OAKLAND -- Jordan Bell won’t be named the NBA’s Rookie of the Year, but he’s probably matching Philadelphia’s Ben Simmons highlight for highlight.
Bell won’t be named to the league’s All-Defensive team, either, but you won’t find another rookie defending at his level. He’s a second-round pick, 38th overall, making a case for the All-Rookie team.
He won’t win a spot in the Warriors starting lineup this season. But over the last five weeks, Bell has evolved from occasionally being relegated to the inactive list to earning semi-regular minutes to becoming a very valuable member of the bench.
And his coach, Steve Kerr, also has evolved from benching Bell for learning purposes to saying he deserves more minutes to, this week, announcing that the forward/center is been “outstanding” in his rookie season.
The latest examples came Monday night, in a 111-104 win over Portland. With Draymond Green sitting out due to sore right shoulder, Kerr inserted Bell into the lineup for his third start. His numbers were excellent: 11 points on 5-of-6 shooting, six rebounds, two assists and one block over 26 minutes. He was plus-14, best of anyone on the team.
But, as often is the case, Bell’s performance includes moments that astound the observer. In this instance it’s a third-quarter chase-down block of a layup by Blazers star Damian Lillard, the trailer on a two-on-one fast break.
Bell, who concedes that his bad-pass turnover triggered the Portland break, immediately remembers a sequence last week in New Orleans, where a Warriors turnover gave the Pelicans a three-on-one break.
“They missed, got the rebound again and missed again,” he recalled. “I was just standing there and coach was like, ‘Get down there. You’re a rookie. That’s how you have to be successful on this team. You have to play hard.’
“I was about to walk down. And then I was like, ‘Oh, I’m going to get taken out.’ So I just ran down and happened to be in the right place.”
It’s one of several highlight plays for the Warriors. No, it was more than that.
“That chase-down block after the turnover was spectacular,” said Kevin Durant, who drained a jumper seven seconds after the block. “That play kind of got us going.”
If Lillard makes the layup, it trims the Warriors lead to nine, 66-57, with 9:32 left in the quarter.
Instead, with Oracle Arena roaring and the team energized, the Warriors turn up the energy and, less than three minutes later, have a 21-point lead, 80-59.
That moment represents Bell perfectly. The 6-foot-8 Oregon product commited a rookie mistake, and then neutralized it with a play very few players can make.
“That’s the tradeoff,” Kerr said. “We’re trying to bring Jordan along slowly, but he makes it hard to keep him off the floor. We’re pointing out his mistakes and trying to teach him about the NBA game and his opponents, who he’s guarding and what to expect. It comes at you fast as a rookie. From one night to the next you’ve got all these star players and tendencies you have to learn, and coverages and terminology.
“He’s coming along really well. He’s been outstanding for us.”
Bell’s 21.56 player-efficiency rating is fourth among the Warriors but first among all rookies. It’s ahead of such power forwards as Boston’s Al Horford and Orlando’s Aaron Gordon. Bell’s 1.65 plus-minus mark is third among rookies, behind Simmons and Boston’s Jayson Tatum, both of whom start.
Bell’s ratings are somewhat skewed because he’s a reserve playing shorter minutes -- he’s averaging 11.3 minutes per game, but 14.7 minutes over the last 10 -- but he’s making more of an impact, on a better team, than some lottery picks.
Bell’s defensive rating (98.6) is 30th among all players averaging at least 10 minutes per game but leads all rookies at that level. He’s comfortable switching onto star guards, such as CJ McCollum and Lillard, and is able to shut them down.
“That’s kind of his forte,” Kerr said. “That’s what we liked about him coming out of Oregon, was the ability to switch out onto guards and (also) protect the rim. It’s a very unique skill, kind of a Draymond Green-like skill. It’s a required one in the modern NBA with all these little guards shooting 28-footers and then penetrating and the floor (being) spaced. You have to have that speed and athleticism and versatility. Jordan’s got that.”
For someone who didn’t play much basketball until high school at Long Beach Poly High, Bell has a remarkable feel for the game, impeccable timing and a stunning ability to react as a play is developing.
And now he’s picking the brains of such veterans as Andre Iguodala, David West, Zaza Pachulia and, of course, Green, who is Bell’s personal Yoda.
Whatever they’re telling Bell, it seems he’s able to apply. He’s a quick learner, as Lillard discovered Monday night.
“I knew we drafted a guy that was ready to play,” Klay Thompson said. “He spent three years in college and has an NBA body and is great athlete. He just keeps it simple and that’s why he’s so good.”