OAKLAND – Warriors coach Steve Kerr is playing a game of revolving centers, and there is no end in sight. It didn’t matter which teams the Warriors faced this postseason. It won’t matter when they confront the Toronto Raptors in the NBA Finals.
Such depth and disparate skills bode well for the Warriors.
Kerr and his staff will study numbers and tendencies and decide which big men to roll out against Toronto’s 7-foot-1 Marc Gasol and his primary backup, 6-10 Serge Ibaka.
Consider: 16 games into the postseason, the Warriors have started five different centers. It’s the only position for which the starter was not revealed until minutes before tipoff.
DeMarcus Cousins, who started the first two games in the opening round against the Clippers but sustained a calf injury in Game 2, is expected back.
Andrew Bogut, who reunited with the Warriors in time to play the final month of the regular season, has started six playoff games.
Jordan Bell, who spent most of the season completely out of the rotation, started Game 4 – the closeout game, for crying out loud – of the Western Conference finals against the Portland Trail Blazers.
Damian Jones opened the season as the starter while Cousins was rehabilitating from surgery to repair a ruptured Achilles’ tendon, but sustained a torn pectoral muscle on Dec. 1. He returned for the conference finals and, surprisingly, got the start in Game 3 in Portland.
Draymond Green, a power forward under optimum conditions, has made six starts at center.
And, finally, there is Kevon Looney. He is only designated center without a start. Guess who has played the most minutes at the 5?
Don’t expect to change, even if Gasol is four inches taller and 30 pounds heavier.
“Looney’s a hell of a basketball player,” Kerr said Saturday. “He’s one of our cornerstones now.
“We’re going to rely on him in The Finals and, hopefully, for many years to come.”
Bogut is the best size matchup with Gasol, which is why he could expect some playing time. Not an abundant amount, but maybe as many as 10 minutes per game.
Cousins is next on that list. He’s a reasonable physical matchup, similar to Gasol in weight but a couple inches shorter. He’s eager to get back on the court, make his Finals debut and re-start his drive toward a new contract when he becomes a free agent on June 30.
“He played with a little bit (Friday),” Looney said of Cousins' participation in a scrimmage. "He’s getting better each day. He’s getting in better shape each day. He’s excited to try to get out there and play. Whenever he’s on the court, he’s capable of going for 20 and 10, or 30 and 10. When he’s out there, he’s always a plus for us.”
Whoa. Cousins still is rounding into game shape and, assuming he receives final clearance, as expected, his minutes will be monitored. A 20-point, 10-rebound game would be astonishing.
Green’s minutes at center come almost strictly in the Hamptons 5 lineup, as was the case against the Rockets in the second round. Any time he spends in the middle will be limited, at least until Kevin Durant is available to play power forward.
There is a wild card, and it’s not Jones, who is unlikely to play significant minutes, if any.
It’s Bell. The guy who was most likely to make a glaring mental or physical error. The guy who was slapped with a one-game suspension for what amounts to incredibly immature conduct.
He doesn’t have a contract beyond this season and for most of the season it was reasonable to believe the Warriors would be reluctant to make a qualifying offer. That’s conceivable now.
“Jordan over the last few weeks of the regular season, when he got his opportunities, made the most of them,” Kerr said. “He’s playing at a really high level now, giving us exactly what we need: speed, energy, athleticism, intelligent play offensively, drive and kick, move the ball.
“He’s been fantastic.”
The Warriors may have caught a break insofar as the Raptors don’t have as much overall length as the Milwaukee Bucks. Among their eight-man rotation, only Gasol, Ibaka and 6-9 Pascal Siakam stand taller than 6-8.
With Cousins’ imminent return, the champs are deeper in size even without Durant.
[RELATED: How Warriors, Raptors stack up ahead of NBA Finals matchup]
“Our motto is Strength in Numbers,” Looney said. “We always play center-by-committee, so having that extra guy (Cousins) to go out there and change the game a bit will be great.”
Let the rotation games begin.