SAN FRANCISCO -- With the NBA-minimum eight players available for each of the past two games, Warriors coach Steve Kerr trotted out a few curious lineups, including one that resulted in positive discovery.
After frequently and successfully “going small” over the past five seasons, Kerr resorted to lineups categorized as “going big.”
The center rotation that initially featured the tag-team trio of Willie Cauley-Stein, Marquese Chriss and Omari Spellman has evolved into something more flexible, mostly because of Spellman. Though Cauley-Stein and Chriss almost exclusively are centers, Spellman now is spending more time at power forward, where his smooth shooting stroke stretches the floor.
Sometimes, it’s Cauley-Stein and Spellman. Other times, it’s Chriss and Spellman.
“We like the shooting component that Omari has at the four, combined with the rim runs and lob threats that Willie and Marquese are,” Kerr said Sunday after practice. “It’s a good complement that way. That’s the preferred combination.”
Cauley-Stein, at 7-feet, is the longest of the three. Chriss, at 6-9, probably is the sweetest passer. Spellman, at 6-8 and a robust 250 pounds, clearly is the purest scoring threat -- which is something the Warriors need in the worst way.
After going 7-of-11 from beyond the arc over the past two games, Spellman is shooting 38.7 percent beyond the arc this season, behind only point guard Ky Bowman (42.5 percent) and small forward Glenn Robinson III (39.2).
More to the point, Spellman is shooting 56.3 percent from deep since making some mechanical corrections with his shot.
“He’s in better shape now,” Kerr said of Spellman, who six months ago weighed more than 300 pounds. “When he was playing in pickup games before preseason, he was hitting a lot of 3s. You could tell he was a natural shooter. He’s got a really good touch. He and Aaron Miles have done a lot of work on the 3-point shot in particular.
“As he’s gotten in better shape and lost some weight, he’s also been working on releasing the shot on the way up. He had a habit earlier in the season ... of shooting the 3 at the apex of his jump or on the way down, which is a difficult thing to do.”
In the loss at Utah on Friday, the minutes distribution among the big men was, in order, Spellman 28:18 Cauley-Stein 28:03 and Chriss 22:01. The three combined for 30 points, 13 rebounds, nine assists and two blocks. Spellman scored 18 points, 7-of-9 from the field and 4-of-4 from deep.
Taking notes back in the Bay Area was center/forward Kevon Looney, who has not played since logging 10 minutes on opening night but is expected to return as soon as next weekend. Rookie big man Alen Smailagic, who has been sidelined since the second day of training camp, could be activated shortly afterward.
“I like to see that,” Looney said, breaking into a broad grin. “With us being down, Omari, Quese and Willie are getting a chance to show their game. Playing two bigs out there is always a lot of fun. We’re banging on the rebounds, and crashing the glass always feels better when you’ve got another big down there with you.”
This is not what the Warriors visualized when studying the roster over the summer. But a staggering spate of injuries dramatically have altered expectations and combinations.
“We literally had no choice,” Kerr said of the new rotation. “But it’s been healthy for us, because it’s given us a look at Omari at the four. And as we get Looney back, and Smiley, we’re going to be healthy at the five with a lot of bodies.”
In a season where so much has gone physically wrong, forcing the Warriors to scrap their initial plan, they have had mixed results in adjusting on the fly. Style of play has been the biggest change, though some of that was anticipated with the arrival of guard D’Angelo Russell.
It’s now conceivable that by mid-December, the Warriors will have at least five players that fall in the category of big men, allowing a potential sixth, Draymond Green, to actually spend all of his time at power forward -- which could help his ailing 3-point shot.
All of this should improve rebounding, which has been a weakness. It also should help with scoring, particularly if Looney generates as much offense as originally forecasted and if Smailagic can crack the rotation.
The key to going big is having a power forward that can threaten defenses. Spellman does that. It puts him on the floor, as it will others. It’s a new look for the Warriors, but added dimension is welcome in a season such as this.