Even during the best of times for the Warriors, Bob Myers is the house worrier-in-chief. The lanky team president/general manager can find storm clouds in even the bluest sky.
The anxiety is real these days, though, not only for Myers but also for his staff. The front office is facing the most meaningful draft since Myers took charge eight years ago.
Wildly successful from 2013-2019, the Warriors hit 2020 at a crossroads. Their decorated core trio -- Stephen Curry, Draymond Green, Klay Thompson -- have each sailed past their 30th birthdays. They still have game, but it’s irrational to expect they’ll be as good in 2025. Prolonged franchise greatness requires blending today’s winners with youngsters capable of taking the torch. It’s the surest route to sustaining the lofty standard set in the first decade of the Joe Lacob/Peter Guber ownership.
In a stroke of impeccable timing, Myers is sitting on a lottery pick for the first time since Jerry West left the organization in 2017. We’ll know Thursday whether it’s No. 1 overall, or later.
In a stroke of misfortune beyond basketball, the Warriors are trying to reload at the precise time the world struggles with a deadly pandemic.
“So far, it's been a long runway, much longer than we've ever had,” Myers says. “I can say it’s easier because we have more time but harder because we have less access.”
Despite being restricted to virtual interviews, there is pressure to nail it. To use the lottery pick to their fullest advantage, even though they likely will have another (via Minnesota) in 2021.
And the process is different from their last trip to the lottery, in 2012. While West didn’t ignore the science of drafting, he leaned heavily on the wisdom gained from 60 years as a player, coach and architect. He followed his instincts. Trusted his gut. With the Logo now with the Los Angeles Clippers, I asked Myers if his own gut was more a factor now than it was in his earlier drafts.
“There's so much numerical processing to do that the notion of what it used to be, maybe 15, 20 years ago where I look at that scene in ‘Moneyball’ where they're all sitting around the table and you've got some of the old scouts commenting on what the guy's girlfriend looks like, and then (A’s GM) Billy (Beane) is sitting there with the assistant GM and they're processing on-base percentage,” Myers says. “It's somewhere in the middle of that, especially in our sport, because we're not baseball.”
In short, Myers & Co. won’t completely dismiss gut feeling but place much a higher value on raw and advanced statistical analysis.
“It doesn't mean you respond to the analytics, but they're introduced into the process a lot more than they were previously in the last seven, eight years,” Myers says. “So that factors into things. It gets very mathematical, and you have to decide how much you want to weight that as part of the process. So that's a different thing.”
If Myers & Co. play this lottery pick exactly right -- whether through the draft or trade -- the Warriors will add a foundational pillar for the roster they want in 2025.
If they play it poorly, Myers will invite a level of draft-related heat thus far obscured by the fact that the Warriors were the most accomplished and celebrated NBA team of the 2010s.
See, while they were chasing rings and winning trophies, Myers and his crew were failing to distinguish themselves as graduates of the J. West school of talent evaluation. The late drafts made the task challenging, yes, but the Warriors’ recent record has more whiffs than hits.
In drafting Jacob Evans III in 2018 -- a move that prompted a longtime scout to pull me aside in Sacramento’s Summer League and tell me “he can’t play” -– the Warriors left Gary Trent Jr. and Shake Milton on the board. Myers has since admitted they erred.
They chose Jordan Bell in 2017, leaving two of his Oregon teammates -– Dillon Brooks and Chris Boucher -– on the board. Bell is on his fifth team. Brooks is a starter for the Memphis Grizzlies. Since being cut from his two-way deal with the Warriors, Boucher has become a two-year reserve on the defending champion Toronto Raptors.
The Warriors liked Damian Jones’ athleticism and smarts but traded him after one healthy but mostly unproductive season. Drafted six spots later in 2016 was Malcolm Brogdon, whose Rookie of the Year award proved many misread his ability. Drafted two spots later than Jones was Ivica Zubac, now the starting center for the contending Clippers.
Since nailing the 2011 (Thompson, at the urging of West) and 2012 drafts (Harrison Barnes, Festus Ezeli and Green, again with West in the room), the Warriors have only Kevon Looney to show as someone making meaningful contributions to their success and still on the roster.
“You try to learn from mistakes you make and go back and look at the rankings,” Myers says. “And having had the same group together for a little while allows us to go back and say, ‘Well, why did you rank this guy in this number?’ and look at people's patterns and who's been successful and who hasn't within the group and how they value guys. So, there's a little more accountability.”
It’s too soon to fairly judge the 2019 draft, indications are Jordan Poole and Eric Paschall have NBA futures. They also will need help as soon as the 2020 draft.
The last time the Warriors were in the lottery, they struck gold. They ended a five-year playoff drought in Year 1 and won a championship in Year 3. Barnes, Ezeli and Green, none over 25, were playing in fourth quarters of postseason games. It’s exceedingly rare that three players from the same draft play meaningful minutes together.
Whether by adding directly through the lottery -- or with someone acquired with that pick -- there is a simple way to measure the success of Myers & Co. If that player can be trusted to be on the floor in tight postseason games, it’s a win for the future of the Warriors.