John Locher / AP
Thursday, June 1, 2017 | 2 a.m.
When the NBA Finals tip off today, there will be no shortage of star power on the court. Between the defending champion Cleveland Cavaliers and the juggernaut Golden State Warriors, there could be as many as 10 superstars competing for the title, depending on your definition of the term.
Patrick McCaw hasn’t reached the MVP level of LeBron James, Steph Curry or Kevin Durant, but McCaw doesn’t need the spotlight in order to shine — the rookie guard is a master of seizing the slimmest opportunity and has been since his time at UNLV.
The former Rebel has enjoyed a fine rookie season with the Warriors, logging respectable numbers during the regular season (71 games, 4.0 points, 1.4 rebounds, 1.1 assists). He’s been even better in the playoffs, posting the kind of impressive per-36 stats (12.2 points, 5.6 rebounds, 3.4 assists, 2.0 steals, 38.9 3FG%) that point to a bright future in the league. For a player chosen 38th overall in the 2016 NBA draft, that counts as a steal.
McCaw made a habit of exceeding expectations during his college career in Las Vegas. He arrived at UNLV as the lowest-rated prospect in the Rebels’ touted 2014 recruiting class (behind players such as Rashad Vaughn and Dwayne Morgan), but it quickly became apparent that UNLV had unearthed a gem in the 6-foot-7 St. Louis product.
“It didn’t take very long to figure out that this kid could play,” said former UNLV assistant and current Southern Utah head coach Todd Simon, who played a big part in recruiting McCaw. “I think we all knew that as his size and strength and the physical maturation process came, this kid had an unbelievable ceiling. And he was the type of player that always made the right play, always made his teammates better. You see him doing the same things now [in the NBA].”
McCaw quickly shot up the depth chart as a freshman and earned a starting role, and by the end of his first season he was widely viewed as the Rebels’ best all-around player.
As a sophomore, McCaw elevated his game substantially, averaging 14.7 points, 5.1 rebounds, 3.9 assists and 2.5 steals while playing excellent defense. He declared for the draft, got selected early in the second round by the Milwaukee Bucks (who sold his rights to Golden State) and now finds himself staring down a chance to be a breakout hero in one of the most anticipated NBA Finals in recent memory.
After watching him outplay expectations every step of the way, from UNLV to a budding NBA dynasty, Simon doesn’t expect McCaw to shy away from this opportunity.
“Pat is unfazed [by big moments],” Simon said. “He has a great awareness of the moment, but he does not get rattled.”
That was evident in Game 2 of the Western Conference finals against the San Antonio Spurs. After Warriors starting center Zaza Pachulia was forced to exit early due to an injury, McCaw was called upon to fill the void. The rookie responded with 18 points, five assists and three steals in 26 sparkling minutes. He nailed 3-of-4 from 3-point range and finished with a plus/minus rating of plus-19 in the Warriors’ 136-100 win.
McCaw then started Game 4 in place of Pachulia and helped Golden State to a 129-115 victory by posting six points (2-of-4 from 3-point range), four rebounds and two assists. He was plus-12 in 17 minutes.
Former UNLV teammate Jordan Cornish was in the stands to witness McCaw help clinch a spot in the Finals:
In addition to Cornish, who is a close friend of McCaw's, other former teammates and coaches have been cheering him on during the Warriors' run through the Western Conference:
McCaw isn't the only player with ties to UNLV or Las Vegas competing in these Finals, as Cleveland rebounding machine Tristan Thompson played at Findlay Prep (also under Simon). In fact, Vegas hoops has had a strong presence in recent Finals, with Thompson earning a ring with the Cavs last year, Findlay Prep grad Cory Joseph winning with the Spurs in 2013-14 and Joel Anthony winning back-to-back rings with the Miami Heat in 2011-12 and 2012-13. In 2010-11, it was UNLV alum Shawn Marion raising a banner with the Dallas Mavericks.
Now McCaw is faced with another grand opportunity. With the entire sport watching, the former Rebel could see minutes matched up against LeBron James one-on-one. He could see a number of wide-open 3-point looks when the Warriors go small. He could be called upon to slow down Kyrie Irving with his pesky on-ball defense. All of that is in play, and with an NBA championship on the line, the chance will be there for McCaw to earn even more recognition as a budding star in his own right.
Don’t expect him to let the opportunity pass him by.