Warriors

Warriors

For the better part of two seasons, the Warriors have been searching for a way to fortify their bench unit. 

Twenty one months ago, they spent a combined $7 million on Nick Young and Omri Casspi. By season's end, Young's minutes dwindled and Casspi was cut to make way for Quinn Cook. 

Last summer, the signed Jonas Jerebko, pairing the journeyman forward with a host of young, but unproven players, resulting in this season's iteration of the bench unit ranking 29th in points per game entering Tuesday night. 

However, after a defining performance in Tuesday's 112-103 win over the Pelicans, a game the bench scored a season-high 65 points with Klay Thompson and Kevin Durant resting and Stephen Curry injured, Golden State may have found an unexpected push heading into the postseason. 

While he didn't finish with the biggest statline of the night, rookie guard Jacob Evans, who finished with 11 points, five rebounds and three blocks, may have had the most important performance of his career.

Ten months ago, Warriors general manager Bob Myers selected Evans with the No. 28 overall pick in part because he thought Evans could contribute right away. Instead, Evans played just 142 minutes total entering Tuesday, spending most of his time in the G League, averaging 11.3 points, 3.4 rebounds, with the Santa Cruz Warriors. 

When he was with the big club, the extent of his action was spent with Golden State assistant Willie Green, shooting in empty arenas two hours before tip-off, working to get more arc on his flat jumper. On Tuesday, Evans got the news he was starting following a shooting workout by assistant Jaron Collins. Evans managed to keep the news from the 15-20 family members who were in attendance from Baton Rouge, Louisiana, Evans' hometown, which is more 81 miles away from New Orleans. 

 

"I was a little nervous but I was like 'Just go out there and leave it out on the floor,'" Evans said. "Just try and play as hard as I can and go out there and do what I've been working on the whole year and just play ball."

"He's earned it," Cook added. "He's earned every bit of what he's getting and he was ready and contributed right away and I'm so happy for him." 

While Evans' coming out party seemingly got his season on track, Cook's 19 points, two rebounds and three assists continued his hot streak in recent weeks. Over his last 11 games, Cook is averaging 10.5 points on 48.7 percent from the field, rectifying a rough start to the season. 

"Just keeping my rhythm," Cook said. "Putting in work before and after practice. We got a great rhythm going into these playoffs. So for me, it's just staying aggressive and keep trying to be a great leader out there for everybody and it's been a fun stretch." 

Cook's play Tuesday night coincided with perhaps the best performance of the season from two-way guard Damion Lee.

Lee, who entered Tuesday averaging 4.3 points and 1.7 rebounds, finished with 20 points, seven rebounds and an assist. Last season, Lee spent much of his time in Santa Cruz before signing a pair of 10-day contracts with the Atlanta Hawks, eventually signing a two-way deal with Warriors last summer. Prior to the season, he married Curry's sister Sydell, adding himself into the Curry patriarch of shooters.

Following Tuesday's win, during a postgame interview with Kerith Burke, Lee was mobbed by assistant Mike Brown, who told Lee, and the camera in front him, "them Curry's can shoot." Lee, feigning a smile, proclaimed "I'm a Lee," a sign of the guard's hope to find his niche in the league. 

"For me coming into this year, it was knowing that I'm on a two-way and understanding that if I get converted then I do but if they pick up someone then I won't but just being around, picking up all this knowledge, this experience," Lee said. "Hopefully trying to make a deep playoff run, its something that I can cherish forever and also, with this pedestal allowing me to showcase myself on the NBA level." 

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Over the last two seasons, Golden State's bench has never averaged more than 32 points per game, reaching no higher than 23rd in the league. Entering Tuesday, they were the NBA's 29th ranked bench. But, four hours later, the Warriors young, unproven second unit had leafrogged Oklahoma City for the 28th ranked bench. At just the right time, the bench unit showed some life.

“They were great," Warriors coach Steve Kerr said. "It was really fun to see Jacob (Evans) play tonight. He has put a lot of work in the G League and had a lot of family members here tonight, so it felt good to give him the start and I thought he took advantage of it by having a nice game. Damion Lee had another big game for us. He has done a hell of a job. Quinn (Cook) is still in a really good groove; it is nice to see. So (we received) a lot of good production from our young guys.”