SAN FRANCISCO -- With Kevon Looney and Gary Payton II sailing into free agency next month, possibly subtracting 20 to 25 percent of the rotation that won the NBA Finals, the Warriors will spend the next few weeks seeking talent with similar skills.
There could be a need for a big man capable of defending on the perimeter and rebounding in traffic, as Looney did, as well as a guard/wing capable of disturbing ball-handlers, as Payton did.
It’s unfair to expect seamless and immediate fits, for similar is not the same as identical. There will be a learning curve, and it might be steep.
The first phase of finding such players comes Thursday, when general manager Bob Myers and his trusty lieutenants talk and text their way around the league in the hours before, during and after the NBA draft.
Draft-eligible players generally fall into one of five categories. There are those with star potential, those with starter potential, those with rotation possibility, those with one identifiable skill and those who are projects ripe for development.
The Warriors, with the No. 28 overall pick in the first round and then the No. 51 and 55 picks in the second round, are restricted to prospects in the latter three categories.
“You'd like to be able to identify maybe one, maybe two things that you think translate to the NBA level,” Myers said Wednesday. “If you can't find one, that's usually not great. Sometimes it's athleticism, so it's not -- I guess you could call that a skill. Sometimes it's size. Sometimes it's shooting. Sometimes it's passing.”
Even if Golden State makes all three picks -- trade chatter is loud, constant and logical -- do not expect to see three rookie draft picks in training camp in September.
Though Looney and Payton are wanted back, there are no guarantees. So, here are six players -- three in the Looney slot, three in the Payton slot -- worthy of consideration with Golden State’s three picks:
Functional swing big men
E. J. Liddell (Ohio State)
After three seasons at Ohio State, he’s fundamentally sound and NBA ready -- particularly on defense. He stifled Duke’s Paolo Banchero, a lock to go in the top three. Mature at 6-foot-7, 245 pounds, think Eric Paschall but with a 7-foot wingspan suitable for small-ball center. Excellent rebounder, good in the post and nuanced in the ways of the game. Projected to go in the 25-45 range, Liddell turns 22 in December -- making him three months older than James Wiseman.
Amadou Sow (UC Santa Barbara)
Off the assembly line at Pacific Prep Academy in Napa -- and a former member of the AAU Oakland Soldiers -- Sow’s physical measurables (6-foot-9, 235 pounds) mirror those of Looney. A native of Mali, he played soccer before moving to hoops. As a senior center with the Gauchos, he averaged 15.6 points and 8.4 rebounds and was effective within their motion offense. He is, at 23, less than three years younger than Looney. Raw around the edges, he’s projected as a late second-round pick.
Trevion Williams (Purdue)
With two above-the-rim youngsters -- Jonathan Kuminga and James Wiseman -- already on the roster, it might be wise to snag a big-bodied forward-center who plays old-school basketball. At 6-foot-8, 260 pounds with a 7-foot-2 wingspan, Williams has a good feel for the game and is Chicago tough. He’s not flashy, but after starting as a sophomore and junior, he accepted the Sixth Man role as a senior and was named Big Ten Sixth Man of the Year. He’ll be 22 in September and is projected as a second-round pick.
Versatile, annoying guards
Keon Ellis (Alabama)
He’s a combo guard with a decent jump shot but a poor handle and puzzling decision making. He started all 33 games for the Crimson Tide largely because he’s a great athlete and elite defender. At 6-foot-5, 180 pounds with a 6-foot-8 wingspan, Ellis profiles as a 3-and-D type available in the second round. Old-school comp: former Lakers star Michael Cooper. New-school comp: Poor man’s Mikal Bridges. Ellis is 22, old for a rookie, but not a negative for this roster.
Trevor Keels (Duke)
A muscular 6-foot-4, 220 pounds with a 6-foot-7 wingspan, he can play bully ball on either end. His offense comes mostly on drives to the rim. His best defensive attribute is the ability to guard 1-through-4. He’s relentless and loves to force turnovers. The most frequent comp is Oklahoma City Thunder wing Lu Dort. The downside, so to speak, is that Keels is a one-and-done prospect who doesn’t turn 19 until August. He projects to be selected in the 25-45 range.
Andrew Nembhard (Gonzaga)
He’s an average athlete who compensates by using smarts and his 6-foot-5, 200-pound frame to effectively guard all three perimeter positions. He enjoys defense. He’s a pure point guard who will find open teammates but won’t hurt his squad with turnovers. He has some similarities to former Warrior Patrick McCaw but with a sturdier physique. His unselfish, move-the-ball style fits Golden State. A four-year collegian at age 22, he projects to be selected in the 40-55 range.