Warriors

Warriors draft pick Alen Smailagic eager to prove he's ready for NBA

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USATSI

Warriors draft pick Alen Smailagic eager to prove he's ready for NBA

OAKLAND -- The Warriors have a timetable for the development of Alen Smailagic that seems reasonable for the 18-year-old rookie from Serbia.

Give him two years, and maybe he’ll be ready.

But if you bring that timetable to Smailagic, he pounces and swats it into the fourth row.

“I don’t think so, that it’s going to take me two or three or four years,” he said Monday after a news conference introducing the team’s rookies. “I think I’m going to do good this year. I already told them that I don’t want to just wear the jersey. I really want to play.”

He gets points for confidence. Smailagic (pronounced Smile-a-GEECH) sees the Warriors trying to fill a roster with a plethora of openings and visualizes himself pulling on his jersey, No. 6, and jogging onto the floor at Chase Center next October.

The Warriors, after all, could use a skilled 6-foot-10, 225-pound forward/center that plays hard and has a high basketball IQ. Smailagic flashed those assets last season, while playing 818 minutes, spread out over 47 games, for the team’s G League affiliate in Santa Cruz.

That that he accomplished that as the youngest player in G League history persuaded the NBA Warriors, fearing another team may come after their secret stash, to move up and use the first of two second-round picks (39th overall) to select him. Because Smailagic was 17 at the time of the 2018 NBA Draft, he was ineligible to be chosen. To play pro ball in America, the G League was his only option.

“They didn’t disrespect me because of my age,” Smailagic said of his experience in Santa Cruz. “They really wanted me to play and they reacted to me like I’m a professional.”

Though Smailagic was projected to go late in the second round, somewhere between pick Nos. 50 and 60, the Warriors heard enough from Santa Cruz coach Aaron Miles and general manager Kent Lacob that they didn’t want to risk losing him.

Indeed, there is a firm belief within the organization that he has considerable potential, perhaps enough to be a starter, if not a true impact player. That potential, however, is years away.

“He’s going to be a player in the league,” one Western Conference scout told NBC Sports Bay Area on Monday. “He can be really good if his body continues to mature. There is no question about his desire or his skill.

“But I think he’s a couple years away.”

If Smailagic can make the roster as a two-way player -- a distinct possibility -- that would be a triumph for someone much more uncertain about his command of English than his game, and whose previous experience was in the European junior leagues.

Smailagic, nicknamed Smiley for obvious reasons, says as he grew and gravitated toward basketball, he studied Warriors superstar Kevin Durant -- “He’s really tall and he can jump, he can dribble, he can shoot. He can do everything” -- and also Kings forward Nemanja Bjelica, another native of Serbia.

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Asked if he cared to pattern himself after Durant or Bjelica or anyone else, Smailagic wasted no time replying.

“No. I didn’t have that kind of mindset, because I want to play how I play.” 

Why Klay Thompson thinks it's 'hard time to play' during NBA restart

Why Klay Thompson thinks it's 'hard time to play' during NBA restart

Klay Thompson said he can't blame any NBA players having trouble focusing on basketball right now.

The restarted season is occurring in a "bubble" at the Walt Disney World Resort amid a global pandemic that has killed nearly 170,000 Americans alone and within months of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor's deaths at the hands of police. The coronavirus' disparate impact on people of color, coupled with renewed attention on African Americans disproportionately dying in police custody, has laid bare the entrenched systemic inequalities within the United States. 

Around three-fourths of NBA players are Black, and Thompson said he empathizes with his peers on the 22 NBA teams still playing.

"Honestly, these last few months, it was like divine intervention happening for the world to see what is really going on to a lot of marginalized peoples in this country," Thompson told Brandon Williams in an interview for Bleacher Report. "So I feel for the players right now. It's a hard time to play."

Thompson marched in a protest against systemic racism organized by teammate Juan Toscano-Anderson back in June, and NBA players and coaches have maintained that focus in Orlando.

[RELATED: Steph, Dame deserve better than these ridiculous debates]

Players are mentioning Taylor in their pre- and post-game press conferences, calling for the officers involved in her death to be arrested. Gregg Popovich's media availability routinely serve as history lessons about American injustice. League-approved social-justice messages adorn the backs of players' jerseys. The NBA announced it's committing $300 million over the next decade to spur economic growth in Black communities.

This all is happening as the NBA seeks to complete its season and crown a champion, with teams resuming for the first time in months in pursuit of the sport's ultimate prize. That's a tall order on its own, and an even taller one for players and coaches using their platforms in an effort to enact meaningful, systemic change.

It's understandable they're doing so with heavy hearts.

[RUNNIN' PLAYS PODCAST: Listen to the latest episode]

Why Tom Haberstroh believes Warriors will trade Andrew Wiggins, top pick

Why Tom Haberstroh believes Warriors will trade Andrew Wiggins, top pick

The Warriors will pick in the NBA draft lottery for the first time since they selected Harrison Barnes No. 7 overall in the 2012 draft. With Steph Curry, Klay Thompson and Co. healthy, however, Golden State might be better off trading its top draft pick this year. 

And that's exactly what NBC Sports' Tom Haberstroh believes the Warriors will do. 

"I think the Golden State Warriors are gonna trade that pick, especially if it lands at No. 1," Haberstroh told NBC Sports Bay Area. "That's gonna create the most value for them." 

The Warriors soon will find out where they pick in the 2020 draft. The draft lottery will be held Aug. 20, and Golden State has a 14 percent chance of landing the No. 1 overall pick. There's a 13.4 percent chance of the Warriors picking at No. 2, 12.7 percent chance of No. 3, 12 percent chance of No. 4 and a 47.9 percent chance of dropping to No. 5.

While the San Francisco Chronicle's Connor Letourneau recently reported the Warriors believe Georgia shooting guard Anthony Edwards can contribute right away and be a future face of the franchise, this draft isn't full of surefire stars. The Warriors are in win-now mode with their core back to full health right now, and they might have their eyes on a current star instead of a possible future one.

"Look, they said they weren't going to trade D'Angelo Russell before, and a couple months later they ended up trading D'Angelo Russell," Haberstroh said. "... I suspect that they will get on the phone with just about every team in the league just to survey the landscape and see what kind of value they can get, and also pair potentially Andrew Wiggins' big contract to make the salaries work for a star."

[RUNNIN' PLAYS PODCAST: Listen to the latest episode]

The Warriors acquired Wiggins this season when they sent Russell to the Minnesota Timberwolves. Over 12 games with the Warriors, Wiggins averaged 19.4 points, 4.6 rebounds and 3.6 assists. Steve Kerr has had nothing but good things to say about Wiggins since the former top draft pick joined his squad, but perhaps general manager Bob Myers believes Wiggins could be a trade piece for an even better fit.

Wiggins, 25, isn't a free agent until after the 2022-23 season. He signed a five-year, $147.7 million contract extension with Minnesota in October 2017. So, who could the Warriors target with a trade package of Wiggins and their top pick?

Haberstroh thinks they should look to Canada for answers.

"I would look at first for Bob Myers, the GM of the Golden State Warriors, to give a call to the Toronto Raptors for potentially Pascal Siakam, because I think the Golden State Warriors need to upgrade defensively and get a guy who can replace Andre Iguodala, a guy who is very versatile, can play multiple positions defensively and there's just not a lot of guys out there who can do the things that Andre Iguodala did for the championship Warriors," Haberstroh said.

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If Siakam is too much to ask for, which he likely is -- Haberstroh admitted he thinks the Raptors "are not gonna give him up" -- his second option is a 22-year-old forward who recently tore his ACL in the Orlando bubble. 

"The other name I would look at is Jonathan Isaac," Haberstroh said. "Before he tore his ACL in the bubble games, I thought Jonathan Isaac was a perfect complement to what Draymond Green, Steph Curry and Klay Thompson bring to this Golden State Warriors team." 

Siakam would be Haberstroh's dream choice for the Warriors, with Isaac as their plan B. From until the draft on Oct. 16, Myers and the rest of the Warriors' front office will have a lot of decisions to make.