TJD's production, highlights make rookie essential to Warriors

TJD's production, highlights make rookie essential to Warriors originally appeared on NBC Sports Bay Area

The defensive plays that pleased the crowds and whipped his teammates on the bench into a frenzy three months ago were not enough to solidify regular rotation minutes in the Warriors’ lineup for Trayce Jackson-Davis.

Even after Jackson-Davis smothered a dunk attempt by driving Boston Celtics star Jaylen Brown in December, Warriors coach Steve Kerr wasn’t ready to commit to the rookie.

Eventually, though, analytics and foresight made the decision for Kerr, who last week stated that Jackson-Davis is in the rotation to stay.

The 6-foot-9 center has been both steady and prolific while also providing more spectacular moments – the latest coming during a 112-102 win over the San Antonio Spurs on Monday night at Frost Bank Center.

Defended by Spurs 7-foot-4 rookie Victor Wembanyama between the top of the key and the 3-point line, Jackson-Davis spun right and began dribbling toward the rim. An impetuous move by any big man, surely a rookie second-round draft pick not considered a ball-handler.

As both men took flight, Jackson-Davis threw his body into Wembanyama and shoved the ball through the rim for the kind of poster moment Wemby would rather have avoided.

It was as Jackson-Davis scripted in a pregame conversation with teammate Kevon Looney.

“I told Loon before the game that if I got the chance to try him I would,” Jackson-Davis told reporters in San Antonio.

“But at the end of the day, sometimes you dunk on people and sometimes you get dunked on. So, it's just a basketball play.”

Well, no. It was more than a “basketball play.” Coming against Wembanyama, a native of France, it was the latest NBA dunk heard around the basketball world.

“To see him succeed and shine is a joy for me,” fellow rookie Brandin Podziemski told reporters in San Antonio. “But the momentum shift ... after he dunked that, the game was kind of over. Sucked the life out of the building.”

The dunk, giving the Warriors a 111-101 lead with 1:13 remaining, punctuated another night on which Jackson-Davis exhibited the immense value he brings to Golden State.

Jackson-Davis totaled 13 points on 6-of-7 shooting from the field, 11 rebounds and a season-high five assists over 26 minutes, during which he was a team-best plus-20.

“He was incredible tonight at both ends,” Kerr said. “His paint presence, rim presence, 11 boards, also had five assists. Obviously, the great dunk near the end.

“Trayce is really giving us a different dynamic from that spot, and it's really fun to see him growing and developing.”

In the four games since Kerr affirmed his commitment to Jackson-Davis – with an eye toward the postseason – the four-year starter at Indiana University is averaging 11.8 points, 6.8 rebounds and 1.8 blocks.

“Trayce ... man,” Chris Paul said on NBC Sports Bay Area’s "Warriors Postgame Live." “Trayce such a huge element to our team because we have so much shooting and ball movement. But his ability to play above the rim unlocks everything for me, too.”

What Jackson-Davis offers is an essential ingredient as the Warriors shift into playoff mode. Only he represents bona fide rim protection against rangy athletes. Only he is a consistent enough lob threat to keep opposing defenses on alert.

No less encouraging, though, is the audacity expressed with only the slightest demonstration. As others gasp and swoon, rarely does TJD’s face register exhilaration.

When two-time MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo of the Bucks tried twice in the same possession to test Jackson-Davis at the rim last Wednesday, he was denied both times. Five days later, Wembanyama, favorite to win Rookie of the Year, paid for daring to defend Jackson-Davis at the rim.

“They’re great players,” Jackson Davis said. “But at the end of the day you got to just take on that challenge and you got to accept it.”

TJD is a fixture now. He is serving up spectacular highlights while also bringing the essentials required for the Warriors to thrive down the stretch.

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