Golden State Warriors’ rookie forward Eric Paschall’s emergence this year is one of the more unpredictable storylines at the season’s quarter mark. If anyone told you in September that through the season’s first 20-plus games Paschall would average north of 17 points per game, you’d think he/she was crazy.
Despite the loss of Klay Thompson for the season due to an ACL tear, the Warriors still entered their 2019-20 campaign with a roster consisting of three all-stars. Truth be told, those all-stars would all be sidelined for various periods of time. This paved the way for the ascension of rookie Eric Paschall.
Notwithstanding a tumultuous Warriors season, Paschall’s elevation has provided Golden State with a glimmer of hope in a season where hope is utterly absent.
The injury plague halts Golden State’s five-year supremacy
October 30, 2019: San Fransisco, California – Steph Curry dashes to the rim, attempting to split Aron Baynes and Kelly Oubre Jr. Curry collides, crashing to the ground, catching all of his weight primarily on his left arm as Baynes proceeds to unintentionally fall back, crushing that same left hand. Steph Curry on his back, grimaces in pain, clutching his left hand in agony.
Curry, the two-time MVP, was given a minimum of three months recovery time, likely sidelining him for the season. This injury occurred on the heels of the Warriors’ other superstar, Klay Thompson, tearing his ACL in Game 6 of last June’s NBA Finals. In all likelihood, Klay was going to miss the entirety of the 2019-20 season. Adding to the fire, D’Angelo Russell (12), Draymond Green (9), and Kevon Looney (20) have all missed significant time to start the season with numerous injuries. The treacherous sum of injuries have accumulated, resulting in their NBA worst 4-19 record.
With the expectations to still compete in the West despite losing Kevin Durant, many thought the Warriors could still push for a playoff spot. One could not piece together a more diabolical way to start the season.
The Golden State Warriors plunged into an identity crisis, not knowing where the team would turn. They played the majority of their 23 games with a roster full of guys the average NBA fan would not recognize. One of the few recognizable names is their second-round pick, and former National Champion, Eric Paschall.
Through unfortunate circumstances, Steve Kerr found a gem in Paschall. He stepped into an elevated role, rising to the occasion and being the Warriors’ most impactful player through 23 games.
Making his mark early
Without the contributions of Steph Curry and Klay Thompson, along with D’Angelo Russell and Draymond Green for stretches early this year, it was time for Paschall to step up. He did so, taking advantage of an elevated role.
The Villanova product did not expect to have this extensive of a role so early. “My initial expectations were that I was going to come in and play spot minutes and bring energy off the bench,” Paschall told The Painted Lines. “Obviously, that didn’t happen, but I’m making the most of it.”
It did not take long for him to assert his presence. In just his 4th career NBA game, he made his first start for the Warriors. It occurred on the night of Steph Curry’s broken hand incident where he scored 20 points on 7-9 shooting.
Paschall took off, scoring 79 points in his first three career starts. This included 34 on the night of his birthday, marking a season-high for single-game points by a rookie. 79 points are also the most points in a player’s first three career starts since Jeremy Lin (89) in 2012.
On a team lacking headlines after Curry broke his hand, Paschall is bringing some national attention to the Bay area. His 34-point outing is where he undoubtedly seized the attention of the NBA. He was the first Warriors’ rookie since Steph Curry to have back-to-back 25-point games. Paschall’s play rewarded him with exclusive interviews with SportsCenter, for example, making national headlines.
Steve Kerr has continuously praised the play he’s gotten from his rookie. The coach shined a light on the fact that Eric has risen to the moment when called upon. “He’s getting an amazing opportunity, given the injuries we have,” Kerr told The Painted Lines Wednesday night. “He has earned the right to play and is making the most of every minute.”
Paschal credits Villanova for his seamless transition to the NBA
The NBA may be heading in a direction that’s shifting away from the traditional route to the pros, but four-year college players continue to make an immediate impact early in their NBA careers. They may be older – Paschall, 23 – but the experiences and roles they inhabited in college directly translate to the NBA.
Malcolm Brogdon, Buddy Hield, Devonte’ Graham, and in this case Eric Paschall, all were four-year guys recently. Coincidentally, all having seamless transitions and early contributions in their young careers – compared to that of a 19-year-old raw one-and-done prospect. Others from earlier draft classes include Draymond Green, Damian Lillard, J.J. Redick, and C.J. McCollum.
“I feel like my time at Villanova was great for me in terms of maturing and playing in all different types of roles. I’ve been through it all,” Paschall told The Painted Lines. “Redshirting my first year at Nova. Then I came off the bench playing spot minutes in my second year, as an energy guy. My junior year I was a leader but still an energy guy. In my senior year, I was a leader, had to close games, score, and also do the dirty work.”
Four years of college is not the best route for every NBA player, but it proves to have its benefits for others. A four-year college athlete encounters a variety of circumstances and a high volume of minutes where they are flown through “every possible situation,” as Paschall said. He had his fair share at Villanova, winning two national championships.
Jay Wright has not produced top-5 NBA Draft picks, but one common theme his players tend to illustrate is their ability to rapidly acclimate to the NBA. They are comfortable with modern systems run by coaches in the league. Equally, they have the skills and intangibles that are instantly valuable to any team. Josh Hart, Ryan Arcidiacono, Jalen Brunson, Donte DiVincenzo, and Mikal Bridges all stayed several years under Wright before making the jump to the NBA.
“Coach Wright runs an NBA-style offense at Nova. Our defensive coverages were similar and just the way he structured things,” Paschall told The Painted Lines. “Our practices at Nova were almost exactly like the ones in the NBA.”
Draymond Green has been verbal about the experience and maturity the Warriors’ rookie brought from Villanova. Young teams struggle to put together an efficient 48-minute game of basketball, and Eric has helped be a steady hand for the team.
Steve Kerr compared Eric’s speedy adaptability to that of his own all-star forward Draymond Green. “It always helps guys who stay longer in college. Draymond [Green], the same way, four years at Michigan State. He was ready for the NBA in his first year.”
“We’ve seen it here for the last seven, eight years with Draymond [Green], and we felt like Eric had a chance to have a similar impact as a second-round pick,” Kerr said. “Someone you could plug in and play. He played four years of college in a great program and won national championships.”
Paschall’s confidence – a key to his breakthrough
The Warriors have opened up a temporary chapter focused on player development and improving their young talent. This is ideal for a player in Paschall’s position. His initial mindset was to be a role player playing spot minutes prior to the unfortunate events of the season. Getting meaningful minutes early as a rookie is essential in this league.
Eric credits confidence to a factor that has helped pioneer his early success. When you watch him play, that is very evident. It’s far from cockiness. The perfect blend of confidence mixed with a team-first, selfless mentality.
His confidence does not originate solely from himself but also from his head coach. “Coach Kerr has given me the confidence that allows me to go out there and make plays,” Paschall told The Painted Lines. “He calls plays for me like iso’s and ATO’s. I’ve just tried to take advantage of it.”
Kerr expressed his faith in Paschall’s game prior to Wednesday’s game against the Charlotte Hornets. “Eric’s a big, strong guy,” Kerr told The Painted Lines. “The athleticism and the strength and the leap does not phase him one bit. He came in really well prepared.”
Paschall ranks at the top amongst rookies in several categories, including total points and rebounds. On the season he is averaging 17.3 points and 5.5 rebounds per game, shooting over 50 percent from the field. Confidence is one area that’s vital to score at a high rate as a rookie, and he has it.
“We really liked Eric because of his strength and his power,” Kerr said. “He is undersized, but these days the undersized guys at that four-position are always really strong and they’ve got that wingspan.”
“You got to feel like you’re the best player out there,” Paschall said earlier this season. “It’s a dog-eat-dog world. In the NBA if you’re not aggressive, you’re gonna get eat alive. There are some killers out there.”
He’s gone head-on with some of the league’s biggest stars. On November 6th, Paschall got an isolation opportunity with James Harden defending him. He drove right at the former MVP, overpowering him to the rim for an and-one. Enthusiastically, he turned to his bench saying, “He’s food,” to his teammates. Additionally, last month he put his head down, forcing his way at and through LeBron James for a layup. Not often do rookies make an effort to go at the best in the game. Paschall has that grit and toughness, and it’s paying dividends for him.
The numbers behind the success
If you needed any more evidence behind Eric Paschall’s splendid play this year, here are some numbers to back the claims:
Eric Paschall’s ability to use a combination of his speed, strength, and bounce for a combo forward makes him a constant mismatch for 3’s and 4’s in the league. Eric’s 6-foot-6, 255-pound frame with a 6’11.75″ wingspan, and near 40-inch vertical further back that claim.
His ball skills are that of a guard who scores well off the dribble in mid-range isolation. He can back down virtually any big men in the league, using his speed and explosiveness to finish at the rim (69 percent field goal percentage at the rim, per Cleaning The Glass). Having pogo sticks as legs does not do his opponents any favors. Paschall’s first and second bounce are extremely quick, allowing him to elevate above the defense fast for rebounds (85th percentile on offensive rebounds: 4.4%), put-backs, and shot attempts at the rim.
As for his numbers this season, they are incredibly intriguing. Through Wednesday, he is averaging 17.3 points (2nd among rookies), 5.5 REB, 1.8 AST, on 50.7 percent shooting including 81.4 percent from the charity stripe. His ability to draw fouls is a testament to the purpose with which he attacks the rim. He currently ranks 98th percentile in the NBA, drawing fouls on 18.8 percent of his field-goal attempts.
Eric Paschall has solidified himself in the top 3 in this year’s rookie of the year race. He leads all rookies in total points (380), rebounds (120), field goals (140), free throw makes (82), and total minutes played. He’s on pace to be one of 65 rookies ever to average north of 17 points, 5 rebounds, and 1.5 assists. Remarkable.