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Warriors forced to play different game with undersized centers

NBC Sports

They’re firing 3-pointers at an astonishing rate, having as many as four players setting up at various points around the arc and rolling out smallish centers with the hope that agility and spacing can overcome lack of size.

That was the hallmark of Mike D’Antoni’s Houston Rockets, and they’ve come and gone.

This is the hallmark of Steve Kerr’s new-look Warriors. They’re just getting started.

“It’s the way of the world these days,” Kerr said late Tuesday night, after a 114-113 preseason loss to the Kings in Sacramento. “Everybody practices 3s.”

Understand, until Draymond Green and James Wiseman are in attendance, there can be no clear conclusions of how good or bad the Warriors will be this season. Too hazy. What’s already evident, though, is that Kerr is building the only team he can with the roster at his disposal. A team that relies more than ever on 3-pointers, with everybody -- everybody -- pitching in.

In two preseason games, centers Kevon Looney and Marquese Chriss, whose previous offensive contributions were heavy on screen-setting and dives to the rim, have combined for nine 3-pointers in 71 minutes. Roughly one every eight minutes. They made three, but that’s not the point. Yet.

Chriss last season shot one 3-pointer per 32 minutes. Looney fired once every 19 minutes – a sharp contrast to the one every 110 minutes in his first four seasons. These attempts came in a season going nowhere without Stephen Curry or Klay Thompson.

 

The centers are shooting from distance more frequently. By design. Each 6-foot-9, they’re undersized big men. In a Western Conference with no less than eight impact 7-footers -- Steven Adams (New Orleans Pelicans), Deandre Ayton (Phoenix Suns), Marc Gasol (Los Angeles Lakers), Rudy Gobert ( Utah Jazz), Nikola Jokic (Denver Nuggets), Jusuf Nurkic (Portland Trail Blazers), Karl-Anthony Towns (Minnesota Timberwolves) and Jonas Valanciunas (Memphis Grizzlies) -- Chriss and Looney are downright miniature.

Wiseman, at 7-feet, will have physical answers that Chriss and Looney cannot offer. Until he’s caught up, the Warriors have little choice but to counter the size disadvantage by trying to pull the behemoths out of the paint with the 3-ball.

“That's something that I have,” Chriss said. “It’s something that I've been working on.”

With young wings Kelly Oubre Jr. and Andrew Wiggins expected to bear the bulk of the scoring load behind Curry, it’s up to the big men to create room for the high-flyers to operate. Oubre and Wiggins are OK from deep but do their best work from midrange or at the rim.

“It’s going to be important for our bigs to space the floor and make shots and keep the paint open for guys like Wiggins and Kelly and Draymond when he comes back,” Looney said. “It’s going to be a key for us. Steve wants us to just shoot them, shoot them with confidence.”

With Looney and Chriss spending considerable time on the perimeter, it appears Wiseman will be a change-of-pace big man. It’s not that he won’t shoot 3s; he also has the option. But his length makes him particularly valuable near the rim.

“We really needed an infusion of size and athleticism this year, and he's going to provide that,” Kerr said of Wiseman. “We’ve just got to find the right balance of giving him opportunity and not force-feeding him too much. We’ll find the right balance.”

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The roles of Chriss and Looney are fairly defined. There will be rim runs and screens, for sure, but they pretty much have to stretch the floor. Do whatever it takes to force bigger center to prowl beyond the paint.

Will this plan, still very much in progress, work? Kerr has no idea. Too many variables. Not enough time to build cohesion. And 3-balls are effective only if they go in.

“These players, these young guys, are used to shooting a lot of 3s,” Kerr said. “That's the way they've grown up. It's the way the game has been taught. We’re teaching the same spacing, trying to get everybody beyond the 3-point line to open up the paint for our drivers, guys like Wiggs and Kelly.

“It's going to take some time to adjust. We’re playing differently, and we're playing with a lot of people who haven’t played together.”

The little big men are going to keep shooting. It’s their puncher’s chance, so to speak. It’s the likeliest way to succeed, particularly against legitimate big men. As they let the 3s fly, though, it would be wise for everybody to bring some patience.

 

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