SAN FRANCISCO – Nobody took advantage of their opportunity more than Warriors rookie Brandin Podziemski nearly two weeks ago when within the first two minutes of their game against the Minnesota Timberwolves, both Draymond Green and Klay Thompson were ejected.
Podziemski and Warriors veteran center Kevon Looney were the two players who entered the game to replace two-thirds of Golden State’s Big Three, and Podziemski didn’t waste a moment in making his impact felt. The Warriors’ top pick in this year’s draft didn’t even need two minutes to make his first 3-pointer of the night. By the end of the first quarter, Podziemski was a plus-10 as the Warriors’ leading scorer with nine points on 4-of-5 shooting.
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The Warriors already were without Steph Curry. They needed scoring, whether from a rookie or a veteran, and Podziemski is the one who did so the most, scoring a career-high 23 points on 9-of-18 shooting in 39 minutes against the Timberwolves.
Shooting was Podziemski’s most obvious trait coming into the NBA after his standout sophomore season at Santa Clara, but since making his pro debut in the Warriors’ fourth game of the season, the 20-year-old has shown his feel for the game allows him to do a little bit of everything. Still, Steve Kerr wants Podziemski to know his bread and butter when it’s laid out on the table in front of him.
If the shot is there, take it.
Golden State Warriors
“You know I’m a baseball fan,” Kerr said Monday after Warriors practice when asked about Podziemski. “It's like, you got to use your fastball to set up your other stuff. And I think with Brandin, he's got like five different pitches, but he's got to learn to sequence them. He's a really good shooter.
“But being able to count on that consistently, that should be his fastball. He should think, ‘I’m going to knock down the shot if it's open,’ because he's got all kinds of other options at his disposal the way he attacks closeouts, the way he passes the ball, the way he cuts, but he's still in the early stages of kind of establishing his identity as a player.”
Kerr declared Podziemski wasn’t coming out of the rotation anytime soon after his breakout performance that was clouded by a dustup. The Warriors coach wasn't kidding, either.
Podziemski received four DNPs (Did Not Play) in the Warriors’ first 11 games, was inactive for one and averaged only 8.7 minutes. Since his 23-point showing where he was a plus-11 in a three-point loss, Podziemski has played in all five of the Warriors’ games and has averaged 20.6 minutes a night.
Who he has played the most with also has been interesting to watch. Podziemski and Chris Paul have played 10 games together and 110 minutes, making Paul the teammate Podziemski has been on the floor with most frequently. In this case, Paul is directing the offense the majority of the time, putting Podziemski off the ball.
The results have been a 108.2 offensive rating, 99.6 defensive rating and an 8.7 net rating.
But he hasn’t been nearly as good alongside Steph Curry. Podziemski in this scenario plays more on-ball. He and Curry have played in six games together for 38 minutes. The duo has a 97.4 offensive rating, 112.7 defensive rating and a minus-15.2 net rating.
“I think being with him, it's been a little bit of an adjustment for me, especially going back to college with me predominantly being on the ball,” Podziemski said of playing with Paul. “And with Steph, I get to play more of my natural position and like facilitate, whereas CP, I’m more off the ball. But when I do get the ball, it's usually to make a good shot.
“So it's a little bit different. But it's what the team needs, so I'm here for whatever.”
Which is what the Warriors might have liked most about Podziemski going into the NBA draft.
Kerr doesn’t see Podziemski as a point guard. He doesn’t see him as a shooting guard either. Yet Kerr loves who Podziemski is, and what he is as a player.
“What I love about Brandin is that he’s just a guard,” Kerr said. “Some guys are strictly a point, some guys are strictly a two – he’s a guard. He can play either spot, he connects any group that he plays with.”
Playing off the ball in a lineup that features more of a pass-first point guard seems to be working best for Podziemski. The lefty even has a 115.1 offensive rating alongside Cory Joseph in 46 minutes.
The first few games were all about feeling out the NBA for Podziemski. And then he came out of the bullpen throwing heat past the Timberwolves. Since then, one things is clear: Podziemski is finding his fastball.
Since that scoring outburst against Minnesota, Podziemski is averaging 6.8 points per game while shooting 40 percent from deep, averaging three 3-point attempts a night. That’s including his scoreless outing Friday night against the San Antonio Spurs.
Podziemski prior to that averaged 8.5 points on 6.0 field goal attempts per game, shooting 45.8 percent overall and 46.2 percent beyond the arc in a four-game span that included two games where he scored in double figures.
“Yeah, I think since training camp started I’ve heard that a lot,” Podziemski said of coaches and teammates to shoot even more. “But for me, I kind of just try to make the right play. I think last year in college, I didn't really catch and shoot a lot, as much as I was self-creating for myself or others. So it was a little bit of adjustment, but I think as of late, I've been shooting the ball pretty well. And a lot of those have came off catch and shoot opportunities.
“I think Steve does a great job talking about the fastball, per se. Steph has done a great job of just telling me to just let it fly and we don't really care if you miss or not, just shoot the best ones because the play’s already been created for you.”
The Warriors one month into the season have a pretty good problem on their hands, urging their top draft pick to wind up, release the ball and never look back.