Warriors

DeMarcus Cousins will force Warriors to make drastic changes on defense

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USATSI

DeMarcus Cousins will force Warriors to make drastic changes on defense

OAKLAND – When describing the role and expectations for DeMarcus Cousins as a Warrior, Steve Kerr chooses his words carefully, not so much about Cousins on offense but certainly in regards to the big man’s defensive responsibilities.

“We’ll be much better suited to guard some of the big, huge centers,” the coach says. “Guys like (Oklahoma City center) Steven Adams and (Utah’s) Rudy Gobert, (Portland’s Jusuf) Nurkic. We’ve been pretty small against those guys and that pose a big threat.

“The flip side of that is (Cousins has to) guard the perimeter. We’ll have to play around defensively to figure out how we want to guard the pick-and-roll.”

The term “play around” is, in this instance, a euphemism for “make adjustments.” It’s something the Warriors must do. And those adjustments will have to be substantial.

In winning back-to-back championships, the Warriors utilized a switch-heavy defense, with defenders relying less on fighting through picks and more on simply attaching themselves to whomever comes their way. It has been tremendously successful largely because their roster has been versatile enough to make it work.

The ability to switch and do a decent job defending the perimeter has inflated the value of Kevon Looney. It was a contributing factor in Kerr’s decision to bump up Jordan Bell’s playing time in the last two series of the 2018 postseason.

It’s why JaVale McGee played a total of three minutes in the Western Conference Finals, which went seven games, why David West’s minutes were reduced by half in the final two rounds last postseason and why Zaza Pachulia played a total of 25 minutes in 21 postseason games.

Can’t switch, can’t play.

At 6-foot-11, 270 pounds, Cousins’ physical profile is more West-Pachulia than Looney-Bell-McGee. Though Boogie possesses fabulous offensive gifts, pretty much the full package, asking him and his surgically repaired Achilles’ tendon to switch onto James Harden 30 feet from the basket invites foul trouble or getting cooked.

“He’s not a runner. He’s not a sprinter,” Kerr said of Cousins. “So that will be a little different. We’ve played at a pretty high pace here over the years. I imagine he’ll be in a trail position on the break at times, which could be pretty good, especially considering the shooter that he is from the top of the key area.”

[ASK KERITH: How DeMarcus Cousins might fill Warriors' center need]

So there is roughly zero chance Cousins will be put in such a compromising position on defense. The Warriors, no matter what Kerr says or how he says it, won’t do it.

Listening to the whispers around the Warriors the past two weeks, the suspicion is that Cousins’ dramatic improvement in recent scrimmages was mostly because he increased his defensive intensity.

“Steve was looking for a certain thing, on the coach’s side of things,” Cousins says. “But for me, it was kind of the same thing every day. So it was hard to find that point where I could just break through and actually do what he was looking for. That’s more on the coaching side of things.”

When Cousins signed with the Warriors last summer, he aligned himself with a coaching staff unafraid to demand effort on defense. Moreover, any lack of effort will be called out by his new teammates. Though Cousins is good friends with Draymond Green, don’t think Draymond won’t blister him for loafing on defense. Loafing is not how the Warriors have won championships.

[RELATED: How DeMarcus Cousins in Warriors' lineup will affect Draymond Green's game]

So how do the Warriors play it with Cousins on defense? They’ll have to turn back the clock to Kerr’s first two seasons, when Andrew Bogut was in the middle. Though Bogut earned his money on defense and Cousins earns his mostly on offense, the physical profiles are similar.

As good as Bogut was on defense, he had no business trying to defend a guard on the perimeter. So he hung back as a rim protector while his teammates either switched or dropped.

“We’ve always had a format here, although we changed a little bit after Andrew Bogut left,” Kerr says. “We had a different philosophy the first couple years.

“But the last couple years, we’ve been a switch team and we have to figure out, ‘Is that the way to go?’ Or do we employ different schemes? And we’ve talked about that. We’ll work on everything and come up with the best plan.”:

Switching is ideal with the “Death Lineup,” which features three players are similar length. Though Green is the center in that lineup, it’s the guard or wing that is in trouble when he switches out to the perimeter.

Switching is not ideal with the Boogie Lineup. The Warriors know that. Cousins knows. His teammates know. So look for a more conventional defense. It’s the surest way for Cousins to stay on the floor in the postseason.

If the Warriors want Boogie’s offense, they’ll have to accept his defense. They’ll have to adjust. I suspect they already are.

Alfonzo McKinnie wants to stay but is prepared if Warriors tenure ends

Alfonzo McKinnie wants to stay but is prepared if Warriors tenure ends

SAN FRANCISCO -- Fairy tales indeed can come true, as one did last autumn for Alfonzo McKinnie. After four years hopscotching the world in pursuit of an NBA career, he landed on the roster of the defending champion Warriors.

Life was great. His work and perseverance had paid off. Two years after scrapping by in makeshift gyms in Luxembourg and Mexico, he was teammates with Stephen Curry, Kevin Durant, Draymond Green and Klay Thompson. McKinnie bought a house for his mother and still had money in his pocket.

One year later, the 6-foot-8 forward is discovering that fairy tales don’t always stay true.

There is a reasonable chance the status McKinnie earned one year ago will go to someone else.

The Warriors acknowledge a need for size, and Marquese Chriss, the 6-10 forward/center who signed a non-guaranteed contract two weeks ago, has impressed players and coaches with his work ethic, adaptability and cognition.

“Marquese is doing great,” Warriors coach Steve Kerr said Sunday. “He’s probably been the surprise of camp, given that he came in late on a non-guaranteed, one-year contract.”

The Warriors cannot upgrade Chriss’ contract and add him to the roster unless someone else is waived or traded. The simplest sacrifice is McKinnie, whose contract is not fully guaranteed until January. None of the free-agent acquisitions are eligible for trade, and the Warriors won’t be moving second-year guard Jacob Evans III or any of their three rookies.

McKinnie is a 27-year-old reserve, making him a trade candidate.

“I hear it, but I try not to pay attention to it,” McKinnie told NBC Sports Bay Area. “All I can do is just come out, put my work in and perform. Whatever happens from there, that’s out of my control. I can only control what I do and how hard I go. Everything outside of that, it’s front-office business. I can’t control what goes on up there.”

With two centers on the sideline -- Willie Cauley-Stein (mid-foot sprain) and Kevon Looney (hamstring) --  Warriors general manager Bob Myers is seeking a way to add Chriss, a 2016 lottery pick (No. 8 overall) by the Kings.

The need for a big man and the way Chriss is playing -- he’ll make his second consecutive start Monday night against the Lakers in Los Angeles -– imperils McKinnie’s hold on his roster spot.

“We did have a lot of injuries to the bigs, so we definitely need some bigs,” McKinnie conceded. “Outside of the ones that are hurt, we’re a little smaller than a lot of teams.

“But I’m coming in here every day and competing. Whether you’re guaranteed or non-guaranteed, unless you’re totally solidified, you’ve always got to compete, whether it’s for a job or a spot or more minutes. Competition is always first nature.”

In 37 preseason minutes, McKinnie has been less than dazzling, scoring nine points on 4-of-12 shooting from the field, including 1 of 5 from beyond the arc. He has grabbed 13 rebounds, as well as contributed three assists and two blocks.

“I know where I’ve been,” he said. “With this basketball thing, I’ve been at the bottom of the totem pole. Being here, with this organization, experiencing what I experienced last year, having a role on a championship-contending team, this is the highest I’ve been. I’m really self-motivated, because I know where I’ve been, and I know what it’s like to be at the bottom.

“I want to stay here. And continue to be here for years to come.”

Kerr expressed relief that he is coaching instead of facing the decisions looming before Myers.

“These guys are all working hard,” Kerr said. “And you know it’s their dream to play in this league. You wish you could keep everybody. But the nature of camp is generally that you’ve got to release four or five people, and it’s no fun at all.”

If the Warriors decide to keep McKinnie, it will be out of familiarity with the system and culture, as well as his rebounding ability.

If they decide to move him and cut him, it will be out of a greater need elsewhere on the roster.

Either way, McKinnie has a clear-eyed view.

“I definitely feel like I’m a mentally strong person,” he said. “I’ve been through a lot, on and off the court. When it comes to basketball, it’s for a job. People go through much tougher times. I’ve seen people go through [stuff] way harder than getting cut from a basketball team.”

[RELATED: Warriors reportedly push Myers to keep Chriss]

That’s the voice of McKinnie past, when there were nights when he barely knew the name of the city where he would lay his head. When he barely knew his teammates, some of whom had full-time day jobs.

No matter how this turns out, McKinnie is prepared. He’ll continue to live the fairy tale. Or he’ll remember the lessons of survival when the fairy tale went no further than his imagination.

Eric Paschall fitting in with Warriors, making good early impression

Eric Paschall fitting in with Warriors, making good early impression

SAN FRANCISCO -- Four months ago, the Warriors had a pretty good idea they wanted to select Eric Paschall with one of their two second-round draft picks.

Following a four-year college career, Paschall -- though listed at 6-foot-7 -- impressed with his athleticism, defensive prowess and basketball IQ. Only one question remained: Would he fall to the 41st overall pick?

"We were kind of holding our breath," Warriors coach Steve Kerr admitted Sunday. "Hoping for him to fall, and it happened. We're lucky to have him."

As the Warriors get through training camp, Paschall is beginning to make good on Golden State's trust. Through two preseason games, he's averaging 11 points and three rebounds in 22 minutes. More importantly, with big men Kevon Looney and Willie Cauley Stein injured, Paschall has been tasked to guard multiple positions on defense, often the opponent's best player, and impressed the staff along the way.

"Really excited about Eric," Kerr said. "The strength, the explosiveness. He may be undersized from a height standpoint, but he's got long arms, so he makes up for some of that. To me, he fits right in, maybe even stands out on an NBA floor athletically from a strength and explosion standpoint."

Six months ago, Paschall -- who signed a three-year, fully guaranteed $4.2 million deal, in July -- was competing for a third straight Final Four appearance with Villanova, playing against zone defenses and the structure of college basketball. When he entered his first preseason game last Saturday, Kerr tasked him to guard All-NBA big man Anthony Davis.

In the second quarter of last week's Warriors loss to the Lakers, LeBron James took a pass at half court, dribbled three times and barreled into Paschall's chest for an easy layup, emphasizing the rookie's steep learning curve. 

"It's kind of weird because you see these guys, AD is on the cover of [NBA 2K] and my first game I have to guard him," Paschall said. "It's kind of crazy, but I'm glad Coach trusts me enough to go out and guard those guys."

An adjustment has manifested off the court as well for Paschall. Long a resident of the East Coast, he wasn't much of a driver and still doesn't have a license, despite being 22 years old. Following practice Sunday afternoon, Paschall stood outside Chase Center with a bag packed for a week-long trip, waiting for fellow rookie Jordan Poole to take him to San Francisco International Airport for the team's trip to Los Angeles. 

While Paschall has impressed thus far, his NBA dreams weren't always a sure thing. Despite averaging 26.0 points, 11.2 rebounds and 2.5 assists per game as a junior at Dobbs Ferry High School (NY), Paschall only garnered interests from mid-major schools like Virginia Commonwealth, George Mason and Providence before enrolling at nearby Fordham. After transferring to Villanova following a coaching change, Paschall won a national title in 2018, but he was just a second-round pick in June's NBA draft.

"My whole life, I've been underrated," Paschall told NBC Sports Bay Area. "To be able to be here is a blessing in itself."

Entering the season, Paschall comes to an organization in transition. Three months removed from Kevin Durant's departure, coupled with the Klay Thompson's knee injury, the Warriors are left to navigate the start of the season with eight new additions. Nonetheless, the team has established stars like Draymond Green and Stephen Curry, who have defined roles.

As his tenure progresses, Paschall hopes to be added to the Golden State's lineup of stars.

[RELATED: McKinnie prepared for end with Warriors]

"Eventually, I feel like I can come into my own at this level," Paschall said. "But now, especially as a rookie, you just have to do what they say and do what you got to do to stay on the court, but I feel like eventually in this league, I'll be able to play my game, and I hope it's with the Warriors." 

"I feel like I ended up being in a great spot," Paschall added. "They gave me a great contract, and I feel like in these next few years, I feel like I can contribute, to try to do what I can to just bring whatever they want me to bring to the table."