What Patrick McCaw and I have in common is that we both spent a lot of sophomore year playing NBA 2K and dreaming about being a professional basketball player. That future was a real possibility for only one of us, though. I declared an ill-fated second major in business school, and McCaw declared for the 2016 NBA draft out of UNLV. The Golden State Warriors selected him with the eighth pick of the second round.
Plucked from the prospect scrap heap and thrust onto the most obscenely talent-laden superteam ever assembled, McCaw hasn't quite made sense of his life in the NBA yet.
"It's crazy still. It's difficult to believe that I'm watching this, that I'm a part of it," the six-foot-six guard recently told me after a game. "You see all these superstars, guys that I've played with for a very long time"—he means in the video game—"and now I'm their teammate."
Whether cosmic alignment, a Zoltar machine, or karma brought McCaw's MyCareer mode to life in Oakland, you don't get the sense that he feels out of place on this team. He has devoured the opportunity with the fearlessness of someone still in virtual reality. Twelve games into the season, he has established himself in the Warriors' rotation and what's more, settled into a locker room dominated by celebrity.
Surrounded by basketball giants, McCaw has not allowed himself to be dwarfed by them. He claims to have the fastest hands on the team; Andre Iguodala, he says playfully, is getting "a little old."
When I asked him what it was like to mess up with Kevin Durant, Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson, and Draymond Green all watching—to describe, as a newcomer on the Golden State Warriors, how it felt to duff a pass from one of its stars, McCaw shook me off with a grin. But he was being serious.
"That's not gonna happen for me," he said. "When I'm on the stage, everything is real critical. Every little thing I do, I'm very focused and locked in on."
Roster depth was the price the Warriors paid to sign Kevin Durant this summer, with five players who averaged more than 15 minutes per game last season leaving in trades or free agency. They miss Leandro Barbosa, now in Phoenix: going into tonight's game against the Lakers, the Warriors are 28th in the league in bench scoring. Barbosa's absence has made McCaw much more than the designated towel waver. He's a cog in the Warriors' championship—check that, their dynasty run. "I know there's not any room to make mistakes," he said. "That's my mindset."
Talking to McCaw, I learned less about what it's like to be an everyman on a prestige basketball team, and more about what it takes to catch on. The story of the second-round pick with a chip on his shoulder has been hacked to hell; honestly, the players who don't have that edge don't make it far enough to be profiled. Still, for documentation purposes, here's a paragraph of that:
McCaw has come a long way from Wellston, Missouri, a dilapidated foundry town on the north side of St. Louis that's one of the poorest cities in the state. He's even come a long way from UNLV, which didn't make the NCAA tournament either year he was there. The zero on his jersey? That's for the "zero worries, zero doubts" he has about making it in the Association. McCaw bet on himself when he declared for the draft, knowing he would put on a show in workouts. Since he was drafted in June, McCaw wrecked Summer League, churned through preseason, and now is earning his minutes at the highest level of basketball.
McCaw is unusual, though, in that he doesn't harp on his Great Something to Prove. He doesn't see success on the Warriors as the thread by which his future hangs, nor does he see the four superstars on his team and look to play the son. He is, in the words of assistant coach Ron Adams, "one of those guys who feels like he belongs." The working part—the post-practice shooting sessions, the film study—just comes naturally.
McCaw has too much fun to let existential dread slow down his NBA career. He's an avid sneakerhead who used to play in rare Jordans at UNLV—and changed colorways at halftime if his shot was off. He doesn't smile a ton, but he's not Kawhi Leonard, either.
"His expressions say everything," Adams said. "He's one of those guys who can talk without saying a word." McCaw's warm-up before one game ended with a three-point shootout against Javale McGee and a half-assed windmill dunk attempt that spiked off the back iron. "He's very secure in his own skin," Adams went on. "But I think his teammates really enjoy him, and I think he's proving himself to them."
An agitating industry of arms and legs built in the Jamal Crawford mold, McCaw does not so much dictate the pace of the game as exploit it. He hopscotches past defenders just as they're settling into the halfcourt; he anticipates the designs of a ball handler and greedily dispossesses him. He can really pass, too, and his jumper, which he releases with an exaggerated flick, is steadier than it looks.
"He know how to play basketball," Iguodala said. "Sounds simple, right? But only ten percent of the guys in the NBA know how to play."
In one preseason game, McCaw hit a tying three at the end of regulation, and then dropped in a running floater to win it at the overtime buzzer. The former was a broken play; Steve Kerr drew up the latter for Number Zero. "I think I surprised everybody," McCaw admitted. "From my teammates to everybody in the NBA—everybody that passed on me." Now, he says, even his All-NBA colleagues know what he can do. "If I mess up, they want me to learn from it. But nobody criticizes or gets on me about it."
McCaw meshes well with his veteran teammates, who nevertheless still occasionally assert their seniority. "He doesn't talk much, so that's good for a rookie," the characteristically droll Thompson said, though he ultimately conceded, "He loves basketball. He's eager to learn, and easy to talk to."
Initiation rites have been limited to pre-flight food-and-beverage runs so far, though the newly of-drinking-age McCaw assumes that "there's something bigger in store." But what's some mild rookie hazing if not a misguided form of inclusion?
Meanwhile, the same teammates sending him to the grocery store have been equally active in nurturing his well-being. Adams says that Iguodala in particular has taken McCaw under his wing.
"Everybody's been telling me it's a long season," McCaw said. "That it's my rookie year, so definitely take care of my body, and stay level-headed." After McCaw went down with a minor ankle sprain in the team's third game, Curry, who was hampered by the same injury early in his career, routinely checked up on him during his recovery.
McCaw fits in this ensemble of stars, first and foremost, because he's got the temperament and the skill set to compete alongside them. He frequently spells Curry toward the end of the first quarter, and has closed out tight games alongside Curry, Durant, Green, and Iguodala.
"I just gotta look at it how they would look at it," McCaw told me, about how he handles the pressure of playing with his high-profile teammates. "I'm a young guy, 21 years old. I'm a rookie. If I take on the mindset of those guys—of Kevin Durant, David West, of our veterans—there's nothing I can't do."
If everything goes according to plan, soon he'll be reckoning with stardom of his own.
McCaw has thrown himself into this team with the aplomb of someone playing a video game, which starts to make sense if you think about it. Recognized superstars and still-developing ones, he says, want the same thing.
"We all just want to get better. I think that's gonna help me succeed. There's nothing more you can really ask for as a basketball player or as a young man. It's still like a dream come true."
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