Warriors

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Warriors

OAKLAND -- The strenuous introduction of Damian Jones to the NBA that began Tuesday continues this weekend, when he makes his second and third career starts against two more top-10 centers.

The 7-foot center goes against Defensive Player of the Year Rudy Gobert on Friday, when the Warriors face the Jazz in Salt Lake City.

And then on Sunday, when the Warriors go to Denver, Jones gets a load of Nuggets big man Nikola Jokic, perhaps the most comprehensively skilled center in the league.

“We’re going to stay with DJ. I don’t know for how long, but we’ll stay with him,” Warriors coach Steve Kerr said. “We have Gobert and Jokic coming up on this road trip. He has the size and the athleticism to deal with them.

“He’s going to learn an awful lot. To come out of the gates and face these centers, he’s seeing the best. It’s great for him. We’ll start him and see what happens.”

It’s not as if Kerr has much choice. Jones towers over the team’s other centers. He’s got three inches on Kevon Looney and almost four on Jordan Bell. Jones is maybe two inches taller than DeMarcus Cousins, who is not close to being cleared to play.

It’s Jones, by default and by logic, even if he is the team’s least experienced big man.

Jones made his first career start on Tuesday against Oklahoma City and entered with a plan. No way he could grapple with Steven Adams, conceivably the NBA’s top wrestler, so Jones used the one element where he had an advantage: Athleticism.

 

Phase I was successful. Jones and Looney made a positive impact, helping the Warriors beat the Thunder in the season opener.

What looms now is at least as challenging. Both games are on the road. Both are at altitude. And Gobert and Jokic are very different from each other -- and neither is much like Adams, either.

This is where the lessons of the past come in. Jones didn’t play much in his first two seasons, but his ears were filled with advice from veterans Zaza Pachulia and David West. Both are gone, replaced by a new source of wisdom: DeMarcus Cousins.

“I talk to DeMarcus about it. He’s been around, so he knows,” Jones said.

“He’s always taking him aside, giving him pointers, building his confidence up,” Stephen Curry said of Cousins.

“DJ is that one guy in our lineup that doesn’t have the experience so everyone is in his ear telling him this, telling him that, almost over preparing him,” Draymond Green said. “But for him to take in the information he needs to take in and also stay locked in on the task at hand is important.”

At 7-1, Gobert is the tallest center -- with the broadest wingspan (7-9) -- in the league. He’s a lob threat on offense. Defensively, he takes particular pride in protecting the rim, so he rarely strays from the paint. Jones is more agile than Gobert, though, so he’ll have to find a way to use that.

Keep a body on Gobert at one end, put him in the pick and roll on the other.

Jokic, at 7 feet, is all over the place. He’s not the strongest defender. He is, however, the slickest passing big man in the NBA; the Nuggets have sets in which they run their offense through him. Jokic comfortable on the low block, the high post, the top of the key and even launching from deep. He took 280 triples last season and made them at a rate of 39.6 percent.

Though Jones will start, there is no question Kerr will toss a variety of looks at Jokic. Looney could get more minutes. Jordan Bell will also be in the mix.

But the spotlight shines mostly on Jones.

“I’ll learn a lot,” Jones said of Phases II and III of his ongoing test.

Yes, he will. It might help when Jones moves into Phase IV next week. One night after facing Jokic in Denver, the Warriors return to Oakland to play the Phoenix Suns and impressive rookie center Deandre Ayton.