Heading into last season, an oft-asked question was, “How long could the Golden State Warriors keep up this winning way?” Was it going to be another three years? Five years? Was this the last go around?
As the Warriors have continued to work with their core group and have hauled the Larry O’Brien trophy back to the Bay for three out of the past four years, the front office has made it clear that they still view these past few seasons as the beginning of a long term project. Part of continuing this winning way included an attempt to get younger guys who could help develop into the players currently on the team, such as Andre Iguodala and Draymond Green - it’s much harder to find a Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson, or Kevin Durant (but if technology did allow us to clone one, as you all may have read, Durant would be my choice). One way to approach that was through the draft.
As if a repeat from the previous year, the Warriors decided that the 38th pick of the NBA draft should be theirs. On draft day, they sent $3.5 million to the Chicago Bulls for the draft rights to Jordan Bell, the reigning Pac-12 Defensive Player of the Year. General Manager Bob Myers was not optimistic that the team could land him, but when the opportunity came, ‘Myers Magic’ came into play.
High expectations for Bell entering the season
Before even playing a NBA game, there was already a pretty clear consensus about Bell. According to his draft profile, Bell has never been motivated by being a prolific scorer — he wanted to impose himself by taking out the opponent’s best frontcourt player with his defense. He was described to be an elite shot blocker and athletic playmaker who doesn’t put up a whole lot of shots and isn’t a true center. Pretty much all of those traits followed him to the NBA, and it was just what the Warriors needed — including the shooting and position description.
It’s not that the Warriors were desperate for rim protection — a hodgepodge of Durant, Green, and JaVale McGee seemingly would have done the trick — but rather, they were looking for someone to not only add to the team’s shot blocking ability, but also take some of the burden of being the “Stretch Five” off of Green himself. And while there were some obvious growing pains (and some needed adjustments on basketball mannerisms), Bell easily held his own as a rookie. Constantly looking more and more like Draymond Green throughout the season, Bell often found himself on the receiving end of alley oops, dishing out assists, and protecting the rim against the opposing teams’ best frontcourt player.
Bell’s versatility was a fit for the Warriors
Part of what makes Bell fit with the Warriors is his ability to guard multiple positions and having that coveted 6-foot-6 to 6-foot-8 height that the team so highly values while switching against opposing offenses. The fact that he had played as the rim protector for the Oregon Ducks made for a fluid transition to the League as a four-five combo and at the very least gave him working knowledge as a big in the NBA. Not only was Bell able to handle some of the better centers in this league as a five, but also when McGee, Zaza Pachulia, or David West came in(which moved him to the four) he showed he was capable of understanding how to give true help defense through the ‘blindside block’ - blocks which the defender comes from either the other side of the rim or the elbow to help block a shot attempt.
Bell’s season came to a sudden halt in January, after being badly injured while trying to block Robin Lopez’ dunk. That injury sidelined him for more than a month (14 games). Soon after his return, Bell went down again when he landed awkwardly on Rondae Hollis-Jefferson’s foot and tweaked his ankle. However, Bell only sat out three games.
Bell’s opportunities opened up throughout the season as the Warriors grew more open to the ideas of the younger guys playing, or wanted to simply give the veterans some rest. Taking the place of McGee, Pachulia, West, and Green not only gave Bell a plethora of opportunities to gain valuable experience, but also gave him ample time to apply and practice what he had been taught, especially the system of ‘Warriors basketball.’
And, man, did he ever make the most of his chances. While lacking in height, Bell more than made up for it by showing the coaching staff that he had the hops and athleticism to hang with the best of them. Bell’s off-the-backboard self alley-oop impressed a good number of his teammates while equally displeasing an equal amount of his opponents. His chase down block on Damian Lillard was much more well received by the general basketball community, and his continual defensive prowess throughout the season helped him fortify a role in The Finals, where he was even matched up against LeBron James a handful of times (what is it about the 38th pick needing to defend James during their rookie year before they are able to hoist up the O’Brien trophy? See Patrick McCaw).
What’s next for Bell?
As we look ahead to the 18-19 season, Bell could be seeing a lot more playing time at the center position, largely because there aren’t too many competitors there: DeMarcus Cousins and Green will start when the team is at full strength, but besides Bell only Jonas Jerebko, Damian Jones, and Kevon Looney remain. Bell could see a lot of minutes early on in the year with Cousins sidelined, and even when Cousins returns, there could be a chance that Bell is the first ‘big’ off the bench, especially given that he held minutes at both the four and the five last year and has a year under his belt.
Put simply, the Warriors are in it for the long haul, and by picking up Bell at the start of last summer and continuing to develop him into a Draymond Green caliber player, they are starting to push further into the possibilities that lie ahead of them.
How would you grade Jordan Bell’s 2017-18 season?
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