Much like the first week of the NBA season, draft night provides hopeful optimism. Before the draft begins, there’s a naive aspiration that this year your team will make the right pick. That this year you will find that second-round gem or luck into the transcendent player. Anything can happen … until it doesn’t.
Or, as it was the case Thursday night, you realize that there is no true fairness to this process. In reality, the best just get better. The rich simply get richer. On draft night, the Golden State Warriors, as they were a few weeks ago, remained kings in a league of paupers.
As the second round was droning on and we were still recovering from Minnesota’s fleecing of the Bulls for Jimmy Butler, Chicago had a relatively meaningful pick to make: no. 38.
Instead of drafting a prospect with high upside in one of the deepest drafts in recent memory, the Bulls sold their pick to the highest bidder, in this case, the reigning NBA champions. The Warriors didn’t have a pick in this year’s draft, but they were acting like they did. It seems that was all for a reason: They had no trouble paying literally the max of $3.5 million for Oregon’s Jordan Bell, who celebrated by giving his family members his old jerseys and throwing dollar bills in the air. Good for him.
Bell plays like an elastic rubber band stretching to every corner of the basketball court, while acting as a smothering blanket inside the paint. His art form is the block. As a junior in Eugene, he averaged 2.2 blocks per game but recorded 15 games of three or more blocks, with the most exquisite display of his craft coming in an NCAA tournament game against Kansas where he swiftly disregarded eight of the Jayhawks’ shots with his powerful hand.
I had the chance to watch Bell for four games at this year’s Pac-12 tournament in Las Vegas, which was the beginning of his rampant run through March Madness. After his teammate Chris Boucher went down with an ACL injury, Bell didn’t just fill a void, he led. He never stopped moving — or smiling — until Oregon fell short of Arizona in the conference championship game, when he sat in the team’s locker room, head down, without saying a word, taking the loss the hardest of all. The Bell-anchored team gave you the sense that the Ducks could switch on almost every screen, and that their defensive versatility would lead to offensive success, which it did, all the way to the Final Four. Sound familiar?
Bell just went to the team that prioritizes such skills, and it is why Bob Myers’s crew, which had him in the first round, decided he was worth the aforementioned price. As Jonathan Tjarks laid out, Bell is exactly the type of guy the Warriors need, and exactly the type of guy other teams need to beat the Warriors. Myers was quick to remind reporters at his presser that they don’t care about positions, that Bell’s lackluster jump shot would not confine him to a small-ball center role because, as he said, "We learned their lesson with Draymond Green," a player to whom Bell is often compared. Our draft guide has him pegged as more of a Udonis Haslem type. Regardless, on a team with three of the best shooters of all time, a prospect’s defense is more valuable than his offense. And defense is Bell’s calling card.
More importantly, for a team that will deal with an increasing payroll trying to retain their core four of Klay Thompson, Draymond Green, Steph Curry, and Kevin Durant, finding meaningful contributors in the draft is like hitting the lottery. And, on paper, Bell fits the description of that winning ticket.
After letting go of Andrew Bogut to make financial room for Durant, the Warriors decided to go the cheap route to fill their frontcourt last season. And they got the most out of it. They turned Zaza Pachulia ($2.9 million) into a serviceable piece, entered a mutually beneficial relationship with David West ($1.6 million), and revamped JaVale McGee’s ($1.4 million) career by using him as a professional dunker. And when they went small, they had the best center in the league.
Bell, who, as a second-round pick, will get a tender of the minimum salary, is an important addition because the Warriors are inevitably going to lose frontcourt strength, given how many of their big men are free agents. Depending on who they decide to bring back, Bell’s role could expand quickly if Golden State sees what it saw on tape materialize on its own court. And there’s every indication that under Golden State’s experienced staff Bell will thrive and end up with a ring at the end of his rookie season.
The Warriors aren’t novices at spending Joe Lacob’s cold, hard cash on a draft pick they want. Just last year they bought into the draft and took Pat McCaw at pick no. 38. McCaw averaged 15 minutes a game for the best team in the league all season and contributed meaningful playing time deep into the playoffs.
This is what the Warriors do. They turn ashes into fire and scraps into gold. It’s also easier to work magic when you have a lot of money.