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The Golden Breakdown: Examining Jordan Bell’s excellent two-way play against the Suns

Jordan Bell has been experiencing a sophomore slump. His excellent play on both ends against the Phoenix Suns may serve as the spark that finally breaks him out of it.

Golden State Warriors v Phoenix Suns Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images

When the Golden State Warriors paid $3.5 million to the Chicago Bulls for the rights to the number 38 pick of the 2017 NBA draft, it was a move that was closely scrutinized as another instance of the Warriors’ stroke of drafting genius. After all, Draymond Green was drafted in the second round of the 2012 draft, after which he blossomed into an elite defender and playmaker; Patrick McCaw was acquired by the Warriors after they spent money for his draft rights, after which he became a solid contributor who was able to play his way into the regular rotation. It was only natural that the Warriors were seeking another diamond in the rough, and they were placing their bets on a young and explosive player from the University of Oregon.

Jordan Bell’s rookie season was full of promises and glimpses of what he could develop into: an undersized big man who would compensate for his lack of height with his athleticism, playmaking, and rim protection. In the same manner that McCaw was being dubbed as the successor to Andre Iguodala, Bell was being dubbed as the protégé of Green; he had shown glimpses of being a high-IQ player who could pass and defend, skill sets that were highly similar to Green’s.

There were also glaring problems with Bell’s game. He had a knack for jumping at the slightest indication of a shot attempt, often resulting in being beaten through pump fakes and up-and-under moves, thus being transformed into a foul-producing factory for opposing teams. Despite these issues, the Warriors were confident that his upside would eventually overtake his deficiencies, and that the presence and mentoring of his veteran teammates would enable him to develop into the kind of player the Warriors envisioned him to become.

Just like McCaw, Bell became a solid contributor for the Warriors amid a packed center rotation. The mistakes were glaring, of course, but more often than not, the potential shined brighter. In addition to showing off his versatility on both ends of the floor, his athleticism allowed him to become a legitimate vertical spacer, much like his then-teammate JaVale McGee. Alongside McGee, he would become a favorite lob partner of Green’s. As the season progressed, the Warriors’ decision to spend money to steal him away from the Bulls would present itself as a highly justified move.

The cherry-on-top of Bell’s rookie season would be his contributions during the Warriors’ playoff run, where he played meaningful minutes against the Houston Rockets in the Western Conference Finals. Warriors fans remember these two incredible sequences from Bell, where he would act in tandem with Stephen Curry for two crucial three-point makes.

With his first year behind him, Bell looked toward his second season and anticipated a much better showing. With the departures of McGee, Zaza Pachulia, and David West, he was now part of a three-center rotation expected to hold the fort until the return of DeMarcus Cousins.

As the 2018-19 season progressed, however, Bell was relegated to being the third-stringer in that rotation, behind Damian Jones and Kevon Looney. His egregious habits from the previous season — jumping at fakes and other occasional defensive lapses — were still prevalent. Additionally, he would display a sense of hesitation on offense, mishandling passes and missing point-blank layups. The confidence that the young player displayed during his rookie season seemed to dwindle as he entered his second year.

Even when Bell was “promoted” to the backup center role — due to Damian Jones’ season-ending pectoral injury — Steve Kerr seemed hesitant to give him time on the floor, opting to insert Jonas Jerebko or having Green play minutes as a small-ball center. His developmental snag seemed to be the initial signs of a sophomore slump — the same slump that his now former teammate McCaw suffered from last season.

On New Year’s Eve against the Phoenix Suns, Kerr opted to give Bell another chance by inserting him for a foul-plagued Looney in the second quarter. Bell made the most out of this opportunity that was given to him, finishing the night with 10 points on a 5-of-5 shooting line, along with 6 rebounds, 2 assists, and 3 blocks. He displayed significantly better hustle and awareness on both ends, but most importantly, the hesitation he has been plagued with all season long was absent, replaced with confidence and an abundance of assertive play.

Here are some of his notable sequences from last night’s game.

In this sequence, Bell displays excellent vision when he receives the ball, dribbles, and draws defenders onto him, all while seeing Quinn Cook relocate to an open spot on the floor. He whips the pass to Cook, who buries the mid-range jumper. It was a good first possession for Bell — cool, calm, and collected amid the pressure of a collapsing defense.

Oftentimes, Bell misuses his explosive ability to leap; his mistimed jumps make him vulnerable to fakes, hesitations, and other kinds of crafty moves. However, when he becomes a help defender, he is excellent at rotating over to a player’s blind spot and rising up to block the shot from behind.

In this sequence, Deandre Ayton gets the pass and rolls toward the basket, with Bell trailing behind him. Ayton goes up for what seems like an easy layup, but Bell does an excellent job at rotating back to Ayton and blocking the shot attempt from behind. This ultimately leads to a fastbreak situation, where Bell runs ahead of the porous Suns transition defense that results in an easy layup.

Another excellent defensive sequence from Bell results in a transition bucket. He gets switched onto Devin Booker, who drives inside, hoping to get past Bell to sneak in a quick layup. But Bell moves his feet and stays glued to Booker, whose layup is easily denied. After the block, Bell’s hustle allows him to save the ball from going out of bounds, resulting in a fastbreak opportunity that is converted into points courtesy of a Kevin Durant dunk.

Bell victimizes Booker once again upon another switch and drive attempt. Bell sticks to Booker, who attempts to get Bell up in the air. Bell shows excellent discipline in staying down and not biting on the fake. Booker’s follow up shot is blocked, which eventually results in a floater from Shaun Livingston on the other end. This sequence capped off an 8-0 run that was due to Bell’s incredible two-way play.

Bell returns early in the third quarter after Looney picks up his fourth foul. He makes an immediate impact through this sequence, where he sets a screen for Durant. Bell uses his mobility and quickness while rolling to get the lob from Green, in a play reminiscent of the Warriors’ lob plays from seasons past.

Bell displays excellent chemistry with Curry on the pick-and-roll in this possession. Upon setting the pick, Bell makes himself available by rolling toward the basket. Curry draws the attention of Ayton, leaving Bell open under the rim. Curry’s exceptional bounce pass makes its way to Bell, who is able to finish the reverse layup. This is a breath of fresh air from Bell, who has previously shown to be jittery and shaky when handling the ball close to the rim.

The Warriors run another Curry/Bell pick-and-roll. When Curry gets trapped against the baseline, he sees Bell positioning himself in the paint to act as a pressure release. Curry slips the pass through to Bell, who shows a soft touch on his floater.

The Warriors get a stop in this sequence, and the Suns’ terrible transition defense allows Bell to run ahead of the defenders uncontested. Cook locates Bell and throws a well-placed lob for the dunk.

Bell’s final contribution in the third quarter comes on the defensive end. In the past, Bell has shown difficulty in defending the pick-and-roll, often letting the roll man catch the ball for the layup, or having difficulty in guarding perimeter players on switches. In this possession, the pass to the roll man is high, which prevents him from getting up for a quick shot. Bell takes advantage by recovering and crowding Ayton under the basket. The shot attempt is easily rejected from behind by Bell.

This mini-resurgence in Bell’s play can easily serve as the jump-off point toward a possible string of positive contributions from the second year player. Despite his struggles and stumbles, his unwavering desire to be a solid contributing piece for the Warriors is commendable. The team will need more of his energy and hustle, especially during this season full of long stretches where the Warriors seem lifeless and bored. Bell could serve as the spark plug that could inject bursts of energy on both sides of the floor — a role that McGee once previously served and a role that the Warriors sorely miss him for.

The Warriors have already lost a financial investment and developmental project to the crippling effects of a sophomore slump. Bell is currently experiencing a slump of his own, but there is still plenty of time to make the proper adjustments, listen to sound advice, and continue to work hard and show the energy and hustle that the Warriors will need on a nightly basis.

Based on his performance against the Suns, there seems to be hope yet for Jordan Bell.

Thirty-eight down, 44 more to go.

Happy New Year, Dub Nation!

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