OAKLAND — Melvin Frazier grew up loving defense. Taught early by his uncle that playing ferociously on the defensive side of the floor would be his way onto the court, he became a bright spot for a struggling Tulane program over the last three years.
“That’s what I like to do, and I’m aggressive,” he said. “I know defense wins games.”
On Monday, Frazier worked out in front of Golden State Warriors brass along with five other draft prospects. The Warriors have the No. 28 pick in Thursday’s NBA Draft, and they’re looking for someone who can make an impact on the wing, and it’s because of that defense — and a 7-foot-2 wingspan — that Louisiana native Frazier could find himself back in Oakland very soon.
“A lot of guys today, in this generation, don’t like to play defense,” Frazier said. “It’s just something I like to do. And I know defense is going to get me on the floor.”
Frazier, 21, hasn’t watched much NBA basketball, so he doesn’t compare himself to or model himself after anyone. The comparison he’s heard lately, though, is Kawhi Leonard.
With Golden State looking to get younger and more versatile on the wing, the American Athletic Conference’s steals leader two years running is a natural fit. Frazier is a hyperactive defender both on and off ball, disrupting passing passing lanes. He had the longest wingspan among NBA Draft Combine invitees under 6-foot-6 (he checked in at 6-foot-4.5 without shoes, and 200 pounds).
“The draft is big for us, because we just don’t have a lot of vehicles to add players, as far as financial or cap space even the non-tax payer mid-level,” Golden State general manager Bob Myers said last week. “Things that you’d normally have, we don’t have. We’re looking for a guy who can play, which is a little unusual. We’re going to need to have guys that can go out there and give us minutes.”
Golden State found late value in the Draft in Jordan Bell last year, and Patrick McCaw before that. While Frazier has improved his shooting percentage each of the last three years (from 40.1 percent as a freshman to 43.8 as a sophomore to 55.6 as a senior), the Tulane junior’s offensive game is a bit raw, but he’s athletic enough and his shot is fundamentally sound enough that he could conceivably play early.
McCaw is a restricted free agent, who may very well not return next season, so picking up a replacement for him via the draft seems as good a bet as any. In trying to replace some of their six centers with bigger guards or small forwards, the Warriors are looking for players who can defend multiple positions.
“Always, that’s what always kept me on the floor was defense,” Frazier said. “I never really was an offensive player, but everybody picked me because I’m a hustler, and I play defense.”
Frazier worked out with Portland, Atlanta, Utah, Indiana, Milwaukee and Minnesota before his nearly-two-hour session with the Warriors on Monday, with Myers, Larry Harris and Kirk Lacob in attendance, as well as Damian Jones and Bell.
Frazier figures he’s had a leg up in those workouts because, for the past two seasons, he’s been coached by Mike Dunleavy, Sr., who coached the Lakers, Bucks, Trail Blazers and Clippers.
“Everything I’m doing in these workouts, I already did with him,” he said. “It’s like I’ve got the answers to the test already.”
Frazier profiles as a three-and-D player, having increased his three-point shooting percentage from 28.6 percent as a freshman to 38.5 percent as a junior. He wanted to show the Warriors that his offensive game is playable during the lengthy three-on-three session on Monday.
“I mean, people know I can play defense, so just showing them my offensive side, and that I can shoot the ball — my percentages are true to what it is,” he said.
Aside from his improved shooting, Frazier can improve his ball handling — his length causes some dribbles to get away from him — but he’s an impressive scorer off the dribble, averaging 15.9 points per game this season. He shows good vision as a passer, but could stand to be a bit more precise. He’s an active cutter, which pays off at the rim when he has time to load up and jump off both feet.
“Whatever they need me to do, I’ll do it,” said Frazier, who prefers getting blocks and steals to dunks. ” … I always like to check the best player on each team.”