Warriors

Warriors' frontcourt issues highlight season of change after dynastic run

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Warriors' frontcourt issues highlight season of change after dynastic run

In recent years, the Warriors have been bracing for a new beginning. In the last month, they're seeing the ripple effects of that change.

The latest example has been Golden State's injury-decimated frontcourt. In a three-day span, the Warriors announced injuries to big men Kevon Looney, Willie Cauley-Stein and rookie Alen Smailagic. Entering the first preseason game, the team had just one healthy big man -- Omari Spellman -- on a guaranteed contract.

Now, with the regular season a week away, the Warriors are hoping to find the health to remain competitive in the Western Conference.

"It's more challenging due to the amount of injuries we have," Warriors forward Draymond Green said. "There's a lot of moving parts."

On the eve of training camp, Warriors general manager Bob Myers announced Cauley-Stein would miss most of October with a foot strain. Two days later, Smailagic rolled his ankle and Looney strained his hamstring in the same controlled scrimmage. Adding to the peril, Spellman tweaked his back in the Warriors' first preseason game against the Lakers.

Through the first 24 minutes of the preseason, the Warriors were outrebounded 34-26, as Anthony Davis -- the Lakers' prized summer acquisition -- bullied Golden State's frontline, scoring 22 points and adding 10 rebounds in 18 minutes. Nine days later, Lakers backup center Dwight Howard punished the thin front line, grabbing 13 rebounds in 22 minutes, while getting to the free-throw line five times.

Still, the trend continued in Wednesday's 126-93 loss at Staples Center. Davis grabbed 10 rebounds in 27 minutes, helping the Lakers outrebound Golden State 46-34. Adding to the conundrum, the Lakers outscored the Warriors 64-36 in the paint. More alarming, with Looney and Cauley-Stein out, the Warriors don't have a healthy player on the roster over 6-foot-11.

"It's a little rough," admitted rookie Eric Paschal. "You've got Dwight, AD, JaVale, It's a lot of big bodies out there."

Head coach Steve Kerr spent three games watching his team get bullied by the Lakers. The returns were as expected.

"They're one of the biggest teams in the league," Kerr added. "And they kind of overwhelmed us with their size in the frontcourt."

Golden State's problems come at a time the team has little resources to fix them. With three max contracts on the payroll, the team currently is hard-capped, with just $400K to spend. The Warriors lone promising frontcourt man Marquese Chriss -- who is on a non-guaranteed contract -- will require a trade or for Golden State to release forward Alfonzo McKinnie in order to keep him on the roster. But losing McKinnie would decimate an already thin wing rotation. The issues abound.

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The Warriors' struggles comes as the team is in transition. Of the Warriors' eight summer additions, just three have postseason experience and only two are over the age of 26. Over the last five years, Golden State has entered the regular season with veteran-packed rosters primed to make deep playoff runs. Now, Kerr is tasked with teaching a young group rather than maintaining a contender, bringing a new set of challenges.

"There are just times where we're in the right position and we just get overwhelmed but then there's a lot of times when we're in the wrong position and so we've got to take care of the stuff we can take care of but we're going to need to get healthy,"

Still, even with a battered and young roster, the team has expressed optimism. Kerr said Looney could be back next week, bringing a dependable defender into the fold.

Green believes the team will get better with time.

"We've got three centers out," Green said. "So your rebounding probably will suffer but nothing's too concerning. You got to get it. I know the things that we need to improve upon but I'm not concerned."

How Warriors' improving health will affect focus on player development

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Illustration by Tara Funk

How Warriors' improving health will affect focus on player development

Editor’s note: Kerith Burke, NBC Sports Bay Area’s Warriors reporter, will take you inside the two-time defending NBA champions as only she can each Friday with the Ask Kerith Mailbag. Send her a question on Twitter using the hashtag #askkerith

Tip-Off

The Warriors’ last win came against the Bulls, a little more than a week ago. Tonight, the Warriors will have a chance to end their road trip with a win, or come home 0-5. 

The injuries are beginning to fade. The Warriors got D’Angelo Russell, Kevon Looney and Draymond Green back during this trip. Jacob Evans is a “maybe” to play tonight. Damian Lee is closer to returning as well. The issues that come with playing with eight guys will lessen, and give way to new things to learn -- chemistry with a fuller group, substitution patterns and who plays well next to whom.

Game On! 

@GJohnde What do you think about Omari's performance so far?

Omari Spellman has been excellent. He’s averaging 7.9 points and 5.7 rebounds in 18.6 minutes per game, but his attitude strikes me the most. 

His rookie season in Atlanta did not go well. Logan Murdock took a deep dive with Omari, if you haven’t read it already. It covers his struggles, how that manifested as over-eating and weight gain and how Omari got out of that headspace to reinvent himself with the Warriors. 

What I notice is the high level Omari finds in games. He hustles. He’s tough. He summons aggressiveness inside of himself. I get to see his face up close during games, and he looks like a raging bull, like steam would come out of his nostrils if that were possible. Teammates love to play alongside a guy like Omari. 

When the Warriors were in Atlanta, Steve Kerr mentioned the Dubs did a pre-draft workout with Omari and came away impressed. The Hawks scooped him up, but he’s been on the Warriors’ radar. It’s fun to see him shine on his new team. His upside is promising and we’re getting glimpses of it. 

@WillHar18196474 When Looney and Green both play, which of the remaining big men will likely sacrifice the most minutes?

I understand it’s a “sacrifice” to reduce minutes, but consider how nice it will be to have more bodies available to give guys a chance to catch their breath during games. You already know who has appeared on the injury report, but everyone is dealing with bumps and bruises as they play. Behind the scenes, guys are using heat packs on their knees or a heated back belt to stay loose. 

Kerr explained Looney will play minutes at the four, alongside Willie Cauley-Stein at the five. Loon may also come off the bench, his comfort spot from last season. That means Omari, Marquese Chriss and Draymond Green will feel an impact. The Warriors use their big men in hybrid four-five roles anyway, so this blurring of positions doesn’t feel too jarring. 

The coaches already are monitoring Draymond's minutes, with 25 or so in mind per game. I feel like everyone else will be happy to adjust to suit the team’s needs and get a little relief from heavy minutes when the Dubs were stuck playing with eight men available. 

@emilio_mpen Are the @warriors going to win at least 10 games this season!?

For sure. It won’t be long until the Warriors have everyone available except Steph Curry and Klay Thompson, both out with long-term injuries. Getting D’Angelo back is instant firepower to help the Warriors win the close games they’ve been giving up in the final minutes. Looney will be a stabilizing force as well. 

While the team has been struggling and playing with eight or nine guys, the minutes coming during this hardship will help. Minutes are experience. 

It’s true that moral victories are comforting for only so long. The Warriors need results. It would be frustrating to see the progress on film without the W’s to accompany what players are learning. No one likes to lose, nor do they want to make it a habit. 

@HiiiPowerRevo I’m really interested in the GSW player development branch. Are they going to help the rookies and new draft players extensively this upcoming summer? Also does GSW employ a shooting coach that helps all their players with their shots?

The Warriors have 10 coaches this season, and five of them have “Player Development” in their titles. They are serious about helping this young team learn. 

There’s not one specific shooting coach. Players pair off to watch film and build relationships. For example, Jordan Poole works with Chris DeMarco. Eric Paschall works with Theo Robinson. 

The Warriors will have a lottery pick, but the focus right now is on the talent they have. They’re devoting time and resources to bringing these guys along in their NBA careers. By helping them develop good habits early, with attention and patience, the Warriors will have a youth movement set for the future. 

@tessde every1 asking serious ?s, so I'll go silly, is it my imagination or are the Dubs' shorts getting shorter & tighter each year? 

@debsdavalle #askKerith Is the latest fashion to go towards a short-short look? I think Poole’s are the shortest.

It’s funny to get these questions, and they’re becoming more frequent. Yes, the shorts the young guys are wearing are shorter than the old-school way!

I noticed Jordan Poole cut his warm-up shorts -- yes, cut them with what looked like some jagged scissors -- to make the inseam smaller. Tiny and tight seems to be in fashion.

@TheMisterMann How much of Jim Barnett’s shoes has Kelenna Azubuike been able to fill as the new color commentator this season? 

I think Kelenna has done a fantastic job. I’ve heard Kelenna and Bob Fitzgerald in my ear during broadcasts for 23 games now. Some of the losses have been blowouts, but they still maintain a quality broadcast together. 

Jim Barnett’s playing career began in 1966. His version of the NBA is different than today’s game. Kelenna’s career ended in 2012, so some of the players he faced are still in the league. I like hearing that insight. That’s not a knock on Jim, I’m just saying it’s a different conversation. 

This is Kelenna’s rookie season in the role, but he built up his experience as a broadcaster in studio, on other networks and on the radio. He’s ready for this moment. It’s not easy to be the new guy and follow a legend like Jim, but Kelenna’s personality shines, too. 

@evenstrongerps4 What can u say about Klay's performance as a sideline reporter? #SidelineReporterKlay #HeadbandKerith #AskKerith

@DavidGrisar Now that Klay is firmly established as a Media member, does he even need to bother rehabbing?

It was my pleasure to give the mic to Klay Thompson, who was as entertaining and insightful as we thought he would be. What a great night. He truly surprised me by snatching the mic postgame to interview Omari! 

I think Klay was serious when he said in 10 years, he’d try his hand in broadcasting. He joked around with Bob and Kelenna about doing their jobs. Like father, like son maybe. Klay’s dad is a radio broadcaster for the Lakers.

Whatever Klay wants to do, he’ll be successful at it. He’ll continue his rehab knowing broadcasting is a fallback career!

High Five

This week’s high five goes out to Steve Kerr, who came on the Runnin’ Plays podcast with Logan Murdock and I. We didn’t want to ask Steve the same old questions. Topics included why he’s a Scrooge at Christmas, visiting the pyramids, what makes him sentimental, being a ballboy at UCLA and his definition of an ally. 

My favorite parts of this interview include the moment he knew, at age five, basketball was going to be his path, and which game during the playoffs made him cry by himself in the locker room. Give it a listen here, or search “Runnin’ Plays” on Apple podcasts, Spotify, or wherever you like to listen to podcasts.

Follow Kerith on Twitter @KerithBurke and on Instagram @warriorskerith, and, of course, watch her on NBC Sports Bay Area’s Warriors coverage all season.

Why Steph Curry's gesture at Oracle Arena finale touched Monta Ellis

Why Steph Curry's gesture at Oracle Arena finale touched Monta Ellis

For the final regular-season game in Oracle Arena history, Warriors star Steph Curry arrived rocking a No. 8 Monta Ellis jersey.

"Obviously, a lot of history that Monta was able to be a part of with the 'We Believe' Warriors era, and when I got here my rookie year, he was that guy," Curry told reporters back on April 7. "And I think for me, in terms of representing him on the last game, it meant a lot because we were in that backcourt together. 

"When he was traded it was a tough time in terms of the transition of the organization and things like that. I wanted to pay, obviously, honor to him in terms of his story, coming out of high school and doing what he was able to do. He was an Oakland fan, Warrior fan. Beloved guy."

Shortly after he got wind of Curry's gesture, Monta reacted on Instagram. But he recently expanded on his feelings.

"The biggest thing that I always wanted to do, like, when I leave this Earth, is know that I impacted somebody in some shape or form, no matter if it was on or off the basketball court," he told Marcus Thompson of The Athletic. "That’s my biggest thing.

"So to hear that from him, man, it just means I did what I was supposed to do. I made an impact on somebody’s life before I left here.”

During the 2009-10 season -- Curry's rookie campaign -- Ellis averaged a career-high 25.5 points per game.

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The following year, he racked up 24.1 points and 5.6 assists per contest, while Curry registered 18.6 points and 5.8 assists per night.

Although Monta was disappointed with how the franchise handled his trade to Milwaukee in March 2012, he has nothing but love for Dub Nation.

“That’s my second home,” he told Thompson. “I love Oakland. The fans are like no other. I’ve never seen any other fans in America like Oracle.”

Follow @DrewShiller on Twitter and Instagram