An interesting thing happened during the Golden State Warriors Game 5 victory against the New Orleans Pelicans, which propelled them to the Western Conference Finals. Jordan Bell played meaningful minutes.
Bell entered with a few minutes left in Golden State’s decisive third quarter. He played fewer than six minutes and contributed just two points and two rebounds, but it still felt important.
The exciting rookie hadn’t played an important minute in the first nine games of the playoffs. Up until that third quarter, he had been relegated to bench time and mop up duty.
He didn’t play long, but he played when it mattered. And given the situation, it almost felt like coach Steve Kerr was letting his youngster get acclimated and find a little rhythm before the next round.
Which leads to the next question: Will Jordan Bell play against the Houston Rockets?
Here’s what we know about Kerr’s center rotation in the playoffs: Zaza Pachulia and Damian Jones will not play. Here’s what we don’t know: Everything else. We don’t know who will start, and who will play.
And against Houston, the center matchup is pivotal - more pivotal than it was against the San Antonio Spurs and New Orleans Pelicans. Not because Rockets’ center Clint Capela is better than Anthony Davis or LaMarcus Aldridge, but because the pick and roll is at the heart of Houston’s success, and Capela is an irreplaceable part of that.
And Bell matches up well against that. Bell has the athleticism and strength to defend and box out Capela, while also having the lightness on his feet that is necessary against the Rockets. The combination of Houston’s steady stream of pick and rolls and Golden State’s switch-everything defense means that whoever is playing center for the Warriors will spend a fair amount of time stuck on an island with James Harden or Chris Paul.
Pachulia and Jones, and even JaVale McGee will starve on that island. David West will fight valiantly, but may not have the footspeed to survive there anymore. The only Warriors who can survive that challenge are Draymond Green, Kevon Looney, and Bell.
Expect Green and Looney to get the lion’s share of the minutes at center; they’ll do the job best. And Kerr may get creative with things when Capela is out of the lineup and try to force Nene off the court. But sooner or later, he may have to turn to his athletic, ultra-talented rookie, and give him a shot to cover Houston’s lethal offensive set.