Sometimes an NBA team has to scrape and claw to fill out their bench with a diverse set of players. They need to comb through undrafted rookies, mine the G League, invite a host to training camp and churn through the final few roster spots during the season. The Golden State Warriors have the receipts from that process over the years.
There are other times, blessed times, when a shortcut is provided. A player who clearly meets a need is suddenly served up on a silver platter. It’s so rare that many teams second-guess themselves, hesitating or talking themselves out of it. Yet it does happen, and the Warriors may be the beneficiaries this time around.
How the Sacramento Kings made a roster blunder
The Oklahoma City Thunder provide an excellent example. Last preseason the Philadelphia 76ers needed to trim their roster down to 15 players and elected to keep Jaden Springer, a young guard they still had hope would develop. That led them to waive Isaiah Joe, a sharpshooting wing whom the Thunder promptly scooped up.
A Thunder team in need of shooting suddenly had a sniper who played a substantial rotation role for them, and the 76ers struggled to space the court around their stars all of last season. Springer played just 89 minutes all season, averaging 2.6 points per game, hitting two of his five three-point attempts. Joe played 1,400 minutes and hit 161 three-pointers, which would have tied James Harden for the most on the 76ers last season.
Let’s circle back to the present, when the Sacramento Kings just committed a similar blunder. They recently signed veteran center JaVale McGee, a player who couldn’t crack the rotation for the center-needy Dallas Mavericks last season, a player they wanted off of their team so badly they waived and stretched his remaining salary. The Kings, a team that finished eight spots ahead of the Mavericks in the standings last season, decided McGee was the best use of a roster spot.
In signing McGee they cut loose a pair of centers, Nerlens Noel and Neemias Queta. Noel is in a similar boat to McGee, a once-valued veteran who hasn’t found much traction in the league lately. It’s unlikely the Kings will regret cutting him even if McGee is a flop. Queta, though? Queta is the exact kind of player you don’t cut when you have him on your roster.
The Portuguese center is an analytics phenom, one of the very best shot-blockers to come out of college in the past decade. While he hasn’t seen much time for the Sacramento Kings, with the Stockton Kings in the G League he has been a dominant force. Last season he was the best player for Stockton, the best team in the Western Conference, while averaging 16.8 points, 8.7 rebounds, 2.4 assists and 1.7 blocks per game. His field goal percentage of 68.5 percent was second in the entire league.
The seven-footer just turned 24 years old in July, and everything about his profile projects as a long-term shot-blocking backup center. The Kings, a team seemingly heady on the success of last season, chose a washed-up veteran over the defensive upside of Queta.
The Golden State Warriors should sign Neemias Queta
Now we come to the Warriors, a team that is built even better than the Kings to compete for a title. They have depth at point guard, a bevy of wings and plenty of power forwards. Yet the one area the Warriors should still address is at the rim, where they are a bit light on shot-blocking.
Draymond Green is an excellent interior defender, but he tends to do his work before the ball is in the air. Kevon Looney is a beast on the glass and a solid switch defender, but he isn’t skying off the ground to block shots. Dario Saric, nominally the backup center heading into the season, has never blocked more than 30 shots in a single season.
The Warriors need another center just to eat up minutes in the regular season, and they need a shot-blocker to give this defense another gear to enter. Queta’s block percentage in the G League last season was 6.3 percent; that is, he blocked 6.3 percent of opponents’ shots while on the court. If you add up the block percentages for Green, Looney and Saric last season you don’t get to 6.3 percent. Acknowledging the G League is a different league, 6.3 percent would have ranked seventh in the entire NBA.
Certainly, shot-blocking does not equal rim protection, as there are plenty of shot-blockers who are still mediocre rim protectors. Queta still needs to prove himself in the NBA, as he only received 29 minutes last season as Domantas Sabonis and Alex Len dominated minutes at center for the Kings. He wouldn’t get a ton of run with the Warriors either.
The Warriors don’t need to stock their entire roster with aging veterans; they need some youth, players who can both contribute now and develop into larger roles over the next few years. Their team-building options will be limited as the new CBA fully kicks in, and having inexpensive players they can develop is the ticket to building out a full roster.
Neemias Queta brings the Warriors an element that they don’t have on the entire roster and the Kings have just walked him out the door, pointed him toward the Bay, and pushed him at the Warriors. Mike Dunleavy Jr. and the front office may have other ideas for filling the final roster spot(s), but Queta should now be placed at the very top of the list.