OAKLAND -- If the performances of Tuesday night are a preview of what to expect until December or January or whenever DeMarcus Cousins is cleared to play, the Warriors need not worry much about their young big men.
Which would be a massive relief, insofar as the primary players around youngsters Damian Jones and Kevon Looney have established credentials as productive professionals, if not All-Stars.
“He has an extreme amount of potential, and we’re trying to unlock that this year,” Stephen Curry said of Jones.
Jones played 174 minutes in his first two NBA seasons. Making his first start on opening night, he played 27 minutes and acquitted himself very well, finishing with 12 points (on 6-of-7 shooting from the field), three rebounds, three blocks and two assists in a 108-100 win over the Oklahoma City Thunder.
Kevon Looney, the other half of the young center combo, played 18 minutes, totaling 10 points, 10 rebounds, two assists and two blocks. He was a team-best plus-23.
Getting 22 points, 13 rebounds, five blocks and four assists out of Jones and Looney is welcome performance, surely more than the Warriors could have expected.
“DJ was great,” head coach Steve Kerr said. “He gave us exactly what we would have hoped: the lob threat, the presence inside and the ability to battle a great center in Steven Adams. He put his size up against him and battled him.
“Kevon was fantastic, too. He came off the bench and gave us great minutes. Those two guys were really, really key.”
The Warriors can’t know what they’re getting from Jones because he is so inexperienced. They at least have an idea with Looney, who played big minutes in crucial postseason games last spring en route to the Warriors winning a second straight championship.
What’s certain is that the Warriors have to rely on them. The 30-something veterans that dominated the minutes at center last season -- JaVale McGee, Zaza Pachulia and David West -- are no longer on the roster.
It’s up to Jones, 23, and Looney, 22, and Jordan Bell, 23, to deliver.
“We had veterans that played those positions last year,” Kevin Durant said. “You had Loon, a younger guy, learning from D-West, Zaza and JaVale.
“But this season we’ve got young guys anchoring that spot. With Steven Adams contesting everything at the rim, getting off the body of the bigs, it allowed us to get offensive rebounds. And Loon was great at rebounding the basketball for us and making plays, kicking out for wide-open 3s. He could have gotten five or six assists, with so many open shots he got for us.”
Looney’s eight offensive rebounds accounted for exactly half the Warriors’ total.
Jones, with a pair of blocks inside the final five minutes of the game, including one on Adams in the paint, thwarted a couple Thunder opportunities -- and issued a warning to the rest of the NBA.
The Warriors may be young in the middle, but don’t mistake that for being passive or naïve to the ways of the league.
It was one night, against a solid opponent, but there is reason to believe the Warriors will be OK at center, so OK that the youngsters will deserve minutes even when Cousins does return.