Two years after the Warriors gambled on the long-term project that is Alen Smailagić, there has been no return on investment and, moreover, no visible indication there will be.
And, my, has the franchise tried.
The Warriors have experimented with occasional garbage-time minutes, hoping for a glimpse of something salvageable. They’ve also sent “Smiley” to the G League, bumping up his minutes there in hopes of seeing signs of progress.
Two seasons in, the 20-year-old power forward still is as raw as sashimi. And, my goodness, is his effort commendable. At 6-foot-10, 215 pounds, Smiley hustles every minute he’s on the floor, whether it’s NBA or G League. He is impetuous, fearless and likable – but utterly without any effective skill.
After playing 139 NBA minutes in 2019-20, Smailagić last season dropped to 84, over 15 games. His season-high for minutes was 10 in a 53-point loss to the Raptors in the first week of April. His season-high for scoring was six, twice, first in that blowout against Toronto and five weeks later in a blowout win over the Oklahoma City Thunder.
Smiley’s 2021-22 contract is not guaranteed and won’t be unless he’s on the roster on Aug. 6. There is no reason to expect he will be. With the Warriors vowing to add reinforcements in an effort to maximize the prime of Stephen Curry, everyone on the roster should have something to offer.
Smailagić doesn’t pass that test.
By trading up to draft him in the second round (39th overall) of the 2019 draft – two picks before selecting Eric Paschall – Golden State’s front office indulged in a low-risk experiment. Projects from abroad have developed into contributors under those circumstances. Examples include Willy Hernangomez (No. 35 overall, 2015) and Davis Bertans (No. 42 in 2011).
The Nuggets might have hit the biggest second-round jackpot ever when they selected Nikola Jokić, the favorite in the 2021 NBA MVP race, 41st overall in 2014.
The Warriors were hoping to outsmart the competition and find a diamond in the rough. Smailagić has not been that.
He’s still young, with room to grow, but it has reached the point where the Warriors have little reason to believe he’ll become a contributor on an NBA team anytime soon, if ever.