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Who will be the Warriors’ starting center in 2018?

We know who four of the Warriors’ starters will be next year. Who will join them?

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NBA: Portland Trail Blazers at Golden State Warriors Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

Not only are the Golden State Warriors great now, but they’ll be great for a long time.

Stephen Curry and Kevin Durant are in the primes of their careers, and Klay Thompson and Draymond Green could get even better. They’re all projected to be with the Warriors for a while, and as long as they’re healthy, the Warriors will be an elite team.

We know that, in crunch time, somebody like Andre Iguodala will join the core four as the Warriors go small and Draymond Green will play center. But the Warriors will need a center to soak up minutes, especially during the regular season, against big centers that can really wear defenders down.

The Warriors don’t have many big men under contract for next year, so the center position is really up for grabs. Let’s go through the various candidates for the position:

Zaza Pachulia

The current starting center, Pachulia is a big body that does fairly well defensively against the stronger centers in the league. Offensively, he passes well and hits his free throws. Unfortunately, he’s beginning to decline: he’s missing more gimme layups and contributed to more turnovers than he used to.

Pachulia is also not effective against the most dangerous opponents — he barely played at the end of the 2017 NBA Finals, as he is just too slow for the fast-paced small-ball that most elite teams embrace.

Zaza is a free agent this summer, and I doubt the Warriors offer him the same contract as last year, which would pay him north of four million dollars in 2018. If Zaza is willing to return on a veteran minimum contract, the Warriors may re-sign him, but I doubt he will start for the Warriors next year.

Jordan Bell

The rookie phenom has been the third best big for the Warriors this year, after Draymond Green and David West, who is reportedly retiring after this season. Next year, he will be in the last year of his contract before restricted free agency.

Bell brings an explosive athleticism and multifaceted skill set to the Warriors, similar to Draymond. He can’t shoot, but he can finish, pass, defend at a high level, and rebound.

Unfortunately, Bell is quite undersized. Off the bench, his size doesn’t matter as much, but as a starter, his 6-foot-9, 227-pound frame is going to get worn down. 82 regular season games of Green and Bell covering centers would likely be too much of a grind. He might be better suited as a starting power forward with a center who could space the floor, or simply as a backup big.

Kevon Looney

After a great run in November, Looney has come back to earth, and hasn’t played major minutes in weeks as Bell has jumped ahead in the rotation. But he has shown promise, and is young enough to improve. But like Bell, he is also 6-foot-9 and around 220 pounds, so he’ll be undersized as well. He will be an unrestricted free agent next year, and may return to the Warriors under the right circumstances, as described by Danny Leroux here.

Damian Jones

Jones is an athletic big man who definitely has the size to play center in the NBA, at 7’0” and 245 pounds. But he’s incredibly raw, and although he could be good one day, he almost assuredly won’t be good in 2018. He’s a project, and that’s okay.

Free agent centers

Because the Warriors are such an elite team, they could potentially steal a decent free agent center who is chasing a ring.

Guys like Greg Monroe, Brook Lopez, and Derrick Favors could be in play if they decide to take much less money than they make right now. It’s unlikely, but maybe the Warriors could snag a younger guy like Nerlens Noel or Alex Len. Otherwise, the heap of big men include Ed Davis, Brandan Wright, Aron Baynes, Tarik Black, and Willie Reed.

The pickings are fairly slim. But do expect the Warriors to bring in a new big with experience during the next offseason.

Of course, the starting center position for the Warriors is not all that important. If I were to guess now, the Warriors will probably let Jordan Bell and a veteran center battle it out in training camp next year, and despite his lack of size, Bell will win out with his talent and potential to improve.

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