With DeMarcus Cousins temporarily sidelined, one of the biggest storylines coming into the 2018-19 NBA season is the process of selecting the starting center for the Golden State Warriors. With the retirement of David West, the acquisition of Zaza Pachulia by the Detroit Pistons, and JaVale McGee moving on to the Los Angeles Lakers, the Warriors are left with a young center rotation.
Kevon Looney, Jordan Bell, and Damian Jones are all under 24 years old, and the Warriors have done a tremendous job in developing them. Jones has started in all three of the Warriors’ preseason games so far, which makes sense — the coaching staff would like to see him play extended minutes, since he hasn’t played much in the previous two years he has spent with the team.
Let’s take a look at how he fared against the Phoenix Suns.
How Jones defends the pick-and-roll
In the very first possession of the game, Jones’ pick-and-roll defense is tested right away:
Jones doesn’t do very well. He fails to keep track of Deandre Ayton, who rolls toward the basket. Kevin Durant is forced to help onto Ayton, leaving his man, Trevor Ariza, wide open for a three-point shot.
Here is another instance where Jones’ pick-and-roll defense is tested:
Again, Jones loses track of Ayton, who is left alone to receive the pass for the easy dunk. Jones rotates onto Stephen Curry’s man too early, instead of staying with Ayton.
Here’s another lapse by Jones in the pick-and-roll:
Jones will need to learn when to rotate/switch, and when to shadow and stay with his man under the basket. As Jim Barnett put it during the game, this is due to Jones’ inexperience, and a few teaching moments from DeMarcus Cousins and Draymond Green — and perhaps more playing time spent on the floor — should improve his defense.
Jones does a bit better in this sequence:
He does a good job of “shadowing” the ball handler, while at the same time keeping track of his man and not allowing him to roll toward the basket uncontested. When the ball gets kicked out to the man on the weak side, he does a great job in helping, eventually making a good contest that forces the miss.
Again, Jones shows much better defense here:
He has a better feel for when he has to switch and when to shadow/roam. Additionally, he is able to shut down the driving lane, which forces the Suns into a 24-second violation.
Jones as a shot-blocker
Jones recorded only 1 block in this game, but it showed his potential as a help side defender and rim-protector.
Here’s Jones blocking Ryan Anderson:
It’s pretty much a given that due to Jones’ athleticism, he has the potential to be a shot-blocking menace. He shows good help defense by helping Durant out when Anderson somehow manages to get by him on the post.
Jones as the roll man in the pick-and-roll
Due to his mobility and athleticism, Jones is a lob threat off of the pick-and-roll. In this sequence, the Warriors run a set through a HORNS formation, where the two big men are stationed on the elbows. They’ve used this play in a variety of ways — in order to get their shooters open for a three, to allow a player to dive inside for a cut toward the basket, or to flow straight into a pick-and-roll:
Jones sets a screen for the curling Durant, which draws two defenders. Durant lobs the ball to Jones, who seemingly has an open dunk. However, he hesitates, puts the ball on the floor, and gives Ayton ample time to block him. Jones did relatively well on this possession, save for his moment of hesitation that allowed his shot to get blocked.
Jones also does a great job in this possession, rolling toward the basket and catching the pass:
Again, his finish leaves much to be desired, but he does get his own miss and draws the foul.
Unlike last year — when Jones seemed unaware and unprepared to catch passes — he seems to be more wary of passes that teammates whip toward him:
Jones as a passing big man
Here is a sequence where Jones shows some potential as a passing big man:
Off of a made basket, the Warriors quickly increase the pace, and the ball finds itself to Jones, who makes the pinpoint bounce pass to a cutting Danuel House for the easy bucket.
Here’s another great pass from Jones:
After receiving the ball from the doubled Curry, Jones immediately recognizes that he has Ayton on an island — Looney is left alone under the basket, and he promptly receives the bounce pass for the dunk.
This next pass seems basic, but a pinpoint bounce pass to a curling Durant shows that Jones can very much play within the system:
Jones has shown that he has good court awareness on offense, and that he has some potential to be a good passing big man should he be put in a position to have to make some plays for his teammates. He needs more time to show that though, and more minutes on the floor could do just that.
Jones’ mobility and positional sense on offense
In this sequence, Jones shows his mobility and penchant for good positional sense:
Off of a missed basket, Jones sprints down the court and gets deep post position, which Ayton doesn’t even bother to contest. Durant gets past his defender, and Ayton has to help off of Jones. Durant makes the bounce pass to an open Jones for the easy dunk. This is good and promising stuff for Jones — his hustle and awareness made Durant’s job as a playmaker much easier.
Jones had a final stat line of 11 points, 8 rebounds, 5 assists, and 1 block in 22 minutes. Not bad at all.
Will Jones be the starting center in the regular season?
At this point, it’s hard to tell what exactly is the coaching staff’s thought process in terms of selecting their regular starting center. The safe bet would be Looney, since he is the most experienced and the most fundamentally-sound. Bell will most likely be the spark plug for the second unit, a role that JaVale McGee played the previous two years. Jones could very well start at some points in the regular season.
Based on how the rotations have been in the preseason, the coaching staff will most likely rotate the starting center job between the three, depending on who the Warriors are going to be facing on a particular day and the matchup adjustments that need to be made accordingly.
Jones may be the most inexperienced of the three, but he has certainly proven so far in the preseason that he has the tools and the skills to be a significant contributor. Perhaps with more minutes on the floor — and more guidance from his veteran teammates — he can become the center of the future that the Warriors have always envisioned him to be.