Thompson: In the Warriors’ grand plan, Donte DiVincenzo inhabits the perfect space

SAN FRANCISCO — After lavishing praise on Donte DiVincenzo, Stephen Curry had one request. Get DiVincenzo’s thoughts on what it feels like “to be a true vet.”

When DiVincenzo heard the question, then learned it was crafted by Curry, he just shook his head.

“Steph’s an a——,” DiVincenzo, seated at his locker, said with a grin, as if he could picture Curry cracking up from wherever he was. “I’m not a vet.”

DiVincenzo is in his fifth season and about a month shy of his 26th birthday. He disagrees with the notion he is a veteran. Even on a roster where eight players are younger than him, he scoffs at such labeling.

“How many years Draymond (Green) got? Eleven?” DiVincenzo explained. “Steph is at what? Fifteen? Fourteen? Klay is at 12. Those are the vets. That’s how I view it.”

Instead, DiVincenzo sees himself as a fulcrum on a roster split into two generations. The middle child. Yeah, that’s much better, he thinks. But firmly behind Kevon Looney and Andrew Wiggins, who are one and two years older than him, respectively.

“Wiggs is in year nine. Loon’s at eight. This dude is …” DiVincenzo pauses, swivels his chair so he could point at Andre Iguodala’s name tag above the locker to his left, “is in year 35. I ain’t no vet.”

Unfortunately for his protest, DiVincenzo has established such a presence on the Warriors. Wednesday’s 112-107 win over the Jazz at Chase Center was Golden State’s third straight victory. The trio of wins coincided with DiVincenzo’s return from an illness on the road trip. The Warriors have won four straight with him in the lineup.

On Wednesday, DiVincenzo played a game-high, and career-high for him, 38 minutes and 59 seconds. The Warriors needed every second from DiVincenzo because all three perimeter starters — Curry (left shoulder), Thompson (injury management) and Wiggins (non-COVID illness) — were out. He gave the Warriors a season-high-tying 19 points, including the game-sealing free throws with 19.3 seconds left. He played every second of the fourth quarter, spearheading the pick-and-roll defense that helped hold Utah to 13 points on 4-for-25 shooting in the fourth quarter.

This was just his 26th game with the Warriors, but he’s already entrenched as a stabilizer. He has the skills, basketball IQ and demeanor to do just about whatever the Warriors need. Wednesday, it was often to be the adult on the floor, as coach Steve Kerr calls it. The Warriors played a lot of two-way guard Ty Jerome, and two-way forward Anthony Lamb, and second-year forwards Jonathan Kuminga and Moses Moody. Even rookie forward Patrick Baldwin Jr. got some meaningful minutes, most of them came with DiVincenzo on the floor.

Jerome had 14 of his 17 points in the second half, playing mostly alongside DiVincenzo, who defended the point guard on defense while Jerome ran the point on offense.

During the run when the Warriors took control, DiVincenzo and Looney were joined on the court by Jerome, Lamb and Kuminga. The lineup hadn’t played together before. But was workable because DiVincenzo makes it so. Jerome got a steal and drilled a transition 3-pointer to put the Warriors, who trailed by double digits for much of the game, ahead 104-101. After the defense forced Utah’s eighth consecutive miss, DiVincenzo capped the 10-0 run with a 3-pointer the next time down. The Warriors never trailed again.

“It feels different to win this game based on the circumstances,” Kerr said. “This was a game we wouldn’t have won a few weeks ago. I think our young guys are really growing. We’re getting great performances every night from guys like JK  and (Anthony) Lamb, Ty Jerome — and Donte has been fantastic and not just knocking down shots, but defending and playing with force.”

In Tuesday’s win over Charlotte, DiVincenzo didn’t even score. But his fingerprints on the game were nine rebounds, seven assists and a steal. He also stayed glued to Terry Rozier, who’s burned the Warriors before but needed 18 shots to get his 19 points.

That was as much DiVincenzo’s kind of game as one where his offense is clicking.

“He tells me the same thing every game,” DiVincenzo said of advice from his father that shapes his basketball ethos. “He said, ‘Go hustle and get some rebounds.’ That’s the only thing he wants to see. Play hard and go get some rebounds. … That’s how I was brought up. Do all the dirty work and go get some rebounds. Making and missing shots is one thing, but don’t have a donut in that rebound column. And that’s kind of my mindset. Track it, get it and go.”

Against Memphis on Sunday, he stepped seamlessly into the rivalry, matching the intensity of the affair. He was game for the usual smoke session between the Grizzlies and Warriors, and all of his 19 points felt timely, especially his five 3-pointers.

This three-game homestand was a microcosm of how valuable DiVincenzo has become to the Warriors, who are 16-8 when he plays and 2-8 when he doesn’t. In the era of the two timelines, when players who can adapt to the Warriors’ style are at a premium, DiVincenzo has been the perfect fit. After winning a national championship at Villanova, then getting his NBA grooming with the Milwaukee Bucks, where he won an NBA championship, DiVincenzo has no problem vibing with Golden State’s culture and system. Because, at their essence, they are about winning. That’s the same language DiVincenzo speaks.

“A prototypical experienced college player turned pro that’s been around winning and knows how to win,” Curry said. “He’s committed to always impacting the game whether it’s rebounding, defending, scoring. He’s got an opportunity here to lead and cement himself as a guy every team should want on their roster just because he can plug a lot of holes and do a lot of different things. He’s given us a lot of, just, presence. He can play with pretty much any lineup.”

The refrain from everyone about DiVincenzo is essentially the same. Cares most about winning. Plays the game the right way. Does all the little things. Unselfish. All of that points to the same thing — DiVincenzo’s mindset.

His approach to the game, his understanding of basketball principles and foundational schemes, speaks to his advanced pedigree. His instincts, his expertise of when and how to use his voice, the confidence he carries despite being in a new space, it’s like he’s been around for years. Like a vet.

“I’m not a vet,” DiVincenzo repeats.

Jerome, the fourth-year guard out of Virginia who was the 24th pick in 2019, isn’t buying DiVincenzo’s reasoning.

“He’s crazy. He’s definitely a vet. He’s got five years in the league and a ring. That makes you a vet. He’s a vet.”

DiVincenzo’s rejection of the tagging isn’t out of vanity, though the ginger’s crispy fade is absent of grays and a testament to his youthfulness. It’s more about his desire to accomplish more.

He was the young guy in Milwaukee, drafted No. 17 in 2018. But in his third season, he tore a ligament in his left ankle in Game 3 of the Bucks’ 2021 first-round series against Miami. He missed the rest of the playoffs and didn’t return to action until seven months later. He also didn’t get a new contract from the Bucks, who had already traded for Grayson Allen to, essentially, replace DiVincenzo. He was nearly traded to Boston but landed with the Kings. Four months later, the Kings declined to give him a qualifying offer and he became an unrestricted free agent.

DiVincenzo signed with the Warriors to revive his reputation and land with a team that values what he does. Veterans are established. Veterans are proven. Veterans have a track record. Veterans have carved out their value in the league. DiVincenzo is still building.

It took a minute to acclimate, to feel like that blue and gold was in him. He was reminded of Milwaukee when he got here, with some of the ways the Warriors operated and the standard of the culture. He had developed a routine in Wisconsin that served him well; switching it up took some adjustments. But after he missed three weeks earlier this season with a hamstring injury, the Warriors had a tough home game against Cleveland. It was his first game back. He played shy of 16 minutes. But the way they competed, the way he had to lock in on Darius Garland, sync with Draymond Green, and run some point while Cleveland struggled to keep up with Curry, it made DiVincenzo feel like he was truly part of the team. That was Nov. 11.

That’s why the jesting he receives as a vet on this squad is a mountain of validation. A weighty compliment disguised as banter. Curry and the team’s championship stars have declared DiVincenzo worthy of their pursuit for a fifth championship. They like when he’s on the court. Not every newcomer gets their approval.

The young players look up to DiVincenzo. They respect his advice and his savvy.

“Donte is an amazing part of our team,” Jordan Poole said. “Just being able to play on the court with him — to share minutes with him and just trust that he is going to make the right play, that he is going to be aggressive, that he is going to make big shots and make big plays and make big stops — is huge. He is a really big part of why we won these last couple of games, and he is going to be really big for us all season.”

One of DiVincenzo’s roles, and why he contends he’s not a vet, is to serve as a mediator between the generations. He understands the old heads on the roster and he’s close enough in age to the young guns to translate. He can’t be a vet and a go-between.

DiVincenzo is an outside voice who can second the sentiments of the stars and coaches as they groom the youngsters, specifically James Wiseman, Kuminga and Moody. DiVincenzo can echo how beneficial it is to be groomed in a winning environment. He can extol the virtues of patience as a young player while underscoring the values of mentorship.

“The grass isn’t always greener,” he said. “That’s the biggest thing. Just because something is not going your way in the moment, for a stretch of games or whatever, you can’t just say, ‘I’m gonna go somewhere else.’ Stay the course. Keep rockin’ — especially when you have great vets around you. I had great vets. George Hill. Eric Bledsoe. I’d struggle for five, six games and they’d tell me, ‘Relax. Everything’s gonna work out.’ And that’s the same thing I try to tell these guys.”

If he talks like a vet. And plays like a vet …



Jonathan Kuminga is emerging into a defensive force for the Warriors

(Photo: Noah Graham / NBAE via Getty Images)

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