Erudite Warrior: Davion Mitchell debate explores depths of “win-now”

Why picking him at 7 mostly does not add up

(Photo: NBAE/Getty Images)

There’s been fervor over Davion Mitchell being projected as the No. 7 pick by the Warriors on Draft night coming up Thursday, July 29, 2021.

Outrage on social media typically revolves around (not) trading for Damian Lillard as of a couple days ago, or Ben Simmons as of a few weeks ago, or Kawhi Leonard as of a few months ago, or Giannis Antetokounmpo in years past. You wonder what the flavor-of-the-month will be for August.

While that outrage can usually be quelled by basic salary cap mathematics — and most, if not all, of that can be categorized as “entertainment” more so than “actual information” — this one with drafting Mitchell is a little different.

First of all, it should be noted that only one of the three major (or relevant) Draft boards, Jonathan Givony’s DraftExpress, even has Golden State picking Mitchell at 7. Matt Babcock of BasketballNews has Mitchell going 13th and Aran Smith of NBADraft.net has him going 12th.

Is it because Givony’s reach as part of the ESPN banner is far greater than the other two combined, so there’s a greater assumption that people think Davion will go to the Warriors at 7?

Has Givony even accounted for NBA team needs, as his board seems to indicate that players are listed as “BPA” (best player available)? Well, someone close to Givony did confirm to me that their rankings have already taken into consideration team needs.

To add fuel to that fire, SF Chronicle’s Connor Letourneau wrote that “league sources” told him the Warriors’ front office remains “split” on Mitchell. But do they mean they’re split on him going 7th or 14th? Is Bob Myers part of this straw poll? We may never know, but the general public is eating this up.

[WARNING: This discussion is going to be a long-read with input from a handful of our erudite thought leaders on our Discord server. But the point is not to be the best or most entertaining writer in Warrior Nation. It’s to transfer what’s in our brains into your brains on a complicated subject in the most efficient way as possible, and sometimes that requires a “word vomit”.]

The long-time fans of DubNation who have been around at least since the Monta Ellis era will point out that Jerry West taught Myers and Joe Lacob the value of size and defense in sending Ellis to Milwaukee for Andrew Bogut’s defense and to enable Klay Thompson to eventually become a devastating force as an oversized 6’7” shooting guard.

Yet, those honed in on this past season will point to the Dubs’ lack of depth at that same position, with the absence of Thompson and the late blossoming of Jordan Poole leading to overall struggles in second-unit scoring.

Which also brings up the issue of “win-now” versus development, with James Wiseman serving as the elephant in the room on the topic of player development, as well as the “wasting Stephen Curry’s prime” results-based trope. As some of you already know, my focus with LetsGoWarriors has always been to share the experience of being close to the team, with the fans — Curry refers to this as enjoying the process and so would never categorize missing the playoffs as wasting his prime.

Finally, you have Davion himself. As Coach Nick of BballBreakdown, with over 500k subscribers, the YouTube king of Xs and Os and the one who first identified Kerr’s 2014 Summer League offense as championship-caliber, told me quite simply, “I was really impressed with Mitchell and he'd be perfect coming off the bench for them. When's the last time they had a guard come off the bench that can create off the dribble and shoot?”

Nick did, however, follow that up to say that he thinks the Warriors’ greater need is at the wing position.

Mitchell is a proven scorer and winner at the NCAA’s highest level, and someone on Twitter found that Davion “likes” as many “hater” tweets as he can find on Twitter, so it’s clear he’s driven and the arguments to pick him at 7 with the intention of “winning now” are understandable.

That is, unless you are our resident Draft expert and NCAA aficionado Dulow Twist, who has some harsh comps and criticisms for Mitchell. Davion: If you’re reading this, please know that I never wanted to throw you under the bus, but Dulow is my guy and so I won’t muzzle him. The following scouting report from him is not only for informational purposes, but also does have as a “splash” of entertainment at Mitchell’s expense:

I see a scrappy, try-hard player but I don't believe in his game. He bullied kids last year because he was four years older than them and his conference let them wrestle. But an old, 6-foot guard who isn't an amazing passer isn't a high Lottery pick for me. Six-feet tall with no floater game or elite athleticism spells trouble for me.

Over-drafting Mitchell at 7 would be the Warriors’ front office saying, “We can develop guys, so let's aim for low-ceiling prospects. The history of old, 6’ tall lottery guards is not great. He’s a Johnny Flynn-level choice.

By contrast, Reggie Jackson is an offensive machine who can get his own shot and has a lethal jumper, who also has a tremendous floater package. Davion has none of those and is already 23 years old. I think he could be a Poor Man's Kyle Lowry if he hits.

Mitchell’s defense is over-hyped. I don’t think he can do anything against Curry, Lillard, or Kyrie Irving. They will feast on him because it takes length to even make them mildly uncomfortable. Marcus Smart, who guards 1 through 3, is four inches taller and has a drastically longer wingspan. Davion will only guard point guards. I think he will have a solid career, but I have no interest in him before at least the 12th pick.

Whew! Okay. Well, to best get our arms around this whole issue of Mitchell and why the Warriors would supposedly be split over him, because there are a ton of variables in play, I thought a simple copy-and-paste of key elements in our Discord server discussion from this very morning would help cover all the bases for the typical Warriors fan.

It all really boils down to how you define “win now” (I’m not sure if there’s supposed to be a hyphen in between those two words).

Without further ado…

Poor Man’s Commish (me, aka PMC):

Thinking more on Davion Mitchell because Letourneau retweeted his article from yesterday, you wonder if it’s really a “split” in the FO on the philosophy of win-now vs Draft for potential or somewhere in between where you take a quick straw poll and certain staffers want to focus on “win-now” and others more traditionally with the Draft pick.

Again, I think it depends on free agency success but I’m sure there’s different opinions going into this. My hope is that the “win-now” is taken care of prioritizing length/athleticism, but also mostly acquiring solid FAs (and re-signing Kelly Oubre). A lot of variables are in play because if Oubre walks, for example, then the dynamic instantly changes.

Gabe Johnson: I think that whole conversation (which is everywhere in Warriors-dom) is entirely fallacious when it comes to the Draft.

We should assume that nobody we pick at 7 is going to be a huge impactful playoff player in Year One. That just is such a rarity. Here’s a list of lottery picks his age or older. It’s not great. So the idea that somehow a small guard who's one of the oldest recent lottery picks is “win-now” baffles me.

PMC: My dig is really at those who have actually taken the time to analyze Davion after reading he’s 6’0” (6’1”?). Were they not around when we traded Monta at the suggestion of Jerry West? We had to have learned something from Jerry, right? This guy is shorter than Monta.

Incredibly, I’ve heard back on Givony’s board it’s confirmed. It is indeed based on team needs.

So the rumors of GSW FO being split on Davion (via Connor) are more likely true than not. This is weird, per what we just discussed in the thread above.

Gabe: Well, team needs does not equal actual info from teams, so Givony might think the Warriors need more creation and steady hands, not necessarily that the Warriors want that. But yeah, I mean, I get the appeal in theory, but if they take Davion at 7 it's a horrible process. A small, old backup point guard would be a terrible choice at 7. Go for actual upside or trade the pick.

PMC: Also this being split on Davion at 7 could all be a smokescreen.

Anybody recall any smokescreens we’ve had? I guess Wiseman last year, right?

Gabe: I think Myers & Co. are generally quiet, but they also have very little experience having top picks anyways, so it hasn't come up much.

Nessmuk (a participant who recently defected from Reddit): Sorry, but I just cannot accept “old” for a guy who has not quite turned 23. If he is as ready as I (and others) believe he is, we are losing nothing compared to a younger guy who is going to need a few years to develop, and then only if we can give him a significant amount of on-court time, which in turn is going to cost us wins.

On the back end, how many players actually stay with the team that drafted them through three full contracts? Yes, we do have a few, but even for us it is by no means the most common outcome. From 2009 to 2018, we've only retained four of fifteen draft picks, and we've done better than most or possibly all other NBA teams. I'm not going to worry about Mitchell turning 33 in 2031.

Gabe: He’s not “old” in, like, real terms, but he is one of the oldest possible Lottery picks in the last twenty years! That’s real, and it means a limit on how much better he can get. When he's already small, that is very worrisome to me. Would you take a smaller Patrick Beverley at 7?

Dulow Twist: Yeah, these leaks are pitiful. Numerous reports about how much they want a Pat Bev clone are disgraceful. No middle ground with this front office, hopefully they are just singularly trying to raise his value to get someone to take the pick off their hands. Can’t believe they would overvalue an “okay” prospect so publicly.

PMC: I don’t have the wherewithal or evidence to explain it, but simply said I think a lot of what I said as “smokescreen” kinda happens by accident. I’m not convinced just yet that they’d purposely put out a misleading thing. This is gross speculation on my part, though.

Gabe: No idea where they come from, too. Davion and his agent have a lot to gain if he gets picked a few picks earlier cause another team is worried he’s going high.

PMC: All valid arguments so far on Davion. I’m having the same debate with a guy on IG who has similar philosophies in that, at the end of the day, we’re rooting for the team regardless of who Bob picks (btw this guy has a fb page that has 42k followers and he’s been pumping our website articles).

He actually likes Davion at 7 and I get the draw. But it’s not really about Mitchell. It’s philosophical and prioritizing the various variables that go into “team needs”.

I still think there is an opportunity to draft a guy who can contribute to winning now, as well as potentially be a key guy at the very least as “key” as Kevon Looney is, like a pillar, when the three HOFers start going downhill.

That’s why I like freakishly athletic wings. If they can defend and finish the break as a result of that defense, with perhaps an indefensible athletic above-the-rim finish, then I’m happy. And then this guy can increase skills and IQ over time and replace one of the HOFers as our pillar for the next 5-10 years out. Hopefully Wiseman is also a guy like that. Anyways that’s my thinking in a hailstorm of variables. On July 30th I’ll be rooting for whatever team it is, but at the same time I’d hope my experience and closeness with the team makes me on the same page as Kerr and Myers, but we shall see.

Gabe: Yeah, agreed. I think Mitchell at 14, for instance would be awesome, but I just want a higher leverage pick at 7, and in this current league that means multi-dimensional wings. There are a few who are guaranteed to be there at 7.

Jonah: Some people are biased towards one-and-done guys, others like four-year players. GSW has done very well with four-year players (Draymond Green) and a pair of three-year guys named Steph and Klay, but even those three had to develop for a couple of years before they became really productive.

“Win now” draft picks? Magic Johnson and Larry Bird, sure, but how many Lottery guys have made a impact first year on a “win now” team?

Meanwhile, everyone has pretty much written off Eric Paschall while happily agreed that Juan Toscano-Anderson is part of our core as an old third year pro.

I won't pretend to be smarter than our front office but I think PMC is correct. Draft long, athletic wings with skill in the Lottery and look for combo guard types elsewhere.

Nessmuk: If Jonathan Kuminga drops to 7, I'm torn. I get the BPA argument, but he seems too raw to me to contribute soon, and the No. 7 pick is a big asset to expend on another development project. I'd consider swapping back, or, if we can't do that in real-time, trading his rights for a player taken deeper in the Draft plus some other form of compensation.

PMC: But I think “contribute” also means just being an athlete and not making a dumb foul, playing solid defense, run the break with Steph/Klay/Dray/Andrew Wiggins or some subset of that already on the floor, don’t fall in love with shooting the three, and rim run and finish, plus be willing to learn and be humble which should not be difficult surrounded by all these HOFers. That’s a lot more than the three HOFers could’ve done in their rookie years and this is a new era, we haven’t had a pick like this since the old begone era, so we have to adjust our thinking to this era and a freak athlete fits the mold. Mikal Bridges probably being the perfect comp in this context.

Oops, hey WarriorsTwitter, was I being too optimistic?

Nessmuk: My definition of “contribute immediately” is not Magic or Bird, it's providing solid backup minutes in meaningful game time, probably with a mix of starters and backups on the floor. And I recognize it takes some time even for a newly arrived veteran to learn the offense and develop chemistry, so “immediately” starts about mid-season for me. If a guy can give solid, reliable minutes in important games by then, he's a “win-now” guy.

Gabe: Yeah and, to be fair, it’s not unheard of. Harrison Barnes as a rookie, for example, was solid in the playoffs. I just think there are better versions of that than Mitchell at 7.

Nessmuk: It's worth remembering that Steph, Klay, and Dray were two juniors and a senior out of college.

Gabe: For sure. The age part wouldn’t be as big a deal if he wasn’t also tiny. There are just so few good players with that profile.

Lepidoptery: Steph was also a three-year college guy, but the thing is that Steph was amazing at shooting even if he didn't have the physical attributes, and Klay and Dray had good physical attributes.

So it's not quite like Davion whose shooting may not translate and who doesn't really have the physical attributes — also Curry is taller than Mitchell even if their wingspans are about the same.

Nessmuk: True, but also none of the three were “hyper-athletic” like several of the guys some of the Dubs fans seem to be in love with. Vision, quick decision-making, passing. High basketball IQ works with our offense more than vertical leap or an elite first step.

PMC: I could make the case we could throw Klay and Dray out of the comparison. Drafting at 7 is really different than at 11 and later on.

Lepidoptery: What did HB look like as a prospect? Two years of college, but he had the size. His FT% was like 10% higher than Davion's and all his shooting splits actually translated pretty well.

PMC: I didn’t follow the Draft as closely as I do now. Not to poo-poo it all but we’re in a different era now. I don’t think you can draw any conclusions from the HB pick. It’s ironic how he was a key part of the NBA going smaller, but then you could say it went even smaller considering body weight (vs length) and now he’s somewhat obsolete, although I’m sure when the game slows down in the playoffs, he could contribute mightily even in this era.

Regarding “hyper-athletic vs skilled”, that’s why I wouldn’t be upset if Franz Wagner was the pick. I’ve got my eye on Kai Jones though. Need to do more research. Tbh his Q&A impressed me yesterday.

[From there, the conversation evolved into a closer look at Jones, which we will cover soon…]