Monte Poole

How Warriors' center depth can be strength vs. Raptors in NBA Finals

How Warriors' center depth can be strength vs. Raptors in NBA Finals

OAKLAND — Warriors coach Steve Kerr is playing a game of revolving centers, and there is no end in sight. It didn’t matter which teams the Warriors faced this postseason. It won’t matter when they confront the Toronto Raptors in the NBA Finals.

Such depth and disparate skills bode well for the Warriors.

Kerr and his staff will study numbers and tendencies, and decide which big men to roll out against Toronto’s 7-foot-1 Marc Gasol and his primary backup, 6-10 Serge Ibaka.

Consider: 16 games into the playoffs, the Warriors have started five different centers. It’s the only position for which the starter was not revealed until minutes before tip-off.

DeMarcus Cousins, who started the first two games in the opening round against the Clippers but sustained a calf injury in Game 2, is expected back.

Andrew Bogut, who reunited with the Warriors in time to play the final month of the regular season, has started six playoff games.

Jordan Bell, who spent most of the season completely out of the rotation, started Game 4 — the closeout game, for crying out loud — of the Western Conference finals against the Portland Trail Blazers.

Damian Jones opened the season as the starter while Cousins was rehabilitating from surgery to repair a ruptured Achilles tendon, but he sustained a torn pectoral muscle on Dec. 1. He returned for the conference finals and, surprisingly, got the start in Game 3 in Portland.

Draymond Green, a power forward under optimum conditions, has made six starts at center.

And, finally, there is Kevon Looney. He is the only designated center without a start. Guess who has played the most minutes at the 5?

Don’t expect to change, even if Gasol is four inches taller and 30 pounds heavier.

“Looney’s a hell of a basketball player,” Kerr said Saturday. “He’s one of our cornerstones now.

“We’re going to rely on him in The Finals and, hopefully, for many years to come.”

Bogut is the best size matchup with Gasol, which is why he could expect some playing time. Not an abundant amount but maybe as many as 10 minutes per game.

Cousins is next on that list. He’s a reasonable physical matchup, similar to Gasol in weight but a couple inches shorter. He’s eager to get back on the court, make his Finals debut and re-start his drive toward a new contract when he becomes a free agent on June 30.

“He played with a little bit [Friday],” Looney said of Cousins' participation in a scrimmage. "He’s getting better each day. He’s getting in better shape each day. He’s excited to try to get out there and play.

“Whenever he’s on the court, he’s capable of going for 20 and 10, or 30 and 10. When he’s out there, he’s always a plus for us.”

Whoa. Cousins still is rounding into game shape and, assuming he receives final clearance, as expected, his minutes will be monitored. A 20-point, 10-rebound game would be astonishing.

Green’s minutes at center come almost strictly in the Hamptons 5 lineup, as was the case against the Rockets in the second round. Any time he spends in the middle will be limited, at least until Kevin Durant is available to play power forward.

There is a wild card, and it’s not Jones, who is unlikely to play significant minutes, if any.

It’s Bell. The guy who was most likely to make a glaring mental or physical error. The guy who was slapped with a one-game suspension for what amounts to incredibly immature conduct.

He doesn’t have a contract beyond this season, and for most of the season, it was reasonable to believe the Warriors would be reluctant to make a qualifying offer. That’s conceivable now.

“Jordan over the last few weeks of the regular season, when he got his opportunities, made the most of them,” Kerr said. “He’s playing at a really high level now, giving us exactly what we need: speed, energy, athleticism, intelligent play offensively, drive and kick, move the ball.

“He’s been fantastic.”

The Warriors might have caught a break insofar as the Raptors don’t have as much overall length as the Milwaukee Bucks. Among their eight-man rotation, only Gasol, Ibaka and 6-9 Pascal Siakam stand taller than 6-8.

With Cousins’ imminent return, the back-to-back defending champs are deeper in size even without Durant.

[RELATED: How Warriors, Raptors stack up ahead of NBA Finals matchup]

“Our motto is Strength in Numbers,” Looney said. “We always play center by committee, so having that extra guy [Cousins] to go out there and change the game a bit will be great.”

Let the rotation games begin.

Steph Curry, Kevin Durant right to stay on message ahead of NBA Finals

Steph Curry, Kevin Durant right to stay on message ahead of NBA Finals

OAKLAND – Kevin Durant and Stephen Curry, speaking minutes apart on Friday, were in perfect harmony. They’ve been teammates long enough to know this may disappoint a segment of sports fans.

You’ve heard them. How can you not? These people say things like the Warriors are a better without Durant. Or the team’s famously fabulous chemistry is being compromised, by Durant.

“I feel like for the last three years, everybody has taken their shots at trying to nitpick or break us down or drive a wedge in our team chemistry or our togetherness or whatever the case is,” Curry said after practice. “And even this year, it’s been amplified even more with (Durant’s) free-agency stuff. Nobody can say anything without it getting scrutinized or criticized. Nobody can be happy when people are playing well. That’s the part, to me, that’s most surprising. If it’s KD playing well, it’s ‘Oh, they’re playing a different style and it’s not as fun to watch.’ Or when he’s out and we’re winning games, ‘Are we better or more fun,’ whatever the question is, you hear it all the time.”

Never mind that the Warriors are in the midst of the most successful NBA run since Bill Russell, now 85, was patrolling the middle for the 1960s Boston Celtics. Or that when the NBA Finals begin next week the Warriors are favored to capture a third consecutive championship.

Yet Durant, particularly since he dropped out of the lineup May 8 with a calf injury, remains a popular target, with some folks claiming he is a man apart – and not always because of his singular talent.

“It’s been that way since I got here, that it’s the Warriors and KD,” Durant said. “I understand that. And I feel like my teammates and the organization know exactly what I’ve done – on and off the court – to become a part of this culture.

“I know what I bring to the team,’ he added. “But I also know a lot of people from the outside don’t like to see us together. I get it.”

Every argument, every off-script moment and every sideways glance can lead to social media buzz, as well as that of TV and radio talk shows. The Warriors constantly are having their temperature taken by folks trying to diagnose from a distance.

Durant often gets the blunt end of the discourse, at least partly because he, for better or worse, engages more than most.

“It’s hard to get away from that because I watch the games and watch the lead-up to the games and that’s all everybody is talking about,” he said of the negative outside noise. “From my perspective, I want to focus on rehab, but I also want to be a fan of my teammates. I want to enjoy my teammates from a different view.”

Durant is not expected to play early in the NBA Finals, which begin next Thursday, but he is holding out hope he can get back on the court at some point during the series.

Much of the recent chatter is related to the Warriors being 5-0 since Durant went down, winning Game 6 of the Western Conference semifinals in Houston before sweeping the Trail Blazers in the conference finals. This has spawned the usual instant “analysis” that some try to pass off as informed opinion.

“We are one group, until we’re not,” Curry said. “I don’t think we’re going to let any noise around us – as frustrating or entertaining or whatever you want to call it is on a daily basis – break us down in terms of distracting us from what the goal is.

When Durant was asked a question Friday – ‘’How have you thought about their (the Warriors) play?” – it was notable that he quickly corrected the reporter.

“Our play? I think we’ve been playing great.”

Even with continuing subplot of Durant’s looming free agency, both players stressed that the “common goal” overrides all other factors. Durant was having perhaps the best postseason of anyone before he was injured. Curry has since grabbed that torch.

[RELATED: How KD's early NBA Finals absence affects Warriors' matchups]

The Warriors went as far as possible in the first two seasons with Durant. The story of this season, despite predictions of collapse at several points, is in progress.

“We’re a great team because everybody who puts on the uniform goes out and competes at a high level,” Curry added. “We look out for each other. There’s a little bit of sacrifice. But at the end of the day, it’s all about winning. And no matter who is on the floor, that’s what we’re all about.”

While it’s true all is not blissful with this team, that doesn’t automatically mean it is a catastrophe waiting to happen

Klay Thompson's All-NBA team snub is fair, even though it seems unfair

Klay Thompson's All-NBA team snub is fair, even though it seems unfair

OAKLAND — Klay Thompson failed to make any of the three All-NBA teams Thursday, and by now, you’ve probably seen his reaction. He looked as if he had been cheated out of a potential $30 million in salary and, moreover, out of his rightful place among his contemporaries.

Was Thompson robbed?

Well, yes and no. Please allow me to explain.

The first-team guards are Thompson’s Warriors teammate, Stephen Curry, and Houston’s James Harden, a unanimous choice. No beef there. Each is exactly where he belongs.

The second-team guards are Portland’s Damian Lillard and Boston’s Kyrie Irving. Lillard is an easy call. The choice of Irving, who was as inconsistent as the Celtics, is debatable.

The third-team guards are Oklahoma City’s Russell Westbrook and Charlotte’s Kemba Walker. Both can be — and should be — debated. Westbrook is a stat monster, and that is worth something.

But all six guards share something that sets them apart from Klay. Each is his team’s leader and the primary dictator of its fortunes. Each is responsible for running his team’s offense, and all six teams tend to follow the path paved by those six players.

The only one of the six teams not to reach the playoffs is Walker’s Hornets, who were eliminated in the final days of the regular season. The general consensus, however, is that Charlotte has Kemba as its No. 1 and that he was surrounded by a bunch of No. 3s, No. 4s, No. 7s and No. 8s. No one familiar with the NBA could argue against the notion that Walker had a fabulous season but still is saddled with a mediocre supporting cast.

The Hornets finished 39-43. Without Walker, they don’t win 30.

Thompson has been spared mediocrity for all but his rookie season, 2011-12, the last in which the Warriors missed the playoffs. He was a part-time starter then, and since has become a crucial member of one of the best teams in NBA history.

Never, though, has there been a season or even a month in which Thompson was forced to serve as dominating scorer as well as a primary facilitator. The leadership burden he bears is not nearly as heavy as those borne by the six players voted ahead of him.

By that measure, Thompson doesn’t belong on the All-NBA team. He was eighth in the voting among guards. What’s criminal is that he somehow finished behind Washington’s Bradley Beal.

By any other measure, though, Thompson belongs. When one considers his two-way responsibilities, it’s silly to argue against him being one of the six best guards in the league.

“The guy is a machine,” Warriors coach Steve Kerr said. “It’s incredible how he moves offensively and then pursues his man defensively. He usually plays on the ball defensively and does a lot of switching, guards post men after a switch. The physical stamina that Klay displays is amazing. He leads us in minutes played.

“He’s just ... he’s a machine out there.”

Thompson’s ability as an elite defender and off-the-ball offensive threat allows Curry to play his game at its best. The two are a wonderful complement because each has assets that offset the imperfections of the other.

What could not be taken away from Thompson was his selection to the All-Defensive second team. It’s overdue by at least two years.

“He should have been first,” Draymond Green, also voted to the second team, said of Thompson

Thompson said he was grateful for the acknowledgement, describing it as a “huge honor” and motivation for the future.

But he clearly is rankled by the All-NBA snub. Thompson believes, rightfully, that he’s one of the six best guards in the league.

“I respect those guys, but when you go to five straight [Finals], it takes more than just a couple All-NBA guys,” Thompson said. “It’s like an all-time team.

“But whatever. I’d rather win a championship than be third team all-NBA, so it’s all good.”

[RELATED: How Klay's snub helps Warriors]

Thompson is, for my nickel, the best two-way guard in the league. But All-NBA honors are less about who is best than about which player is more valuable to his team. Irving, Westbrook and Walker are even more crucial to their team than Thompson is to his.

That’s the best, maybe only, way to make sense of Thompson not finishing among the top six.