Warriors rookie Trayce Jackson-Davis keeps getting tests handed to him from coach Steve Kerr, and the second-to-last pick in the 2023 NBA Draft seems to have almost all the answers.
The latest tryout Kerr challenged him with was his hardest yet. Golden State was on the last night of a four-game road trip, a stretch where the Warriors played in eight different cities over eight games. The Warriors also were without their two best defensive players, Draymond Green and Gary Payton II.
All while facing the defending champion Denver Nuggets and two-time NBA MVP Nikola Jokic in an eventual 108-105 loss that came down to the final seconds.
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With the Warriors starters trailing the Nuggets 17-9 at the 4:45 mark in the first quarter, the first two players Kerr turned to were his oldest – Chris Paul – and Jackson-Davis, a rookie who had a rare four years of college experience. Jackson-Davis didn’t return to the bench until the 7:24 mark in the second quarter. The Warriors then trailed by only three points, 36-33, and the most recent three points of the game were all scored by the young big man.
His first points of the night were from an incredibly impressive finish off a Steph Curry alley-oop pass. Jackson-Davis set a successful screen for Curry, bringing Jokic to the 3-point line, when Curry then threw a lob up where Jackson-Davis acrobatically used his height advantage over Reggie Jackson.
Jackson-Davis made his one free throw for a three-point play. He came into the day 4 of 9 from the free-throw line, and went 4 of 5 on Wednesday night.
Golden State Warriors
When was the last time the Warriors really had a lob threat at center like Jackson-Davis? James Wiseman was supposed to, but he doesn’t have great hands and couldn’t be on the court. You’d have to go back to a 29-year-old JaVale McGee.
That’s something new for Kerr, and the Warriors are taking advantage of it.
“His ability to get up,” Klay Thompson told reporters in Denver when asked what sets Jackson-Davis apart. “He's a great finisher above the rim. He's a great lob threat and he's NBA ready. For a rookie, that's rare and I love being around him.”
This isn’t to say Jackson-Davis got the best of Jokic. He didn’t. But then again, who does?
He guarded Jokic for 1:43 and the Nuggets scored nine points in that span. Jokic scored seven of them. The 7-footer was 2-of-3 shooting when guarded by Jackson-Davis. Plus, the rookie was whistled for two fouls and Jokic made three of his four free throws.
And the 23-year-old Warrior will be better for it.
"Just experience,” Jackson-Davis said after his fifth NBA game when asked about what he learned guarding Jokic. “It's valuable, especially earlier in the season, just to get in and play with the fellas. Tried to come in and do everything I can to try and put us in position to win at the end. So, that's my main goal. But at the end of the day, I think we fought.
“Playing against Jokic, one of the best in the world right now, he's really good. So, that's also valuable.”
Jokic is atop the pyramid, but Jackson-Davis hasn’t been going against slouches to start his NBA career. From the preseason to early in the regular season he has battled some big names. Zion Williams was 0 of 2 against Jackson-Davis and turned the ball over once. Darius Garland’s only attempt on him was blocked by Jackson-Davis. Domantas Sabonis missed his only shot attempt on Jackson-Davis, and same with De’Aaron Fox.
Meanwhile, the Warriors scored 11 points in a little under the two minutes Jokic guarded Jackson-Davis. He even forced a foul on the Nuggets star and made both his free throws to tie the game. Two games prior, Jackson-Davis drained the only shot attempt he had on Evan Mobley.
What Jackson-Davis pulled off with three minutes left in the third quarter to tie the game was the result that most veterans can’t, let alone a rookie in his fifth game. Jackson-Davis snatches a pass from rookie Brandin Podziemski, spins off Jokic’s steal attempt, takes two dribbles and finishes at the rim through contact.
“He plays with confidence and he’ll understand the nuances of arguably the best center in the league right now,” Curry said of Jackson-Davis. “It’s a tall task and I think he did a great job.”
Through five games as a pro, Jackson-Davis is a plus-31. He isn’t just holding his own. The Warriors will need him throughout the season to be the team they aspire to be again, and Kerr isn’t afraid to call the rookie’s name.