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

Monte Poole
NBC Sports BayArea
The Warriors are willing to be patient with Alen Smailagic, but if he has it his way, they won't need to.
The Warriors are willing to be patient with Alen Smailagic, but if he has it his way, they won't need to.

Warriors draft pick Alen Smailagic eager to prove he's ready for NBA originally appeared on nbcsportsbayarea.com

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.

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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.

[RELATED: Warriors' Jordan Poole ready to capitalize on opportunity]

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." 

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