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Warriors season preview: How will the center rotation shake out?

The Warriors’ acquisition of DeMarcus Cousins gives them a talented scorer at the center position for the first time since Chris Webber, I guess?

NBA: Preseason-Minnesota Timberwolves at Golden State Warriors Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

The Warriors shocked the world when they signed DeMarcus Cousins with the midlevel exception this offseason. A bruising big man who can score at all levels, he gives the Warriors an offensive option they haven’t seen in decades. A talented passer and rebounder, Cousins certainly fits into the Warriors’ scheme in many important ways.

But Cousins is recovering from an Achilles injury, and his defensive capabilities are questionable. However, the Warriors have some good depth at the position, and though they aren’t as deep as they were last season (when seemingly half their players were centers), they complement each other nicely.

Of course, come playoff time, Draymond Green and possibly Jordan Bell will play significant minutes at the 5. But for the regular season, the Warriors should try to play their true centers at the 5 as much as possible.

DeMarcus Cousins

Cousins will not have as a big of a role as he’s had in the past, both because of his recovery from injury and the ridiculous amount of talent on the Warriors’ roster. He played 36.2 minutes a game last season, which topped every Warriors player last season. This season, I’d expect him to play only about 26 minutes a game.

The Warriors should be hesitant to play Cousins too much in the regular season: they should limit his minutes, give him back-to-backs off, and conserve his energy. The ultimate goal is for him to be ready for the postseason.

The big question for Boogie Cousins is how his defense holds up. His defense has not been good in prior seasons, though he has showed signs of solid rim protection when motivated. One crucial problem is that he isn’t agile enough defending switches on the perimeter and will likely be even worse while recovering from his injury. The Warriors might have to change their defensive scheme with Boogie Cousins on the floor, so it remains to be seen whether Cousins’ offensive output will outweigh his defensive weaknesses, especially in the playoffs.

Kevon Looney

Looney played the most of any Warriors center last playoffs, proving solid in every matchup. He thrived against Houston specifically, where his solid rim protection and weirdly good perimeter defense thwarted the Rockets’ extremely specific offense. Steve Kerr loves him because he rarely makes mistakes, plays hard, and knows his strengths and weaknesses.

Looney needs to work on his offensive game, and it seems that he’s been working on his jumper this offseason: during the preseason, he’s shown off an improved midrange shot. He was expected to be a stretch four out of college, so his improved range could be for real.

Expect Looney to start games when Cousins is absent. He’s a little undersized for the center position, but he’s bigger than Jordan Bell and much more experienced and aware than Damian Jones. Expect him to play about 17 minutes a game. His defensive versatility is extremely difficult to find in today’s NBA, and the Warriors are lucky to have retained him this season.

Damian Jones

Jones is almost a total unknown: after two years of NBA experience, he’s only totaled 174 minutes of playing time. He is a big, athletic center, which is difficult to find in today’s NBA. Unfortunately, he simply lacks awareness on both ends, which puts him out of place and makes him a tough fit for Kerr’s complicated schemes.

Jones will probably play more minutes than he’s worth this season: perhaps playing him with four other stars, like the Warriors did with JaVale McGee last season, will help cover his weaknesses. I would think he plays about 10 minutes a game this season. Jones could surprise with solid play, but I’m not expecting it.

Draymond Green and Jordan Bell

Green and Bell are both undersized for the center position and should be kept away from the 5 as much as possible in the regular season. But they’ll be needed to play the five in the playoffs, where they’ll allow the Warriors to play the small-ball. which they’ve won previous championships with.

Draymond Green is a perfect modern five in limited minutes: he can defend centers with his raw strength, push the pace with his ballhandling, and make passes few other big men can make. He directs the other players to their spots, switches out onto guards, and protects the rim all at once.

Jordan Bell at the five is a little more precarious. He’s taller than Green, but he’s not nearly as strong or aware. I think he can be a great center eventually, given time to bulk up and digest the defensive schemes, but he should currently be kept at power forward for the most part. He will get time at the five in smaller lineups though, and I’m excited to see what he can bring offensively with his raw athleticism and developing playmaking ability.

The Warriors’ center position holds intrigue going into the regular season. Obviously, how Cousins plays is the million dollar question, but the entire center rotation is up in the air. The final rotation can be set in a variety of ways, and I’m interested in how Kerr makes that decision.

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