Digging for gold: is Mychal Mulder a treasure deep on the Warriors bench?
A subpar shooting stint in seven games, and a crowded depth chart complicate Mulder's bid to make the team - but Golden State should keep him.
It’s tough to know how much to take away from the Golden State Warriors’ difficult season last year - if anything - but the team did find some interesting players. As easy as it is to focus on what the team lost, I thought it would be interesting to delve a bit into what the team has gained around the periphery of it all.
In evaluating this season’s squad, the maxim of a team “going as far as your best players takes you” is as true as ever. With Stephen Curry’s return comes a return to prominence for this franchise (just look at the team’s position on the NBA’s opening broadcast schedule). Curry and Draymond Green will be back at the helm, with a newly crafted team that is going to try to make up for the deep losses of superstar power and wily vets like Andre Iguodala.
But underneath those stars and starters, the peripheral players are going to be the emergent properties that will help define how strong this team can be - what weaknesses can the bench address, and who exactly will step up to do so?
Bench excellence is never an accident
If Curry is limited to somewhere around 34 minutes per night, as coach Steve Kerr has alluded to, and those minutes will be mostly paired with those of Green, it begs the question of who will feature strongest among the bench unit.
There are some locks, of course.
We can go ahead and pen in the likes of Kent Bazemore, Kevon Looney, and Eric Paschall and whoever is leftover as a non-starter between James Wiseman and Marquesse Chriss at center.
So that gets us eight or nine deep.
Now, we don’t know exactly how rocky the season will get due to Covid, but the maximum number of active players you can have on an NBA roster is 13, so let’s say we are talking about four guys outside of the core players listed above.
It’s a crowded field of camp invites but let’s break the names down into some sensible groups.
Jordan Poole and Damion Lee were fifth and third, respectively, for total minutes played last season. With both under (cheap) contract this season both will be presumptive favorites out of this group - though the new free agent additions like Kent Bazemore and Brad Wanamaker will cut into the available minutes, I don’t expect either of Poole or Lee to drop all the way off of the depth chart.
On the edge - Mychal Mulder
Despite playing just 204 minutes over the course of seven games, Mychal Mulder shows prominantly in the Warriors two-man lineup data (minimum 75 total minutes). To be fair, this probably falls into small sample size warning territory, but of the Warriors’ two-man units that had a net positive impact - of which there are only ten - Mulder is in five of the remaining six.
Now, to be fair, Mulder is not in the “shoe-in” portion of the depth chart for a reason. At a svelte 6’4” and not playing as a primary ball handler, Mulder falls into a spot that is fairly deep on the Warriors rotation. This season, that means he will have to get around Poole, Lee, and Bazemore.
Can Mulder do it? It will all come down to his ability to shoot from outside.
In last season’s funky year, Mulder ranked third on the team in made threes per game - behind only Curry and the departed D’Angelo Russell.
“But Duby,” you may say. “What about his shot? He only hit around 31% on his threes last year!”
To which I would respond by gently placing my fingers over your lips and saying, “shhhh.”
Over the course of his G League career Mulder has been a phenomenal shooter, hitting 38.6% from deep (on 945 shots),
Compared to the 52 total shots he took with the team last year, there is ample room for hope of improvement.
And this is where Mulder may find his niche.
The Warriors that are playing a similar position aren’t exactly lights out:
Oubre: Career 33% on threes (though an encouraging 35% last year)
Bazemore: Career 35%
Lee: Career 34.6%
Poole aside, these are all decent shooting numbers, but not elite.
If Kerr is looking for a pure shooter off the bench, Mulder could see a path to garner minutes on the third string, assuming his poor shooting last season was just an abberation.
As a team last season, Golden State averaged the second-worst three-point percentage at just 33.4% Obviously, the return of Curry does a lot to shore that category up, but as we saw in the past with Klay Thompson: Kerr and the Warriors offense are set up to utilize catch-and-shoot players with a high motor. While he’s no Klay, Mulder’s skillset may be the Warriors best bet for a reliable three-point threat off the bench.
I choose to believe.