SAN FRANCISCO – Warriors rookie Brandin Podziemski admitted he was a bit nervous the first time he stepped on the floor Saturday in his NBA preseason debut, a 125-108 win against the Los Angeles Lakers at Chase Center.
Advice from a teammate 28 seconds after he first entered the game in the first quarter brought Podziemski back to his comfort zone. Gary Payton II reminded the 20-year-old to bring the same mentality he does in practice to the game, and everything else will take care of itself. And he wasn’t talking about the offensive side of the ball.
“He just told me to pick up full-court like I usually do in practice, and from there I just felt like I belong,” Podziemski said Saturday night.
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That’s exactly what Podziemski began doing, too. Whether it was D’Angelo Russell, Max Christie or Lakers first-round pick Jalen Hood-Schifino – taken two picks before Podziemski – he was following their every move. Podziemski even did his best Payton impression before finding GP2 for an easy transition layup in the final minute of the first quarter.
Hounding Hood-Schifino above the 3-point line, Podziemski stayed vertical and perfectly timed a pass attempt from the Lakers rookie to tip it, catch it and hit Payton in stride.
The transition from college to the pros can be a big difference defensively, especially for someone who carried such a heavy offensive load like Podziemski did at Santa Clara. Payton sees the college game simply as one guy guarding another, and protecting the rim is more the emphasis in the NBA. His advice to make things simpler for Podziemski defensively is to pick up the ball, clear the ball and let everybody else find a man.
Golden State Warriors
Communication also is a major aspect Payton keeps preaching to Podziemski to improve his defense, and it’s clear where he first wants the young guard to be mentally.
“It helps your defense get set, and about the time they get over half-court they got 15, 14 seconds, so rush them into their offense,” Payton explained Monday after Warriors practice. “After that, we can get back into our shell defense and continue to talk.
“He’s been doing a hell of a job.”
The pre-draft assessment was pretty clear on Podziemski. His 43.8-percent clip from deep was hard to ignore. The left-hander’s shooting stroke was seen as something that would play in the pros. Scouts saw his feel for the game and could see why he stuffed box scores at what is seen as a lower level in the West Coast Conference.
Defensively, though, Podziemski also led the WCC in total defensive rebounds (223) and was second in defensive rebound percentage (21.6 percent). Podziemski ranked fourth in steals per game (1.8), fifth in defensive win shares (2.0) and seventh in defensive rating (99.0).
But he also measured slightly under 6-foot-4 at the combine with a wingspan under 6-foot-6, and was regarded more so as a sub-par on-ball defender in a conference that creates plenty of questions leading up to the draft. Yet Podziemski was active defensively for all 26 minutes he played in Saturday night’s win, diving for loose balls and doing even more than his one steal and one block shows on the stat sheet.
“He just gets a ton of deflections, which is an indicator that he anticipates really well,” Warriors coach Steve Kerr said Monday. “I think that’s one of the things our scouts really liked about him, was he has a knack for the ball, whether it’s rebounding or getting a hand on a pass or making a steal.
“He may not have the length and the bounce that you look for, but he’s got the feel and the knack, and that’s equally, if not more, important.”
A learning curve, of course, will continue for the Warriors rookie. Maybe Podziemski’s feel for the game will be as impactful defensively as it is offensively, and continuing to be a listening ear around Payton should only quicken the process.