How injuries forced Warriors to bet on young core faster than expected


SAN FRANCISCO -- The Warriors' move across the Bay promised a major shift in the organization. Kevin Durant's departure and Klay Thompson's ACL tear cemented it. 

In the latest twist, Golden State still is battling the injury bug. In the last three days, the team has announced injuries to big men Kevon Looney, Willie Cauley Stein and Alen Smailagic.

The Warriors' summer of change brought eight new players into the fold, all but two of whom are younger than 26. Now, with injuries thinning the Warriors' margin for error, the growth of their young core is more imperative than ever. 

"It's what the crucial theme of this season is," Warriors coach Steve Kerr said Thursday afternoon. "Player development."  

On the eve of training camp, Warriors general manager Bob Myers announced Willie Cauley-Stein would miss most of October with a foot strain. Two days later, Smailagic rolled his ankle and Looney strained his hamstring in the same controlled scrimmage. Looney's injury is not expected to be serious long-term. 

The injuries are forcing Golden State to be creative with its frontcourt for the team's preseason opener against the Los Angeles Lakers on Saturday. Of the four centers expected to make the team, only Omari Spellman is healthy. On Thursday, Kerr said second-year big-man will "probably" start Saturday, while Eric Paschall -- a 6-foot-7 forward -- will also get time in the frontcourt. 


"I'm kind of used to playing the five, so in a game, if I got to play three, four or five, it doesn't really matter to me," Paschall said. "I'll adjust and do the best I can." 

The need for youth is a change of pace for Golden State. Last season, the Warriors were the league's sixth-oldest team, built around a superstar core of Durant, Thompson, Stephen Curry and Draymond Green.

With Durant gone, Thompson rehabbing a torn ACL and an influx of new players, Green and Curry have been de facto assistant coaches. Following practice Thursday afternoon, Curry assisted D'Angelo Russell -- who signed a four year, $117 million deal in July -- in a bevy of shooting drills, while Green set an example shooting 3-pointers across the gym as Paschall looked on. 

"I'm just trying to learn the tricks that come in the NBA," Paschall said. "All these guys, especially Draymond, Steph, seeing all their tricks on the floor, just trying to pick that up and do my best to apply that to my own game." 

Paschall's presence was appropriate. The forward is the latest Warriors draft pick to garner comparisons to Green, something the rookie has welcomed. But if Paschall wants to get on the court, he'll have to follow a familiar blueprint Green perfected early in his career. 

"Find a niche," Paschall said. "That you could bring to the floor. So if Draymond's tired, I can go get him, play defense, do whatever I have to do to keep it productive. It doesn't have to be scoring. It could be defensively, getting stops and keeping guys in front of you, getting rebounds. Little loose ball plays, like little stuff like that could make a difference in the game."

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The youth movement will face its first test Saturday evening when the Lakers -- a preseason title pick from many NBA observers -- come to open Chase Center. The preseason opener will be the biggest barometer of the Warriors' progress so far. 

"I think they've all done a really good job," Kerr said. "It's hard to single out anybody yet. I think I'll wait until we actually play a game. I think we need to give it time before we start having that conversation."