Smailagić’s road to the NBA was more unique than most. Originally drafted to the G League in 2018 by the South Bay Lakers as the fourth overall pick, the Santa Cruz Warriors made a draft-night trade to acquire the Serbian who would become the youngest player ever in the league at 18 years old. After one year in Santa Cruz, Golden State made another draft night trade in the 2019 NBA Draft to acquire Smailagić’s rights.

The teenager split his 2019-20 campaign between the two Warriors clubs as Head Coach Steve Kerr looked for Smailagić to get the most opportunities to practice and develop his skills, telling media after the team’s Jan. 24 game: “I still think it’s more valuable for him to play big minutes in Santa Cruz rather than shorter minutes (with Golden State).”.

However, the injuries that plagued the Warriors through this season opened up time at the forward and center positions for “Smiley,” and he would eventually make his NBA debut on Dec. 27 against the Phoenix Suns. In just under five minutes of action, the rookie scored his first four professional points. Five appearances later when the Dubs hosted the Milwaukee Bucks on Jan. 8, he would reach his first double-digit scoring game with 10 points to go with four rebounds in 11 minutes..

Smailagić played in just 14 NBA games in the 2019-20 campaign, but a look to his growth across his two G League seasons shows the potential of the 19-year-old. He improved in most of his statistical categories including points (15.1), three-point percentage (34.1), rebounds (6.2), assists (1.4) and steals (1.4) over his first season with Santa Cruz (9.1 points, 24.4 three-point percentage, 4.0 rebounds, 1.0 assists, 0.9 steals).

In a postgame press conference on Jan. 8 , forward Draymond Green echoed the sentiment of Kerr and said the key to Smailagić developing further is “just continuing to get minutes.”

“The more you play, the better you get in this league,” Green continued. “The more opportunities you have and he’s taking advantage of his minutes, and he’s been playing really well. He’s fearless out there on the floor, so it’s always fun to play with a guy like that. As he continues to get more and more minutes, he’ll get better and better, but he has a promising future.”

In that same press conference, Smailagić told media he has benefitted from the Warriors’ leadership and culture in his time with the team: “It’s really nice because I think it’s helping me a lot, especially some older vets. They are talking me through everything, making me feel good and I’m building my confidence like that.”

Ky Bowman

Ky Bowman’s NBA journey started off far different from that of his fellow rookie class when his name went uncalled on Draft night, leaving him as a free agent at the end of the event. However, it did not take long for the Warriors to make their move as one phone call would bring Bowman into the Warriors family on a two-way contract, allowing Bowman to spend time with the Golden State Warriors while playing with their G League affiliate in Santa Cruz.

Plans changed as the early injuries and a depleted Warriors bench would force the rookie to cover some minutes in the rotation through the first three games of the regular season. Then with Stephen Curry suffering a broken hand in their fourth game, Bowman needed to step up as one of the few remaining options at guard.

The former All-ACC point guard did not let Dub Nation down.

Over his next 22 games, Bowman averaged 9.5 points, 3.1 rebounds and 3.1 assists with nearly a steal per game in over 25 minutes of action. Through that span he shot a blazing hot 41.3 percent from three-point distance while showing a desire to rise up and attack the rim.

Bowman’s NBA numbers fell off in 2020 as he dealt with an ankle injury and went to Santa Cruz to spend time with the “Sea Dubs.” But, he continued to play solid ball on the Central Coast where he averaged 14.5 points, 5.9 rebounds, 5.5 assists, and 1.2 steals.

“I love playing with Ky,” said center Marquese Chriss after what became the Warriors’ final game of the season on Mar. 10. “He is a good point guard. He speeds up the game for us. That makes us pick up our pace.”

What all the stats don’t show is what Bowman brought to the table on the other side of the ball: a full 94 feet of defense.

Bowman proved to be a relentless defender who picked up his defensive assignment from the second the Warriors’ opponents inbounded the ball. His tenacity was so clear that it took one game against Portland Trail Blazers for All-Star guard Damian Lillard to call Bowman a "low-key awesome defender."

What Bowman displayed while on his two-way contract proved him to be a reliable point guard, earning him a guaranteed contract through what remained of the 2019-20 season and beyond.

When training camp for the 2020-21 season opens, whatever that will look like and whenever that may be, Paschall, Poole, Smailagic and Bowman will no longer be rookies. But the unique experiences from their first-year certainly provided a solid foundation from which to build on in year two.

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