How Warriors rookie Eric Paschall shook doubters, made his mark in NBA

How Warriors rookie Eric Paschall shook doubters, made his mark in NBA

Editor’s note: NBC Sports Bay Area’s first “Dub of the Day” this season is Eric Paschall. Stay with our digital and TV coverage all day long to learn everything about the Warriors rookie who has electrified the fan base.

As Eric Paschall steps into a third-floor room at a downtown Houston hotel, the Warriors rookie still is reconciling the week he's had.

Thumbing through two iPhones, he's figuring out a way to respond to the hundreds of inquiries at his fingertips.

"A lot of people hitting me up," Paschall softly admits. "Just randomly."

Those texters have good reason. In the three games prior, Paschall had averaged nearly 30 points and eight rebounds per game, including a career-high 34-point, 13-rebound performance in a home win over the Trail Blazers on his 23rd birthday.

The output garnered praise leaguewide, as the 41st overall pick in the 2019 NBA Draft -- expected to contribute more on defense than on the scoresheet -- single-handedly carried a Golden State squad without Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson and Draymond Green to an upset of a predicted Western Conference power.

The ripple effects of that game immediately came. Instagram posts from Green and Curry soon followed, giving hundreds an excuse to dial Paschall’s number.

"Looking at your phone and seeing the [follower count] say 99.9 [thousand] and then you refresh, it says 100 [thousand], and then refresh, it says 101 [thousand]," Paschall marveled, "it's, wow."

A brotherhood built on basketball

For much of his life, through circumstance, Paschall has assumed an underdog role, using the chip on his shoulder to reach his basketball dream in an unconventional way.

Paschall’s journey started 1,600 miles east of that Houston hotel room, in Westchester County, New York, north of Manhattan. His father, Juan, worked in security, and gained the reputation as the one you didn't mess with, and his mother, Cecilla, was a Westchester County social worker. The future Warrior honed his game on the basketball court centered in his apartment complex, where he'd play Juan one-on-one.

Once when he was 11, he had a score to settle.

"Dad, let's go play one-on-one," the kid demanded.

Juan obliged, having never taken a loss to his boy.

Using seniority, Juan took the ball first. Then, Eric stripped him and scored, then scored again and two more times after that, handily winning the game to five -- much to Juan's chagrin.

“He was like, ‘All right, I'm done,’ “ Paschall remembers. “And then he went into the house and he was like, ‘I'm never playing that boy one-on-one ever again.’ ”

Paschall's game soon graduated to the Riverside church league in Harlem, alongside his neighbor, now-Utah Jazz guard Donovan Mitchell. The trip became a part of a double life for the two.

In Westchester County, the median income of $77,006 was the fifth highest in New York in 2011. The county also was predominantly white, with that group accounting for 57.4 percent of the population. The population of Harlem -- a rugged New York City borough -- was 63 percent black, leading Paschall to adjust.

"I've definitely learned how to code-switch," Paschall admits. "In Westchester, I couldn't talk the same way or use the same lingo that we used down when I was playing with Riverside."

His journey to the adjustment Harlem also came from the reputation of his hometown. While kids from “The City” received instant respect, Paschall and Mitchell found themselves as outsiders in a basketball hotbed.

“People will always rule us as soft,” Paschall said. “Everybody says the city is like gritty and everybody’s like so hard-nosed, but just because you’re from Westchester doesn't mean you can't do that.”

“No one really expected it to be us to make it,” Mitchell told NBC Sports Bay Area. “We had talent. We were good.”

That chip manifested itself on the court. Paschall averaged 26.0 points, 11.2 rebounds and 2.5 assists per game as a junior at Dobbs Ferry High School, and Mitchell became an All-American at Brewster Academy in Wolfeboro, N.H.

"It was the thing in New York, when you're in the city, even though we played in the city," Mitchell remembers. "For us, it was like trying to prove our point for years, upon years, upon years, and we finally were able to do that."

"That's one thing that we took on," Paschall said. "We're going to prove everybody wrong. Just because you guys are from the city doesn't mean we're not good basketball players."

All the while, the two built a bond. When Paschall wanted snacks, he'd head to the Mitchells, where Donovan had developed a habit of wolfing down a bag of Skittles and a bottle of Gatorade before each AAU game. By his senior year, Paschall -- then at St. Thomas More High in Oakdale, Conn. -- and Mitchell were division rivals playing for the national title.

"He was the other kid in the neighborhood that played basketball," Mitchell said. "Then from there, being on the same AAU team allowed us to become really tight knit, being the two kids from Westchester, having to travel all the way down until the city. We carpooled a lot and shared car rides.

"He's like my brother," Mitchell added. "His dad, Juan, his mom, Cecelia, is like my mom, my aunts and uncles, they're really close. Where we've been that way for a very long time."

Long, winding road to pros

While Mitchell received top-tier offers and chose to attend Louisville, Paschall's options mostly were limited to mid-major schools. He considered Virginia Commonwealth, George Mason and Providence before enrolling at nearby Fordham.

Paschall averaged 15.9 points and 5.5 rebounds per game in his freshman season with the Rams, including a 31-point, 10-rebound performance in his debut. By the end of the year, he’d been named the Atlantic 10 Conference Rookie of the Year. But the wins didn't follow, as Fordham finished last in the league.

Six days after the season, Paschall received a text from his mother, asking, "Did you see what happened?" An email confirmed the news: His coach, Tom Pecora, had been fired. The school's decision immediately put Paschall in basketball purgatory.

"It was just so much that went on during that time," he said. "I remember calling my dad and I was like, ‘What do you want to do? What are we going to do?’ ”

After a brief discussion, the decision became clear.

"I kind of want to transfer," he told his father. "Just because they're not here. I came here to play for these coaches."

By the end of the summer, Paschall had enrolled in Villanova, which had recruited him in high school, to play for coach Jay Wright. Pecora was an assistant under Wright at Hofstra and had put in a good word for Paschall.

"When Tom said [Eric] was thinking about leaving and Tom called us, we knew we had a potential pro there," Wright told NBC Sports Bay Area. "We just knew he had to work on some things, get his body in better shape."

Two years later, Paschall flourished with the Wildcats as a junior, averaging 10.6 points and 5.3 rebounds per game as they won the national championship. He averaged 16.5 points and 6.1 rebounds per game as a senior, finishing a career in which he set the example, according to Wright.

"Any time we needed him to step up and take over a game, he did,” the coach said. “The [2018] semifinal game against Kansas was a great example [Paschall had 24 points, three rebounds and three assists]. He'd been doing a lot of dirty work. We'd always put them on the best. We could put them on the best perimeter player.

“He was the face of the program,” Wright added. “A leader, a go-to guy, a guy that really put the program on his shoulders his senior year.”

As Paschall finished his college career, Mitchell was on his way to becoming one of the faces of the NBA's future. Through two seasons with the Jazz, he had averaged 22.2 points and nearly four assists, finishing second in 2018 NBA Rookie of the Year voting and helping Utah reach the playoffs.

In contrast, Paschall didn't receive much pre-draft acclaim, despite his college success. Most publications projected him as a late first-round/early second-round pick, citing his lack of size (6-foot-7) and his shooting as detriments, but one criticism irked him the most.

“My age,” Paschall said. “It was just like, ‘He's old.’ But I feel like that’s kind of an advantage in some type of way. Like just being mature, knowing how to take care of your body. I could just go play right now. So, that's one thing that I was like, why does my age really matter if I feel like I'm that good?”

On draft night, teams backed away from Paschall. Mitchell was right by his friend’s side at his draft party, as they watched 40 picks pass without Pascall’s name being called.

The Warriors ended the wait with pick No. 41, and Mitchell had a message for the soon-to-be-rookie.

"You worked your ass off to get here," Mitchell told Paschall in a video captured shortly after the Warriors made the pick. "Don't let that 41 get in your head. … You're one of 450 dudes in this world."

The video went viral after what Mitchell now calls "an emotional night."

"I think for the both of us, [with] Eric not knowing where he was going," Mitchell said. "Obviously, we had two different draft experiences [Mitchell was drafted 13th overall in 2017], but us really not knowing. ... That's scary. It was easy for me to give him insight and be like, "Look, you're going to be all right.' "

Proving ground

Warriors rookie Eric Paschall (right) had to guard LeBron James in his first NBA game, and it was quite the learning experience (Photo by The Associated Press)

Shortly after Paschall signed a three-year, $4.2 million contract, Warriors coach Steve Kerr was quick to throw his rookie forward into the fire. Paschall was tasked with guarding All-NBA big man Anthony Davis in his first preseason game.

In the second quarter, Lakers superstar LeBron James took a pass at half court, dribbled three times and barreled into Paschall's chest for an easy layup, emphasizing the rookie's steep learning curve.

"It was kind of like, wow," Paschall said. "This is my first assignment. But you're supposed to feel like you're supposed to belong in the NBA, so go prove it."

He’s staying true to those words in the first month of his NBA career. Last week, Paschall averaged 29.5 points and eight rebounds over a three-game span, inciting some MVP chants during free-throw attempts late in the win over Portland. While MVP might be a stretch, Rookie of the Year could be an option.

One day later in Houston, Paschall sheepishly dismissed the notion of MVP honors.

“Oh my God," he relented. "Super early. There's still like over 70 games left. So, I still got to take it game by game and keep trying to play the right way.”

Paschall’s performances have come with Golden State's season in peril. Four months after their fifth consecutive NBA Finals appearance, the Warriors are 2-8, tied with the Knicks for the league’s worst record through 10 games.

Five nights before Paschall's offensive outburst, Curry broke his hand, which will keep him out until at least February. One night later, Green tore a ligament in his left index finger. In Sunday's loss to the Thunder, Paschall himself sat out with a hip pointer. All those injuries have made Golden State more likely a lottery team than a contender -- a notion to which the rookie takes offense.

"We're here for a reason," Paschall proclaimed. "It's not like we're on a team where we won a contract. Put a little respect on our name just a little bit. We're still NBA players. We still get paid to do this. This is our job, too."

Injuries aside, Paschall still has the rookie's highest seasonal honor within his grasp. At the start of the week, he ranks second among first-year NBA players in efficiency, second in points per game and eighth in rebounds. That's only going to keep his phones buzzing.

“I just continue to get better, honestly, and just learn more and keep playing," Paschall said. "The more minutes I get, the better, and I feel like I could help the team a lot. Just bring your energy in here, doing whatever the team needs.”

That continues Monday, when Paschall’s Warriors will meet Mitchell’s Jazz at Chase Center. Mitchell believes it’s the first time he and Paschall will have played against each other -- and with it will come some friendly banter between the longtime pals.

“I’m going to talk a lot of trash, that’s for sure,” Mitchell said. “But I’m going to be excited.”

If this past month is any indication, Paschall will rise to the challenge, and then some.

Click to watch NBCS Bay Area's entire Paschall interview

Special thanks to James Ham and Dave Bernstein for their contributions to this story.

Warriors' Klay Thompson will return 'late next season,' father Mychal says

Warriors' Klay Thompson will return 'late next season,' father Mychal says

There is not yet an official timeline for Klay Thompson’s return to the Warriors lineup, but his father provided a pretty good update the other day.

Mychal Thompson, who accompanied Klay out of Oracle Arena after the shooting guard sustained a torn ACL in his left knee in Game 6 of The Finals, indicated his son may be able to resume moderate basketball activities by the end of the calendar year.

“He’s walking normally and he’s very optimistic and enthusiastic about getting back late next season,” Thompson said on the NBC Sports Bay Area Warriors Insider podcast.

“Once he gets back up to the bay and is around the team and he’s working out . . . he probably won’t be on the court doing fullcourt drills until late December or January. So, he’s got quite a ways to go. The main thing is to stay dedicated and diligent in your rehab and just continue to work hard and keep that motivation to get back on the court with his teammates.”

Thompson sustained the injury on June 13 and underwent surgery on July 2. With a typical recovery period falling anytime between six months and nine months, his father’s projection is within range.

Mychal even offered a comparison: Chicago Bulls guard Zach LaVine, who had surgery in February 2017. LaVine five months later (in July) announced himself ahead of schedule. Four months later, he was throwing down windmill dunks in full-contact practices.

When LaVine did not return until January, it was speculated that he could have come back sooner if the Bulls weren’t committed to tanking.

There is no questioning that LaVine aced his recovery.

“Modern medicine has advanced so much since 10, 15, 20 years ago,” Mychal Thompson said. “Guys come back from this injury and are normal. You can look at a bunch of players in the league now who have suffered that injury and have come back because they’ve dedicated themselves to their rehab. And they come back as if nothing ever happened.

“Doctors are so good now. Modern medicine is so good at repairing these athletes. That’s the way I talked to Klay. You’re going to be fine. Look at Zach LaVine. He had the same injury and is as bouncy as ever because guys like that work hard to come back. (Klay) will come back stronger than ever.”

Thompson’s injury led some to wonder if the Warriors might reduce the proposed max contract offer once he became a free agent. They didn’t. Thompson last month signed a five-year pact worth $190 million.

[RELATED: What attracted Warriors to D'Angelo]

“We never worried about that, because (Warriors CEO) Joe Lacob and management have been so loyal to their core players and what they have meant to that franchise,” Mychal Thompson said. “And with this injury, every doctor assured Klay and the Warriors that he was going to come back as good as ever.”

The Warriors would happily accept that and remain hopeful that Thompson will be able to return to game action sometime in February or March.

Kevin Durant's time with Warriors gives Steve Kerr fond memories forever

Kevin Durant's time with Warriors gives Steve Kerr fond memories forever

Gone are the days when Steve Kerr could use the Warriors to reduce teams around the NBA to envious piles of rubble. “Super Villains” T-shirts, manufactured when Kevin Durant joined the team three years ago, officially have devolved to nostalgia.

Kerr already has made his mental pivot and is able to savor the memories.

“Kevin took us to a different level,” Kerr said Tuesday on The Warriors Insider Podcast. “We were a championship team before he got here. We became a historic team after his arrival.”

The Warriors had gone to back-to-back NBA Finals, winning the first and losing the second, in the two seasons before KD signed as a free agent after nine seasons in Seattle/Oklahoma City.

In his three seasons as a Warrior, Durant helped the team to three consecutive trips to The Finals, with two championships, while collecting two Finals MVP awards. Kerr is skeptical whether that would have happened without Durant, who replaced Harrison Barnes, a solid player but clearly lacking the prodigious gifts of an all-time great.

“We lost Game 7 in 2016,” Kerr said, recalling the painful conclusion to the record-setting 73-9 season. “Had we gone forward with that team, without Kevin, I know we would have been in the mix. But we wouldn’t have been as dominant, obviously, had Kevin not arrived.”

Never were Durant and the Warriors more in sync than in the 2017 postseason, when they swept the first three rounds and took a 3-0 lead over Cleveland in The Finals before winning in five games. Their 16-1 record is the best in NBA history, and 13 of the 16 wins were by double digits.

"That team, to me, was as good as any team that’s ever played, at least since I’ve been watching the NBA," Kerr said. "Playing in the NBA, following it, covering it as a broadcaster, that was as talented a group at both ends of the floor as I’ve ever seen. Just total dominance."

Durant during his Warriors career (208 regular-season games) averaged 25.8 points per game, shooting 52.4 percent from the field and 38.3 percent from beyond the arc. His 8.3 rebounds per game in 2016-17 set a career-high, as did his 1.8 blocks the next season and his 5.9 assists in his third and final season.

[RELATED: Kerr reveals why he was devastated by Dubs trading Iguodala]

KD tilted the floor. And more.

“He gave us everything that we expected and more,” Kerr said. “His play was incredible. The things he did for people in the Bay Area, in the community, what he did for kids, what he did on the floor ... he did everything. And we were lucky to have him.

“In terms of his departure, everybody’s different. Everybody’s got a different story, a different career path. And he obviously felt like it was time for a change. So, he moved on. We wish him the best.”