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Eric Paschall, Warriors

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Warriors’ Eric Paschall a true threat for Rookie of the Year

Warriors’ Eric Paschall a true threat for Rookie of the Year

Golden State Warriors forward Eric Paschall shocked the NBA world on Tuesday, becoming the first rookie to score more than 30 points, surpassing Memphis Grizzlies point guard Ja Morant with a career-high 34 points and 13 rebounds in a win over the Portland Trail Blazers. That performance could be the start of his Rookie of the Year campaign, one that gives him a real shot to come out a winner.

Paschall had already shown signs of being a special player, posting 20- and 25-point efforts in recent games, yet Monday’s breakout performance against a proven Blazers team swung the doors open for his ROY candidacy.

Yet the road isn’t an easy one for the Villanova product and most experienced rookie of the Warriors’ roster. Names like Ja Morant, RJ Barrett, and Tyler Herro will be part of that race; and lest we forget No. 1 overall pick Zion Williamson, who could make a compelling case for himself if he manages to remain healthy after coming back from his meniscus injury.

Williamson, Morant, and Barrett are top-three picks and have a very good chance at getting some real consideration, while Herro could soon take over a spot in Erik Spoelstra’s lineup, as soon as his defense becomes feasible enough.

Yet the 41st overall pick Paschall is in uncharted waters when it comes to his candidacy, as there hasn’t been a player picked as late as he was since the Warriors’ own big man Woody Sauldsberry garnered the honor in 1958. Yes, it’s been 61 years of NBA history since the 60th overall pick of the NBA Draft was crowned the Rookie of the Year — an honor Paschall will be looking to capture against some stiff competition.

Perhaps the closest case to the Villanova dynamo is former Virginia Cavaliers wonder Malcolm Brogdon, who garnered the honors in 2017, becoming the first player since Michael Carter-Williams (2014) to be selected ROY while being drafted outside the top-10 and the first since Sauldsberry to be a non-first rounder to earn the honors.

Sauldsberry was, in fact, an eighth-round pick, who played with the Harlem Globetrotters before declaring himself eligible for the NBA Draft. Before Brogdon in 2017, no player except Carter-Williams in 2014, Mark Jackson in 1988, and Jamaal Wilkes in 1975 had been named Rookie of the Year after being drafted outside of the top 10.

Since the inception of the award during the 1952-53 season, only six of 66 winners have been drafted later than ninth. How’s that for a tall task for the 23-year-old? who netted a career-high and a big win for his team on his 23rd birthday.

But the Villanova standout has what many other second-rounders do not — an opportunity.

Paschall was set to have a role on the Warriors offense before Stephen Curry, D’Angelo Russell, and Draymond Green went out with injuries. His athleticism, his motor, and his basketball IQ have garnered the respect of head coach Steve Kerr, and that’s unlikely to waver from here to the end of the season.

Even after Green returns from injury, Paschall will have a place in the rotation, perhaps at either forward spot, while also making the occasional cameo at center.

The minutes will be there for the 6-foot-6 rookie, who could wind up a starter if he proves capable of knocking down open 3-point shots, as he did on his birthday, shaking off an 0-for-8 start to his season to connect on 4-of-6 from deep on Monday.

Paschall has all the elements that lead to playing time — he’s shooting a brilliant 60.3% from the field on the season, along with an impressive 86.2% clip at the foul line. He’s shot 50% or better in six of his seven games this season. The only exception? A 6-of-13 performance that saw him go for 14 points in his debut.

The 41st overall pick has logged 30 or more minutes in four of his seven games this season, including three recent starts — so he will have just as much of an opportunity to prove himself as Morant, Barrett, Herro, and any other rookies that emerge for this year’s race.

Unlike the Most Valuable Player award, the Rookie of the Year trophy is decided almost in a mere reflection of statistical prowess, and Paschall’s best friend is his efficiency on the floor, which could break the tie against less-efficient shooters like Barrett and Herro.

Assuming Williamson doesn’t get enough playing time to make a conscious case to earn the award, this could be a two-horse race between Paschall and Grizzlies dynamo Ja Morant, who is electric to watch, but turnover-prone as many other rookie point guards have proved to be before.

Those are odds the Warriors will take, in an otherwise transitional season until all their superstar reinforcements can take the court at once.