After the Warriors’ 83-75 opening night win against Cleveland in the Las Vegas Summer League, the team files off the floor, one by one.
But one Golden State player lags behind. James Michael McAdoo gradually hikes through the tunnel, a full bag of ice taped to his left knee.
He looks like the stereotypical grizzled veteran you might see in a movie. And he kind of is on this Summer League roster, which, like most, is stocked with rookies and D-Leaguers.
McAdoo’s career has taken anything but a straight path. Choosing to turn pro from North Carolina after three seasons, the 6-foot-9 power forward went unpicked in the 2014 NBA Draft despite averaging 11.4 points and 5.9 rebounds in 108 career games as a Tarheel.
Just 12 months ago, Golden State signed McAdoo to play on last year’s Summer League team. Now, he approaches his sophomore campaign in the NBA, having in between cracked the rotation for a 67-win team, and won both D-League and NBA championships all in the same season.
That experience has enabled the 22-year-old to bring a veteran presence to Vegas and be the centerpiece of the Summer League Warriors. And he showed it in the very first game, as he totaled 20 points, seven rebounds and three assists, all without a turnover.
From just those 29 minutes of game action, it is apparent the game is starting to slow down and come more naturally:
“It definitely has, it helps with a coaching staff I’ve been with for over a year now so it provides a sense of confidence. I mean there are still aspects of my game that I’m still trying to perfect. It’s a work in progress. I think there’s a lot of things that just come with time, obviously confidence and being able to just go out there and make the easy plays when the game does slow down.”
Watch the Warriors play in Vegas, and McAdoo is the first player you notice. He stands out as a dominant player in Summer League and isn’t afraid to assert himself.
The things he’s doing now aren’t new, says McAdoo:
“I think I’m really just trying to work on weaknesses but really just focus on my strengths too, being a good defender, being a guy that can get out, run the floor finish at the rim and just make my teammates better. Summer League is great opportunity to do that since (I’m) being the focal point as well as a couple other guys.”
A quick glance at the box score shows his progress. Last year in the same amount of minutes, he averaged nine points and five rebounds, breaking double digits in points just twice in five games.
The limited output had fans wondering why they would even sign him to a 10-day contract.
McAdoo knows it too. He hears all the slights about him. But just tucks it away and uses it as motivation, because nothing can take away from the fact he has already won two championships:
“Honestly it hasn’t hit me, it was just one of those things where God was looking out for me. I worked my butt off, but to say I deserved that, I don’t even know if I can say that. Especially the path I went right? To go undrafted, everybody still to this day writes me off. Nobody but a few people have faith in me so to be able to come out here and represent the Golden State organization, I consider that an honor.”
He wasn’t even signed right away last season by the Warriors. He was brought in for training camp, cut, and signed to the Santa Cruz before sweating out two 10-day contracts. After the second one expired, a week passed before he was presented with a two-year contract.
But McAdoo confesses he knew it wasn’t going to be easy:
“It’s definitely an adventure. But at the end of the day this is what I left college to do, to play the game of basketball and I knew this was an option if I didn’t get drafted. And thank god it’s California. Santa Cruz, it’s beautiful down there and then Oakland, the Bay Area, beautiful there too.”
All of this might have been avoided had he declared for the draft after his freshman season at North Carolina. He was projected as a mid- to late-lottery pick despite playing only 15 minutes per game, but decided against coming out.
Returning to North Carolina, McAdoo saw his minutes and scoring averages double, only to watch as his draft stock plummet.
After his sophomore year, he had fallen to a late first-rounder, and when he finally declared following his junior year, he was looking at being a second round pick before ultimately going undrafted.
Does he regret not leaving earlier? It’s easy to think about where he might be now, acknowledges McAdoo:
“That’s tough, everyone always asks me that but at the end of the day, I’m in this position now where I met the love of my life (at college), my wife, we’ve been married for over a year. But honestly, you know I’m a human, obviously there are what ifs. But at the end of the day I already won two championships and I have a great opportunity here to have a great NBA career.”
It’s doubtful that even a breakout Summer League could lead directly to McAdoo becoming an NBA starter, let alone an All-Star. But that just wouldn’t be his style.
He’s familiar with the long way.