Warriors

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Warriors

While cameras and eyeballs follow the wondrous exploits of Stephen Curry and Kevin Durant, as well as the struggles of Klay Thompson, the Warriors could be onto something on the opposite end of their roster.

The defending NBA champions might have an effective bench and, moreover, perhaps their most versatile yet under coach Steve Kerr.

The young big men -- Jordan Bell and Kevon Looney -- are doing well in replacing David West and Zaza Pachulia. Jonas Jerebko, the veteran big man brought in over the summer, has been productive. Alfonzo McKinnie, the newly discovered combo forward, has been a valuable addition.

They all played a role in a 120-114 win over the Nets on Sunday at Barclays Center. Curry scored 35 points and Durant had 34, but nothing was more encouraging than the reserves' contributions.

“Our bench is starting to round into form,” Warriors coach Steve Kerr told reporters in Brooklyn. “I love what Jonas did tonight. I thought ‘Zo was really good as well. We can always trust Looney. We’re playing a lot of people, and I’m really proud of everybody for being ready to play.”

This was the second consecutive game in which the Warriors' bench made a positive impact, and the second in a row in which every reserve posted a plus rating. Insofar as this is one of the areas in question at the dawn of the season, it comes as a welcome sign.

 

It’s McKinnie, though, that has been the pleasant discovery. While Jerebko is a veteran and Looney and Bell were on the championship team last season, McKinnie came to camp without any guarantees, simply hoping to make the roster but prepared to play in the G League.

“A lot of teams are going to put him in the scouting report now,” Durant said.

“I’m surprised,” Kerr said. “We knew he was athletic from the first day of training camp. But he’s come a long way offensively pretty quickly.”

McKinnie scored nine points (4-of-5 shooting) in 17 minutes on Sunday, adding five rebounds, one steal and an impressive chase-down block of Nets guard Spencer Dinwiddie at the rim. Over his last four games, totaling 51 minutes, McKinnie has 26 points (11-of-16 shooting, including 3 of 6 from deep) and 18 rebounds.

“He’s getting more confident shooting the 3,” Durant observed. “We want him to be aggressive; we don’t care who shoots the ball, as long as it’s a good shot. And he’s knocking that thing down. Hopefully, it continues. We’ve got to support him and encourage him every minute he’s on the floor, because he’s one of those guys that can be in the league for a while.”

McKinnie’s journey is nothing less than inspirational. He attended two colleges (Eastern Illinois for two years, Wisconsin-Green Bay for two more), and has done multiple stints in the G League, as well as played in Mexico and Luxembourg.

Now, at age 26, he appears to have found his way into the NBA for good.

If McKinnie has been the unexpected treasure, Jerebko is shaping up as the answer to several needs, most notably as big man with a natural 3-point shooting touch.

After totaling eight points and seven rebounds Friday against the Knicks -- and posting a team-best plus-34 in 19 minutes -- Jerebko came up with four points, six rebounds and two assists in 15 minutes Sunday.

“Jerebko was great tonight,” Kerr said. “He’s really had a good start to the season. He’s tough, rebounds well and sets good screens. His ability to step out and make a 3-point shot is important as well.”

Jerebko, at 6-foot-10, can spell Draymond Green at power forward or fill in at center if needed. His effort already has paid dividends; Jerebko’s game-winning tip-in Oct. 19 at Utah was one of the most memorable plays of the early season.

With Andre Iguodala, Shaun Livingston, Bell, Jerebko, Looney and McKinnie, the Warriors can go 11 deep with confidence. That wasn't always the case last season, or the year before.

Between the decision to stagger usage of Curry and Durant after the first quarter and having Jerebko and McKinnie capable of dropping triples, the Warriors’ search for scoring and activity off the bench might be over.

 

“We can play better, but I like the direction we’re heading,” Kerr said. “We feel like we’re getting better as we go, and our bench is starting to solidify. We’re starting to see combinations and patterns that work. I like where our team is right now.”