Warriors rookies Podz, TJD ready for bright NBA postseason lights

Warriors rookies Podz, TJD ready for bright NBA postseason lights originally appeared on NBC Sports Bay Area

SAN FRANCISCO – Former lottery picks Jonathan Kuminga and Moses Moody were afterthoughts in Steve Kerr’s rotation as rookies when they had their first taste of the playoffs two years ago. Both Kuminga and Moody checked in for the final few minutes of the Warriors’ blowout wins against the Denver Nuggets in the first round of the 2022 NBA playoffs. Neither played in Game 3, which also started a streak of five straight DNPs (Did Not Play) for Moody.

Kuminga, the No. 7 pick in the 2021 NBA Draft, received six DNPs throughout the Warriors’ championship run, and Moody, the No. 14 overall pick, never came off the bench in nine of Golden State’s 22 playoff games before winning a ring as a rookie.

That, of course, was a much different team than these Warriors, and their rookies find themselves in a much different position going into Tuesday night’s NBA Play-In Tournament game at Golden 1 Center between the No. 10-seed Warriors and No. 9-seed Sacramento Kings. Neither Brandin Podziemski nor Trayce Jackson-Davis will see a DNP next to their name.

Though their draft position was much lower that of Kuminga and Moody, Podziemski and Jackson-Davis are expected to see significant playing time and be major factors in the Warriors moving on or coming to grips with a second consecutive early exit.

“Both those guys are going to play and they’re in the rotation,” Kerr said Monday at Chase Center after practice. “In the past we’ve had deeper teams, we’ve had different sets of circumstances. I would say we’ve had young guys who weren’t quite as experienced as these guys, so it was a longer development process.

“But I’m excited. I think they’re ready to play, and it’s going to be fun to see our young guys out there.”

Before being taken with the second-to-last pick in the 2023 NBA Draft, No. 57 overall, Jackson-Davis spent four years playing high-level college basketball at Indiana. The Warriors’ starting center played 126 college games, seven in the Big Ten Tournament and four in March Madness. In his NCAA Tournament games as a senior 13 months ago, Jackson-Davis averaged 23.5 points, 9.5 rebounds and 5.0 blocks per game.

Those pressure-packed moments are invaluable, and Jackson-Davis knows he’s better because of them.

“Just playing basketball at a high level, playing for something,” Jackson-Davis said Monday. “Obviously me being the leader of my team and always having the opposing team try to take me away. I’ve learned how to adjust through that. The matchups, the scouting reports and all that stuff I always hone in on.

“And then having Coach [Mike] Woodson, he just really helped me look at different things I can see throughout a game.”

Podziemski, the Warriors’ first-round pick at No. 19 overall, spent two seasons in college – first playing sparingly at Illinois prior to breaking out at Santa Clara. His postseason experience wasn’t as vast as Jackson-Davis, but Podziemski certainly shined under bright lights.

Podziemski put together a stat line of 22 points, 11 rebounds, nine assists and four steals in his lone conference tournament game last year, and then followed that with 18 points, six rebounds and seven assists in his only NIT game.

Per Synergy Basketball, Podziemski’s regular season was the sixth-most valuable by a rookie in the NBA over the last five years.

He has been a starter and come off the bench. In either circumstance, Podziemski knows what’s expected out of him, and the ultra-competitive 21-year-old believes that sense of understanding has gone a long way.

“I think me and Trayce, our roles are pretty defined at this point,” Podziemski said Sunday after the Warriors’ regular-season finale, a win in which he was a plus-12 over 21 minutes in reserve. “We know what’s being asked of us, what we’re supposed to do when we’re out there – no matter the lineup, who’s where and who’s with us. I think for me and him it kind of gives us comfort knowing what our role is, knowing what kind of minutes we’re going to get, all those type of things.

“It’s magnified more because it’s a win-or-go-home game, but at the end of the day it’s basketball just like every other game.”

Kerr can turn to Podziemski to be a connector offensively, a disruptor defensively and earn extra credit from hustle plays. The more magnified spotlight between the two rookies, however, will be placed upon Jackson-Davis.

Nobody can forget the frustrations Draymond Green and Kevon Looney caused for Kings star big man Domantas Sabonis in the first round a year ago. Green will see plenty of action guarding Sabonis in Sacramento. Kerr won’t be afraid to stick Looney on him for stretches, too. Jackson-Davis really only went against Sabonis once this season, and that was a preseason game six months ago where Jackson-Davis had 13 points and 10 rebounds.

So much has changed since then, as well as since the last time the Warriors and Kings played each other on Jan. 28, a game where Sabonis had a near triple-double with 18 points, 13 assists and eight rebounds while Jackson-Davis received a DNP.

“Trayce has great length, he’s very athletic and affects a lot of those shots at the rim,” Green said Sunday. “... When it comes to [Sabonis’] scoring, a lot of it is around the rim and Trayce can affect some of those shots. But it starts with positioning, and Sabonis is great at creating angles. You got to make sure you’re good with your positioning against a guy like that. He has all the step-throughs and jump-hooks, double step-throughs that you can imagine. His footwork is great.

“It’ll be a great challenge, he’s always a tough challenge. But like I said, Trayce has got to use what he has and his strengths, which is athleticism and his length.”

The Warriors are 9-2 since Jackson-Davis became their starting center on March 27. He has averaged 10.5 points and 7.7 rebounds in that span, a duration of time where the Warriors rank eighth in defensive rating and sixth in net rating. Podziemski’s plus-264 cumulative plus-minus was second to only Chet Holmgren amongst rookies this season.

These aren’t your typical Warriors rookies. They, as well as those around them, are ready to see what’s next for Podziemski and Jackson-Davis, however long their rookie year continues.

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