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'21 Season Review: The Eric Paschall Conundrum
What's Paschall's ideal role in Golden State and is he ready to fulfill it?
The following is a conversation on Eric Paschall’s season between Daniel Hardee and Thomas “Dr. Tom” Bevilacqua, the author of “Golden Age: The Brilliance of the 2018 Champion Golden State Warriors”. This article is rated “N” for Nerding: there’s a ton of advanced stats here. Viewer discretion is advised.
This year, that hope was deferred as Paschall was waylaid by injuries and shuffled around a roster rife with development projects. Let’s jump down the rabbit hole to figure out how a guy we believe is a quality player was unable to fulfill Dub Nation’s hope of a big leap from his promising rookie campaign.
Dr. Tom: How could anyone be surprised that Paschall took a step back after his rookie year was being the one good player on a trash/injury decimated team?
Daniel: True. I think that rookie season set us up to believe he was going to be a major weapon alongside Stephen Curry and Draymond Green, but that didn't materialize for various reasons. First off I believe the Dubs weren't doing him favors by saddling him in those struggling Brad Wanamaker-directed units before Wanamaker got traded.
Dr. Tom: And then Paschall got hurt/wasn’t playing later in the season when Jordan Poole was really doing things and leading the bench unit. Paschall only played 40 games this season.
Daniel: Yep, injuries sabotaged a lot of Golden State’s development and prevented us from seeing that Poole-Paschall synergy they developed as rookies a season ago. As far as reviewing EP’s season, a big conversation this season revolved around EP getting more minutes at the center spot. At 6-foot-6, 255 pounds he was able to use quickness to get around some of the behemoths.
But Paschall didn’t stay hot in that role.
Dr. Tom: According to how Basketball Reference tracks it, he played more as a center in 2021 than he did in 2020:
Warriors GM Bob Myers admitted there was some confusion on how to best use Paschall this season:
"We were trying to fit him into this style that we play," general manager Bob Myers said Wednesday on 95.7 The Game's "The Morning Roast" show. "Steve [Kerr] had him at the five, and then it became a glut there. And so trying to figure out how he could play the four was a challenge. And I think Steve would acknowledge that.
"So for Eric it's about figuring out what Steve wants from him [and] what he can bring consistently. But it was so scattered -- whether it was James [Wiseman] coming or going in the second unit ... so it's a hard one. There's not an easy answer for it."
Daniel: I wasn’t a huge fan of Paschall battling against big centers defensively, but he was feisty and always gave effort no matter how much size he was conceding. Duby Dub Dubs mentioned to me that judging from on/off numbers the units with EP tended to allow more points defensively; but there were some combinations that looked like they were working pretty well, although without a ton of minutes to experiment.
The biggest example of Paschall being a viable team defender comes from the success he had anchoring the Wanamaker-Damion Lee-Kent Bazemore-Andrew Wiggins lineup. That was GSW’s fifth-most used lineup and they limited opponents to 46.8 eFG% and 97.9 points per 100 possessions, both elite numbers.
Still, there’s a reason 6-foot-6 guys not named Dennis Rodman or Draymond usually struggle guarding big guys. Paschall suffered his fair share of lumps trying to hold down the fort amongst the giants.
Dr. Tom: I do wonder if all the injuries limited his effectiveness at that position (as strange as it sounds, losing Marquese Chriss could’ve had this huge impact). So he’s not playing “small ball 5” he’s just… a 5.
Daniel: How do ya mean?
Dr. Tom: I guess what I mean is that there’s a difference between consciously playing small and then having a Paschall at the 5 compared to “we need someone to give us minutes in that spot”. I think he’s a player who if you want the team to do well you kind of have to limit his minutes because the returns start diminishing quickly.
Daniel: Like a middle reliever in baseball?
Dr. Tom: Sure. In the same way that I found myself looking for a comp when it came to Jordan Poole (Leandro Barbosa was the reference), I think there’s one that can be drawn between Paschall and Mo Speights (and maybe David West). Because I think that’s the perfect role for him-- backup 4/5, playing with the second unit and just going out there to get buckets.
Daniel: But does their styles mesh with his game? Offensively it seems like he needs the ball in his hands more than Buckets and West who were guys who excelled in spot up situations.
Dr. Tom: Paschall took 36.3% of his shots with zero dribbles and shot 46.2%. Compare that to 19.9% of his shots taken after three to six dribbles, shooting 50.0%. I wonder if it was that he was still in the mode of the 2020 season where he was “the guy” and thus was dribbling more.
Daniel: Hmmm so the more he dribbles the more comfortable he is?
Dr. Tom: That does seem to be the case but then if you look at how he does in the midrange he’s pretty good (which would lend itself to that Buckets/West role).
Daniel: Yeah, Paschall’s mid-range game is reliable. From 10 feet out to the three-point line boundary he shot 42-of-86 (48%). And if we specifically check midranges from 16-feet to the 3PT boundary, he nailed 50% of those. That’s old school mid-ranger mastery!
Here’s Paschall’s shot chart visualizer from NBA.com. The green zones represent where he excels, the tan zones represent league average percentage, and the red is where he struggled:
That mid-range jumper is a real asset! I like it.
Dr. Tom: He can be someone who contributes against tough opponents. His two best games this season were probably 19 points and 4 rebounds when we beat the Lakers…and then he had 9 points and was +16 when we (surprise) beat the Jazz.
Also he played well when he matched up against Montrezl Harrell and I think that’s another interesting comp. They’re both second unit slightly undersized bigs who are in there to just get buckets at the rim or in the midrange. He can do that. I do think playing with Brad Wanamaker (and without Klay Thompson on that unit) just made it tough for him to do anything or get in a rhythm.
Daniel: One thing I noticed from the tape is that he thrives in space. He likes to catch the ball on the perimeter and leverage the threat of that solid jumper and that crafty rocking chair step. Check game without Stephen Curry against the Hornets. Golden State cleared out a side and let Paschall attack, or he attacked downhill in transition.
Notice how when he catches the ball there's a pause as he looks around the court and soaks in the scene, figuring out how he’s going to go to work? That's a handy change-of-pace weapon to have… but we haven’t seen how that’s going to consistently mesh with the dancing duo of Steph and Draymond.
Dr. Tom: That makes him tough to play with Draymond, I think. I can see him in that same Draymond position at the top of the key but like… you know he’s barreling in while Draymond will come with many options..and thus you can’t really play them together.
Unless he gets Tuck Wagon (P.J. Tucker for the Bucks) like skills at the corner three. Because that would be the other option, if he could be this super beefy 3-point shooter. But if he can’t make three pointers with any regularity?
Daniel: Aaannd now I think we've reached the real crux of the narrative: Paschall’s suspect shooting from deep inhibited his effectiveness. He was 18-of-54 shooting from beyond the arc (33%).
Let’s take a look at EP’s floor spacing abilities through the lens of Synergy’s play type tracking. Most of his scoring opportunities came from spot up situations where he shot 39-of-103 from the field (37.9%), which ranks out as “below average”:
Dr. Tom: Those spot up numbers… woof.
Daniel: Right? Like you can't be a stretch-big in this offense without hitting spot up shots. For reference, 2015-2016 Mo Buckets was rated “good” on spot ups and 2016-2017 David West was ranked “very good”.
(I mean really Mr. Buckets is a completely different player than Paschall in offensive repertoire and confidence areas so I’m not arguing EP better be just like our old fan favorite lol. Paschall likes to use that dribble and his aggression for bully ball mixed with outside touch; Mo Buckets was far more of a pure spot up shooter.)
Now I know we’re harping on the spot up numbers but let’s not forget Paschall’s strengths here. He’s “very good” in isolation and as the screener in the pick-and-roll, and “excellent” as the PnR ball handler.
Unfortunately, that’s not where the majority of his shot opportunities came from last season. It’s been well documented how Coach Steve Kerr is reticent to spamming isolations/PnR; going forward how much is Kerr willing to further bend his system to accommodate Paschall’s current strengths?
Are the Warriors going to encourage Paschall to call his own number when Steph and Draymond are on the floor with him? It’s far more likely Paschall will be a release valve when the defense loads up on Steph, which means he’ll have to be a better spot up shooter. Can he play solid minutes alongside the Draymond if they both aren’t spacing the floor?
Duby Dub Dubs alerted me to a Steph-Baze-Kelly Oubre-Wiggs-EP lineup that was a “murderous” +66.9 plus/minus in 25 possessions; there’s something here. But again, that’s without Draymond on the floor.
Dr. Tom: If you can’t play with Draymond then your role/court time is going to be limited. It just really locks you in which is fine BUT…people need to understand that’s all he can really do with this team at this juncture without improving his outside shooting. That’s why I’d like to see him in a lineup with Poole and Klay; surround him with dangerous shooters in the bench unit to maximize his natural scoring prowess.
At this point, he’s a prize prospect that the team hasn't figured out how to maximize due to a conflagration of injuries to him and his teammates, and his own limitations.
Daniel: Does the way he play mesh with the universe that is Steph and Draymond (and soon Klay Thompson)? Results inconclusive, but enough data to make us wonder about his fit while giving him the benefit of the doubt.
How do you folks feel about his season?