One week into the 2018-19 season and the Golden State Warriors have revealed some insights into how they plan to handle the rotation at center until Demarcus Cousins is available.
A center for every need
Coming in to the season, it wasn’t at all clear how the minutes would get allotted. When coach Steve Kerr announced that Damian Jones would be starting the first game of the regular season, it wasn’t surprising per se, but his unwillingness to reveal plans beyond game one kept the center rotation uncertain.
Many of us (yours truly included) expected either second-year player Jordan Bell, or steady Kevon Looney to step to the forefront of the rotation early in the season. After just over a week of play, it seems as if we were all wrong.
Bell started 13 games as a rookie last year (averaging 4.6 points and 3.6 rebounds in 57 games), Looney played in 66 games and started four - so these weren’t wild, out-of-the-box guesses. By contrast, Jones spent most of his time in the development league with the Santa Cruz affiliate team, and he only appeared in 15 games last season, starting zero.
Surprisingly, Jones has led the charge so far. Anchoring the center position to the tune of 19 minutes per game, he has become the Warriors’ fourth leading scorer. In yet another surprising wrinkle, Kerr has deployed Jonas Jerebko at center for approximately 40% of his minutes.
Jones is the front-runner so far, logging nearly 100 minutes in the first five games, followed by Looney (85), and Jerekbo (77). Jordan Bell not only has played the fewest total minutes, but he also is the only player out of this group to get a goose egg - he played no minutes against the Utah Jazz.
A place for everything and everything in it’s place
These are all matchup-specific decisions, so let’s not jump to conclusions. Rather than a bunch of conjectures about who is or is not in the proverbial dog house, it may be a bit more informative to consider these minutes allocations based on the matchups.
In the first set of games, the Warriors played a bunch of big centers in Steven Adams, Rudy Gobert, Nikola Jokic, and Deandre Ayton. It’s not just about having a defensive body big enough to counter the pushes down low - Jones has the sort of no nonsense offensive game that will likely put him up amongst the leaders in offensive efficiency at season’s end.
This is the Javale McGee role: finish at the rim, don’t goof around around the fringes, and everything will work out.
This is Damian Jones' shot chart. Thank you for coming to my TED talk. pic.twitter.com/90J7z6B75I— Brady Klopfer (@BradyKlopferNBA) October 25, 2018
Jordan Bell on the other hand is a much more agile player that feels comfortable extended out to the very edges of the perimeter. When the Warriors play quicker, more mobile teams, or those that don’t employ a traditional big man, you can expect Bell to be featured more prominently.
Bell played a bunch of high-pressure minutes against the Houston Rockets in the Conference Finals last season, which led to many watchers guessing that he would feature more prominently in the Warriors’ plans this season. I’m just here to beg for patience.
As we saw in our last game against the Washington Wizards (where Bell logged 21 minutes - more than any of our four featured bigs), it’s not so much that Bell is in the doghouse, but more so that Golden State hasn’t needed much of his specialties.
Early trend suggests Warriors will deploy Jordan Bell mostly on a matchup basis against small-ball units, using a switch-heavy scheme. That makes these perimeter isolations against scoring guards/wings his most important challenge in Year 2. pic.twitter.com/R1T69OEmjv— Anthony Slater (@anthonyVslater) October 25, 2018
The other two players are interesting cases because they both offer some rather non-traditional value. Jerebko seems slated for that David West role rather than the Casspi role - a center that can dribble pass and shoot instead of a hot-shooting wing player. This is all an oversimplification of course, and Kerr will deploy Jerebko in a variety of ways, but I think we have started to see the part that the coaching staff sees him playing this season.
And finally, we have Kevon Looney, the understated ironman of this group. While he doesn’t lead the team in minutes, he has been by far the most consistent, never logging under 13- or over 19 minutes per game. Though he doesn’t look like a traditional center, nor does he seem to provide much offense, his skill set works well within the Warriors system.
Waiting on you, Cuz
All this shuffling is a sort of stopgap measure while we all await the availability of All-Star Demarcus Cousins. But that doesn’t mean that the questions of who plays when will just vanish once Cousins is around. If anything, these roles will become more important as the minutes get compressed to accommodate Cousins’ addition to the center rotation. Still, Kerr loves to tinker, and if early season indications are at all telling, then we can expect to see this shuffling approach to our backup center spot all season.