Since Alen Smailagic rejoined the Warriors on March 11, any time he stepped on the court was a good sign for Golden State. It usually meant they had a large enough lead in the final minutes of the game to put him in.
But now, the young big man's going to play a lot sooner.
Ahead of the Warriors' game Saturday against the Memphis Grizzlies, coach Steve Kerr announced Smailagic would start at center in place of Kevon Looney, who's in the NBA's coronavirus health and safety protocols.
"The matchup is obviously really difficult with [Jonas] Valanciunas and his size," Kerr said 90 minutes before tipoff. "We don't want to have to play Draymond [Green] on him the entire game. We'd like to be able to match some of that size with Smiley, and it's a good challenge for him. He's worked really hard so let's give him an opportunity."
Smailagic has played in just two NBA games this season -- both in garbage time earlier this month. In the G League, he played in 10 of the Santa Cruz Warriors' 15 regular-season games and averaged 17 minutes. He was on a playing-time restriction due to January surgery to repair a meniscal tear in his right knee.
In the G League playoffs, Smailagic upped his game and showed what he can do when he's on and everything's clicking. He scored 12 points in 25 minutes in the Sea Dubs' first game, and 17 points on 6-of-9 shooting in 30 minutes in their second.
There is no expectation for Smailagic to reproduce those numbers in his first career start, but Kerr does believe he can make some kind of impact.
"Smiley is in his second year, he got some action last year and he's dying to play so let's give him his opportunity," Kerr said. "This will be good for him. And we're actually very confident that he can come out and help us get off to a good start. We'll see what he can do, but we're excited to watch."