Though NBA All-Rookie teams generally are reserved for high draft picks, it’s typical that one or two second-round choices do enough to demand the honor.
Eric Paschall is such a rookie, and it’s why he was among the five players named to the All-Rookie First Team announced Tuesday.
It’s also why Warriors coach Steve Kerr is raising expectations for the 6-foot-6, 250-pound forward.
“He had a great rookie season, did a lot of really good things,” Kerr said in a phone interview. “And I think a player’s biggest improvement usually comes between year one and two, because now he has a feel for what he can and cannot do, and what needs to happen to take the next step.
“Eric showed us a lot of his offensive skill work,” Kerr added. “But what we need now is for him to become a defensive force. It’s a physical league. You’ve got to be able to guard multiple guys, and he's got the ability to do that. There’s no reason why he can't become P.J. Tucker defensively. He’s got a similar body, got the strength to fend off bigger guys and he's got speed to stay in front of guards.
“But it takes a commitment to become that.”
If it’s about commitment, Paschall’s history suggests he’s up to the task. He put in the work required to earn a scholarship to Fordham, and then transfer to powerhouse Villanova for his final three seasons. And when he wasn’t taken until the 41st pick of the 2019 NBA Draft, he set out to prove he should have gone earlier.
Paschall averaged 14.0 points per game, ranking fourth among all rookies. He was sixth among rookies in rebounding (4.6 per game), fifth in field-goal percentage (49.7), eighth in minutes played (27.6) and 10th in free-throw percentage (77.4).
With the Warriors devastated by injuries to Klay Thompson and then Stephen Curry, they posted one of the worst seasons in franchise history, a league-worst 15-50 record. One starting forward, Kevin Durant, had left for Brooklyn. The other, Draymond Green, was battling a variety of nagging injuries. Playing time was available.
Paschall exploited it. He was one of three rookies to post multiple 30-point games, and one of three with multiple 20-10 games. From a Warriors season that amounted to a pile of rubble, he somehow was able to mine gold.
And he did it without much of a 3-ball.
“That's part of the next step offensively, especially from the corners,” Kerr said. “If he can become a more consistent 3-point shooter, then he'll be on the floor more.”
The corner 3-ball, particularly from the right side, is where Tucker, listed at 6-5, 245, gets his money. Paschall shot 28.7 percent from deep as a rook, but he made at least two triples in 11 games. Tucker played 83 minutes as a rookie, with zero attempts from beyond the arc. His shot developed during six vagabond years, playing in the D-League and in various places overseas.
Paschall is ahead of Tucker in at least one other measurable asset: Athleticism. Tucker can run into a dunk, but Paschall can rise flat-footed into a double-pump jam.
“Oh, he’s explosive, more explosive than P.J.,” Kerr said. “But P.J. has all the tricks. He knows every trick in the book, and that's what Eric needs to learn. He needs to learn NBA defense, learn the tricks and then become a better shooter, like PJ has.”
The coach has laid the blueprint. The league emphasizes wings and versatility, and Paschall has that ability. Like Tucker, taken 35th overall in 2006, Paschall entered the league as an unlikely impact player. Like Tucker, Paschall is built to rumble. Like Tucker, brings scrap with his muscle.
Tucker didn’t become an NBA difference-maker until he was in his 30s. Paschall is 23. He is being recognized for what he did as a rookie, which is nice but hardly enough for someone who loves to defy any odds against him.