Get the inside scoop on all things Santa Cruz Warriors and G League from play-by-play announcer Kevin Danna:
Playing in the G League is about many things, but the main objective is to earn an NBA contract. And that’s what second-year Sea Dubs Juan Toscano-Anderson and Jeremy Pargo did when they were called up to the Golden State Warriors last week. Since the G League is sponsored by Gatorade, they’re officially called “Gatorade Call-Ups,” so when a guy earns a remainder-of-season deal, like Juan, or a 10-day contract, like Jeremy, I say a he “got the Gatorade,” so it’s great to see those two get the Gatorade.
Juan’s story is an incredible one. Outside of the fact that he’s a hometown guy, having been born and raised in Oakland, he’s someone who just two years ago wasn’t sure he’d even be able to play in the G League. It didn’t click for him until the Mexican National Team he was playing on beat a USA squad filled with G Leaguers that he thought he should give the G League a go after having played in Mexico, Argentina and Venezuela. So he tried out for the Santa Cruz Warriors before the 2018-19 season and was the last guy to make the roster out of training camp, and that’s only after the Sea Dubs traded away NBA veteran Terence Jones to make space for him.
He might not have put up the numbers Jones is capable of in the G League, but creating space for Juan was one of the best moves the Sea Dubs have ever made. He was a key cog in a team that went 34-16 and advanced to the Western Conference Finals, making his presence felt on the offensive glass and defensive end in particular. After getting the invite to Summer League and training camp with Golden State in July and the fall, respectively, Juan came back to the G League feeling like if only he could become a consistent 3-point shooter (he shot a respectable 35 percent from 3 in 2018-19, but it came on limited attempts), he could finally earn an NBA contract.
Except the start of the season didn’t go as planned, and Juan started the season 0-for-17 from downtown. It didn’t get much better over his next 17 attempts either, as he found himself at 3-34 from bonus distance 14 games into the regular season. At some point during that early-season stretch, Santa Cruz head coach Kris Weems had a chat with Juan about just playing to his strengths – defense, rebounding and playmaking. That’s what would get him to the NBA, after all, not necessarily his outside shot. While those positive aspects of his game didn’t necessarily dip early in the season, you could see a renewed focus for Juan on getting back to what made him such a valuable player in the G.
And then the 3’s started falling. He drained four 3-pointers in the fourth quarter at Northern Arizona en route to a 24-point, 14-rebound effort in a Sea Dubs victory. That was the second game of a 10-game stretch in which Juan hit at least one 3-pointer, shooting 53 percent from downtown during that stretch. After the dreadful start from distance, he got his 3-point percentage above 30 at one point before it dropped a tad down to 28. Not bad for someone who started so cold to start the season.
When Golden State made all those moves last week before the trade deadline, it felt like this was going to be Juan’s time, and it was.
But it wasn’t just Juan’s time. Jeremy Pargo was with the Santa Cruz Warriors in the Denver airport on the way to a game at Sioux Falls when he found out he was going to be able to put a third year of NBA experience on his resume. It had been a while since he had his second year of NBA experience. When Jeremy took the floor against the Los Angeles Lakers, it had been six years and 316 days since his last NBA regular season game. If that seems like an abnormally long stretch between NBA games, that’s because it is – only five guys have had longer stretches between NBA regular season games than Jeremy Pargo, per Elias. And it didn’t look like he missed a beat, either, compiling six points and four assists against the Lakers, owners of the top record in the Western Conference.
His impressive plays against the Lakers, and his midrange jumpers against the Miami HEAT on Monday, wouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone who saw him play in the G League. Pargo was Santa Cruz’s crunch-time bucket-getter: when the offensive set would break down late in a tight game, Pargo would be the guy more often than not to bail the Sea Dubs out of a bad possession and get a much-needed basket.
Pargo just knows how to control a game. He knows when to distribute – his lobs to Deyonta Davis are unstoppable – and he knows when he has to go get his for the sake of the team.
And oh yeah – he might be 33 (turning 34 in March), but he’s a more explosive athlete than his 6-foot-3, 225-pound frame would suggest. He had a Baron Davis-over-Andrei Kirilenko-esque dunk over Clippers assignee Mfiondu Kabengele, who is 6-foot-10 and related to Dikembe Mutombo, and he’s posterized at least three or four other defenders this year. So if he bangs out in a Golden State uniform during his 10-day contract, don’t be surprised.
Pargo clearly has NBA-level talent; the thing you worried about him from a callup-ability (my created word) perspective was his age. NBA execs tend to skew towards taking younger guys they can develop. But if you need someone for 10 days, and maybe 10 more days after that, and maybe the remainder of the season, would you rather have a 33-year-old who already has more than 80 games of NBA regular season experience and has played in the top leagues across the world, or would you rather have a 22-year-old who might have some significant upside but doesn’t have the experience and knowledge necessary to contribute right now? Call me an ageist, but I’m going with the former every day of the week.
The day before Jeremy Pargo broke that nearly-seven-year stretch of not appearing in an NBA game, Kiwi Gardner played in his first game for the Santa Cruz Warriors in nearly five years when he stepped on to the floor for the Sea Dubs at Sioux Falls.
It was the culmination of a crazy day for Kiwi, who woke up that morning in Oakland, and the Santa Cruz Warriors, who woke up that morning stuck in Denver after their flight to Sioux Falls had been cancelled the night before. Kiwi didn’t even get to town until about three hours before tip, and Santa Cruz didn’t finally settle in to Sioux Falls until about 1 p.m. for a 7 p.m. start.
Gardner, who played for the Sea Dubs from 2013-15 and won a title in 2015, spent training camp with Santa Cruz and had hung around the area with hopes of being able to get on board at some point this season. With the Warriors signing Juan and Jeremy, spots didn’t just become open, Kiwi became a dire necessity for Santa Cruz to even fill out their roster. Santa Cruz has played its last two games with just eight available bodies.
In his two games back, he has fit in very well with the group, averaging 8.0 points and 3.5 assists while hitting 7 of 10 from the floor in about 17 minutes per outing. Staffers tell me he has boosted the energy level on the team and has been a great unifier in the locker room.
Last Game Before the All-Star Break
You can watch Kiwi make his Kaiser Permanente Arena return Wednesday night when the Iowa Wolves come to town. Iowa will have former Warrior Jacob Evans III on assignment from Minnesota, so it’ll be fun to see him again after he was traded to the Timberwolves in the Andrew Wiggins deal. Tip is at 7 p.m., and if you can’t make it down to The Cruz, you can catch the game on NBC Sports Bay Area Plus.