SAN FRANCISCO – It’s rare when an NBA coach, with his team 34 games below .500, breaks into a broad grin instead of a resigned sigh when discussing the maturation process of a rookie.
That was Steve Kerr’s response the other day when I asked about Eric Paschall.
What the Warriors coach said following the grin, however, raised eyebrows.
“Honestly, it’s like coaching Steph and Klay -- and that’s probably my highest compliment,” Kerr told NBC Sports Bay Area. “There’s zero maintenance with Eric. Zero maintenance. He’s obviously been parented and coached well throughout his life. We’re lucky to have him.”
For any rookie to be compared in any way to Steph Curry and Klay Thompson -- two three-time champions with a combined 11 All-Star game appearances -- is blasphemy. But, go ahead and ask around. In his ninth month as a Warrior, Paschall is drawing raves across the board.
Curry says Paschall carries “himself like he’s meant to be” in the NBA.
Draymond Green says Paschall, a 6-foot-6, 250-pound combo forward, has the potential to play all five positions.
At 23, with five years of college behind him, Paschall has the discernment of a 35-year-old.
“It’s so great just to know that a guy is that mature,” Kerr said. “You can look him in the eye and be very honest with him and he looks you back and nods his head and says, ‘Yes,’ and then he actually works at it and you see the results. And it’s all just a really natural progression. No wasted emotion. No angst. It’s just very matter-of-fact.
“You have no idea how much this helps me, and our staff, to do our jobs.”
Kerr smiles yet again because he is enjoying this feeling. This is his sixth season as Warriors coach, the first five passed without a rookie eliciting widespread praise; Patrick McCaw in 2016-17 came closest. Paschall is the first Kerr has seen walk through the door with so many boxes checked. For a franchise that has failed rather spectacularly with its recent draft choices, he has been as refreshing as he is necessary.
After back-to-back drafts produced players -- Jordan Bell in 2017 and Jacob Evans III in 2018 -- already pushed to the fringes of the NBA, the Warriors were desperate for at least one of their three 2019 selections to make an impact. It was imperative the Warriors find someone they could visualize being a franchise pillar for the next 10 years.
Paschall is trending hard in that direction. A reserve getting starting-caliber minutes (27.5 per game), he’s averaging 14.0 points, shooting 50.0 percent from the field, and pulling down 4.6 rebounds per game. He’s the most impressive Warriors rookie since Harrison Barnes cracked the starting lineup seven years ago.
So impressed are the Warriors with Paschall’s leadership abilities and quick conversion of advice to application, his list of responsibilities is growing by the week. That’s what happens to a youngster who handles everything thrown his way.
For his rapid transition to the NBA, Paschall credits his parents, Juan and Cecilia, Warriors coaches, with particular kudos to player-development coach Theo Robertson, as well as previous coaches. There was Tom Pecora at Fordham, where he spent his freshman year, and then Jay Wright at Villanova, where Paschall transferred and spent four years.
“My dad always told me to be coachable,” Paschall told NBC Sports Bay Area. “He said that I should always listen to my coaches, and then apply it in the games. That’s where it comes from. My parents. I know that goes a long way.”
The coaching staff is comfortable coming to Paschall from a direct, no-coddling point of view. Consider: With Robertson serving as point man, several Warriors coaches met with Paschall a couple weeks ago. They told him they loved his effort and dedication, his ability to impose his will. They also made it clear they didn’t love how at times, particularly on offense, he would neglect his teammates.
They then unveiled video proof. There’s the rookie being a rookie, with tunnel vision, forcing up contested shots, sometimes with 10 or 12 seconds remaining on the shot clock. There’s the rookie, holding the ball for six, seven or eight seconds, contemplating his next move, as teammates stand and watch.
“In typical Eric fashion, he nodded his head,” Kerr said. “And since that time the progression has come so naturally and so quickly. The assists he’s racking up. The good possessions for us where he doesn’t get an assist, but we score because he moves the ball on and generated penetration.”
The difference is striking. In November, when his 18.1-points-per-game scoring (on 47.8-percent shooting) was attracting national attention, Paschall averaged 1.5 assists per game. Over his last five games, covering 10 days, he is averaging 19.6 points (59.2-percent shooting) and, no joke, 6.3 assists.
Is it unfair to expect Paschall to average 19 and six over the final 18 games? Absolutely. Just as it would have been unfair to believe he could quadruple his assists totals after a single counseling session.
Unfair, however, is a long way from impossible.
“Yeah,” Paschall said when asked if he can actually feel his leap in proficiency. “I feel like the game is slowing down for me. I feel like I can be a great decision-maker and playmaker. I’m trying to do all things on the court.”
Veteran assistant Ron Adams, who can be blunt in his assessments, is a believer. Paschall’s teammates, to a man, are confident that what he is doing is no mirage.
There’s no doubt that Paschall, like others, is benefitting from the Warriors moving away from the slow-walk offense directed by D’Angelo Russell. But it’s still a rookie getting better at a time when the season is moving into the postseason-sprint phase.
“All those little nuances, he’s figured out now,” Kerr said. “And he didn’t have those early in the season, even though he was getting some big numbers. Now he’s a basketball player.”