Damian Jones sets sights on Warriors' starting center job


Damian Jones sets sights on Warriors' starting center job

OAKLAND -- Zaza Pachulia and JaVale McGee are employed elsewhere. Andrew Bogut is retired. DeMarcus Cousins is rehabbing. So the Warriors, for the first time in seven years, will begin training camp without a designated starting center.

Competition is open, coach Steve Kerr says, but logic dictates second-year man Jordan Bell’s 13 starts as a rookie give him an edge.

It’s conceivable that fourth-year man Kevon Looney, who made four starts last season, will emerge from the pack.

The third competitor played 174 minutes in his first two seasons and has never started an NBA game.

Damian Jones is the underdog. With the thinnest resume, he has the most ground to make up to earn Kerr’s trust. Furthermore, he’d like to persuade general manager Bob Myers to pick up the team option for 2019-20, his fourth season.

“This is a big year for me, so I’ll have to treat it as a contract year,” Jones conceded to NBC Sports Bay Area this week. “The team option is coming up (an Oct. 31 deadline). I’m going in with the mindset that I’m playing for something. Something big.”

Jones, selected in the first round (30th overall) of the 2016 draft, has spent most of his first two seasons in Santa Cruz, toiling with the G-League Warriors. The NBA Warriors could afford to be patient with the 7-footer because they had a platoon of veteran big men.

That patience is fading. It has to. The Warriors are determined to get younger, and center is the obvious place to start. But Jones has to prove he can contribute to a championship-caliber team.

In short, Jones has to prove he can contribute to a championship-caliber team.

“I want to be the starter,” he said.

“But I’m willing to do all the things that they ask me to do,” he added. “That’s what I have in mind, going to camp with a full commitment of giving my all.”

Jones’ most visible asset, aside from height, is athleticism. He can sprint the floor with any big man in the league and jump with most of them, too. The Warriors spent last season privately debating how much of a gap existed between Jones and McGee, who brought similar attributes in a veteran’s body.

If Jones, 23, is able to fill the role vacated by McGee, the Warriors will be delighted. It’s what they envision and Jones knows it’s what they want.

“They talked about me having a JaVale type role, so I’m keeping that in mind,” Jones said, recalling his exit interview in June. “That means a lot of effort plays. I’m cool with that. A lot of the things JaVale could do, I can do. I can catch lobs, like he did. All the screen-and-rolls, running the floor, blocking shots that JaVale did, I can do, too.

“He’s got height and length on me, but I feel I’m a little more explosive and a little bit quicker.”

Just as McGee had his liabilities, so does Jones. Some are the same. Neither is particularly instinctive, and neither is a natural scorer. The Warriors can live with that from Jones, as long as the effort is consistent and the All-Star teammates feel they can trust him.

Jones hasn’t gotten many chances, but he seized one last April in Oklahoma City. Having lost two of three previous games to the Thunder, the Warriors were out to make a statement against Kevin Durant’ former team despite being without Stephen Curry, Andre Iguodala and Shaun Livingston.

In a close game before a howling and hostile crowd, Jones thrived. He played a season-high 14 minutes, finishing with eight points, two rebounds and one block. There was plenty of cheering in the locker room after the 111-107 victory.

“That was for DJ,” Kerr said after the game. “He’s been down in Santa Cruz all year. The guys down there have really developed him well.

Damian deserves a lot of credit; he’s really, really worked hard. You could see the type of physical presence he has out there. It was a fun opportunity to see what he can do.”

The Warriors want more of that. They need more of that. Until Cousins is cleared to play, it’s up to the youngsters and Jones is the one with the longest road.

“It’s a big opportunity for me,” he said. “I don’t have all the veterans ahead of me, so I just have to go out there and prove what I can do: Rebound, defend, sprint the floor. Those are the main things we really need. If I do those things, I think I’ll be solid. Everything else will fall into place.”

Jordan Bell wants, needs 'all the credit' for DeMarcus Cousins' debut

Jordan Bell wants, needs 'all the credit' for DeMarcus Cousins' debut

Over a six-game stretch from Dec. 19 to Dec. 29, Jordan Bell scored a total of two points and played a combined 25 minutes.

On New Year's Eve at Phoenix, the Warriors big man racked up 10 points, six rebounds, three blocks and two assists in 15 minutes. After the win that night, Bell explained the reason for his breakout game.

"Boogie gave me a lot of confidence yesterday in open gym -- me just kicking his ass,” Bell told reporters. “It gave me a lot of confidence. I think Steve (Kerr) saw it yesterday, too.

"He saw the confidence was up. So he decided to play me a little bit today."

Speaking of Boogie, he made his season and Warriors debut Friday night at the Clippers. The four-time NBA All-Star registered 14 points (5-of-11 shooting overall, 3 of 4 on 3s), six rebounds, three assists, one steal and one block. He committed one turnover and fouled out in 15 minutes.

[RELATEDWith Boogie back, GM Bob Myers updates Warriors' open roster spot]

Overall, it was a successful night for DeMarcus Cousins. And according to Bell ...

... Bell deserves some love.

From Marcus Thompson of The Athletic:

“Oh yeah. Give me all the credit,” Bell said. “I want all the credit. I need it.”

Why is Bell taking credit for Cousins’ debut? Because he was the one matched up with Cousins in all the scrimmages to get the Warriors’ new big man ready to play. And Bell purposefully tried to run Cousins off the court. Bell defended Cousins the whole 94 feet, using his youth and superior athleticism to pressure Cousins. When Bell’s team had the ball, he sprinted up the floor to force Cousins to chase him.

All game. Every time. Each play. Bell did his part to get Cousins running.

Here's a good example of Cousins on the move (and keep an eye on how excited Bell was on the bench when Boogie got the ball):

Bell wasn't in the rotation Friday, but he made the most of his opportunity when he entered the game for the final four minutes -- making all three of his shots, plus an assist.

No word on if Cousins is taking the credit for that ...

Drew Shiller is the co-host of Warriors Outsiders. Follow him on Twitter @DrewShiller

Warriors Under Review: DeMarcus Cousins, Draymond Green excel vs. Clippers


Warriors Under Review: DeMarcus Cousins, Draymond Green excel vs. Clippers

LOS ANGELES -- Boogie Night went well for the Warriors, exceedingly so for DeMarcus Cousins and just enough for his new teammates.

The Warriors went full junkyard dog in the second half, taking apart the Clippers in a 112-94 win Friday night at Staples Center.

It was the seventh straight victory for the Warriors, and also their NBA-best sixth in a row on the road.

Here are some of the positive and negatives taken from the game:


The glory of Cuz

The Warriors, players and coaches, had only an idea about how Cousins would fare in his first game. They thought he’d be OK as long as he didn’t try to do too much. Turns out, Boogie packed a lot of good in his 15 minutes: 14 points (5-of-11 shooting, 3-of-4 from deep, 1-of-2 from the line), six rebounds, three assists, one block and one steal. He was plus-21. Walking off the floor after fouling out, he had to realize he met some expectations and exceeded others.

He did a lot of reaching and got too impetuous at times, but in the context of a preseason game -- that’s what it was for Cousins -- he was outstanding.


Draymond stays sharp

Remember when Draymond Green was giving away the ball every third blink of an eye? He committed 25 turnovers in the first six games of the season, 13 in his first four games after missing 11 games with a toe injury. The undersized power forward has turned it around quite nicely. He had a team-high nine assists and one turnover against the Clips. This was after an extraordinary 14-1 ratio against New Orleans on Wednesday. Over his last six games, he's had 60 assists and seven turnovers.

Green has settled down and cut back on passes that were high-risk or even reckless. His point forward skills are in a beautiful groove.


KD’s first half

If not for Kevin Durant, the Warriors would have gone into intermission with one turnover. They would have ended the game with a season-low five. KD, however, committed five in the first half. A couple went directly into the hands of the Clippers. He was playing as if anxious or desperate, perhaps trying to force things in hopes of benefitting Cousins. He came out in the second half, kept it simple and committed no turnovers. Durant finished with five, half of the team’s total for the game.

Though Durant’s passing has been a highlight all season, he sometimes gets too adventurous. He did in the first half, did not in the second. He figured it out.


Second-half lockup

After sauntering through most of the first half, giving up 20 points to Tobias Harris and allowing the Clippers to be within a point (52-51), the Warriors after halftime went into lockup mode. Harris was limited to eight points in the second half, all on free throws. He was 0-of-8 from the field. LA shot 33.3 percent over the final 24 minutes, with Green and Cousins being especially effective.

The Warriors can take over most games with a few minutes of stifling defense. Holding LA to one field goal in the first five minutes of the second half qualifies.


Curry’s triple trouble

A pattern is emerging within the 3-point shooting of Stephen Curry. Every fourth of fifth game, his shot becomes fallible. This was such a night. He was 3-of-11 (27.3 percent) from beyond the arc. He was not alone in this regard; the Warriors were 9-of-37 (24.3 percent) from deep. But this was the fifth time in 23 games since Curry returned to the lineup on Dec. 1 that he shot less than 30 percent from deep.

When Curry misses three of every four triples he takes, it stands out. Truth is, most NBA players would pray to have an “off” shooting night every fifth game.