SAN FRANCISCO – Marquese Chriss came to the Warriors barely two weeks ago as someone who had been with three franchises in three years but was unable to forge a bond with any of them. Which led to the lazy conclusion:
With such tremendous size and superior athleticism, there must be something else that turned off his previous employers.
Now that he’s set to officially join the Warriors, more than a week after his addition to the team was obvious, Chriss is facing the last best chance to reinvent himself and his image. To shred the narrative that followed the 6-foot-10, 240-pound Sacramento native to the Bay Area.
Beginning next week, when the NBA season opens, Chriss will have plenty of opportunities to show everyone why, at age 18, he was deemed worthy of a lottery pick, No. 8 overall, in 2016.
It’s conceivable, perhaps likely, that Chriss, now 22, will be the opening-night starting center for a Warriors franchise that has been the league’s most successful over the past five years.
“Marquese will definitely be out there opening night,” coach Steve Kerr said before tipoff against the Lakers in the preseason finale Friday night at Chase Center.
Though Kerr did not declare a starter, Chriss is the only person competing for the spot that has been healthy and productive this preseason.
Now, though, he has to turn it up. These next few weeks, when he will be given more opportunity than in any of his first three seasons, represent his crossroads. Because he is on a team with an established culture of winning – and with a high tolerance for individuality – Chriss is perfectly positioned to fully resuscitate his NBA career.
“He already has made the most of the opportunity,” Kerr said. “He’s a great young man. He’s really been fun to coach. He’s eager to learn. He’s very talented athletically, can run and jump and really move. He’s advanced as a passer; I wasn’t aware of how well he could screen and pass at the top of the key. That’s been probably been the highlight for us, watching him and how effective he is in that spot.
“The biggest growth has to come defensively.”
While Chriss is willing to mix it up in the paint and make efforts to protect the rim, he is following the likes of Andrew Bogut, Draymond Green and Kevon Looney as hubs of the defense. Chriss also is being asked to become a younger, more roundly skilled JaVale McGee.
Chriss is getting plenty of help from teammates and coaches trying to nudge him toward that level. Assistant coaches Ron Adams and Jarron Collins have been putting him through drill. Green has been in his ear, barking and guiding him.
The idea is that he can help immediately. There is no knowing when center Willie Cauley-Stein, out for the entire preseason, will be able to play. Looney has missed two weeks and is scheduled to resume scrimmaging in the coming days. Omari Spellman missed the game Wednesday with back soreness but should be OK for opening night.
Chriss, with his package of skills, is worth a peek ahead for the Warriors. Only three players on the roster – Stephen Curry, D’Angelo Russell and Cauley-Stein – are higher draft picks.
“It’s exciting to think about Marquese as a prospect for us for the future. We haven’t had a high draft pick here in seven or eight years. To get a 22-year-old who was a high lottery pick, it means a lot, adding that kind of talent to the roster. . ..”
“If it’s a good fit for both sides and we can figure out a way to make it work, and he were to continue to develop, it’s a really exciting thought that he could be part of our group for years to come. That would be the hope. And I think that would be something both sides would be thrilled with.
“But there’s a lot of work ahead.”
If that work is completed and Chriss becomes a starting-caliber NBA center, it will be the franchise’s biggest reclamation-project success since 2005, when then-GM Chris Mullin traded Speedy Claxton and Dale Davis to New Orleans for Baron Davis.
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Despite still being in his chronological prime, Davis was thought by some to past his NBA peak. He had a history of injuries. He was disgruntled in New Orleans. Yet he was a gamble the Warriors, given their lowly status, had to take. It lifted the entire organization for several years.
While Chriss lacks the resume and NBA credibility BD brought to the Bay, he’s also nearly four years younger. And the Warriors are in a much different place on league’s status list.
Chriss is not in position to alter the course of the franchise, but he can alter the trajectory of his career. The Warriors can celebrate themselves in an entirely new way if he does.