STATELINE, Nev. -- When the Warriors failed to compete with the salary the Portland Trail Blazers offered unrestricted free agent Gary Payton II, there was an element of frustration in the locker room and among the fan base.
There always is disillusionment within the ranks when cost dictates a decision made by ownership.
One week earlier, though, Warriors CEO Joe Lacob authorized a $2 million payout to move up seven spots in the NBA draft. In part, because the front office realized there was a chance the market for Payton might go beyond their parameters.
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The Warriors dipped into their wallet to move up from the No 51 overall pick to No. 44 because they believed Ryan Rollins has such a promising future that they’d rather spend the money than stay patient and risk losing his rights.
“In today’s game, $2 million is a lot of money -- but it’s not that much when you start talking about the money that’s being thrown around,” ESPN college basketball analyst Jay Bilas told NBC Sports Bay Area last week for the latest episode of "Dubs Talk." “Golden State is winning right now, so if you add a valuable piece to that, it’s worth the money.”
Bilas, who has evaluated college players for more than 20 years, believes Rollins is valuable enough to be worth the cash.
A 6-foot-4 combo guard from the University of Toledo, Rollins has two-way ability and a 6-foot-10 wingspan that works to his advantage on both ends. He was an instant starter for the Rockets, playing 30 games as a freshman and 34 as a sophomore.
Golden State Warriors
“He’s a great talent, a guy who was probably was drafted, you could argue, too low,” Bilas said. “Long arms, really talented, athletic, with a really high basketball IQ. You put him into that system, and he’ll produce. He’ll be a reliable player.
“Now, does he develop into a starter? You can make the same argument, ‘Well, Jordan Poole is this, that or the other.’ If you put them in that environment, they’re going to produce for you. That was a great pick.”
When the Warriors selected Poole in the first round (No. 28 overall) in 2019, his value was questioned by several experts. Most memorably, CBS analyst Reid Forgrave labeled him an “inexplicable pick by the Warriors” and “maybe the worst pick in the draft” to that point.
Poole struggled as a rookie but after three seasons has blossomed into Golden State’s offensively gifted Sixth Man, capable of pouring in 30 points in any given game.
Rollins averaged 18.9 points and 3.6 assists as a sophomore. His 3-point shooting (31.7 percent) was poor, but his quickness, assertiveness and mid-range shooting ability exhibited shades of Monta Ellis.
While Bilas concedes that Rollins is neither a pure point guard nor a pure shooting guard, he considers both tags near obsolescence.
“But it really doesn’t matter anymore,” he said. “Your position is more determined by who you guard, rather than where you are on the floor offensively.
“Golden State runs as good an offense as anybody, with their passing and cutting. They’re not necessarily a ball-screen team, although they do run some. It’s not an isolation team; they pass more per possession than just about any team in the league. So, they’re very difficult to guard.”
All of which he believes plays into Rollins’ strength.
The Warriors quietly imply Rollins has some of Poole’s offensive characteristics but has a higher aptitude for defense. He was noted at Toledo for coming up with steals, blocks and deflections.
Those assets surely impressed the Warriors. Knowing they could lose Payton, they coveted someone who could bring a similar defensive mentality off the bench.
If Rollins sticks, he will have been a wise investment.