For the Warriors, size matters, even without Cousins

Adrian Dy on Oct 17, 2018 03:57 PM
For the Warriors, size matters, even without Cousins
Oklahoma City Thunder center Steven Adams shoots against Golden State Warriors' Damian Jones, left, and Stephen Curry (30) during the first half of an NBA basketball game, Tuesday, Oct. 16, 2018, in Oakland, Calif. (AP Photo/Ben Margot)

The Golden State Warriors got a huge lift from their big men, as they opened their three-peat bid against the Oklahoma City Thunder.

No, DeMarcus Cousins did not miraculously find himself fully recovered from his achilles tear.

David West didn't decide to un-retire at the last minute either.

Zaza Pachulia and JaVale McGee, their main guys at that position a season ago, are still with the Pistons and the Lakers, respectively, waiting to make their debuts.

During the offseason, the Warriors front office made the bold decision to get younger up front, handing over the minutes to draft picks Damian Jones, Kevon Looney, and Jordan Bell. And while the major headlines stemmed from the acquisition of Cousins, until he recovers, the defending champs will have to make do with J-B-L.

They did more than "make do" versus a group of Thunder bigs that have a reputation for toughness and physicality.

Last season, the Warriors were 27th in OREB%, at a mere 24.3 percent, and dead last in second-chance points per game at just 10.3 an outing. Conversely, OKC ranked first in both those stats, 32.0% and 15.0 per game, respectively.

In today's win over the Thunder, the two teams tied at 16 offensive rebounds apiece, but the Dubs actually had a slight edge in second-chance points, 20-19.

Looney did the majority of the work there, with eight of his caroms being of the offensive sort, while Jones had two, and Bell one. However, just the fact that they were there in the paint, battling the likes of Steven Adams, Jerami Grant, Patrick Patterson, and Nerlens Noel, made a world of difference.

In past campaigns, Pachulia and West were content to help move the ball and take 15-footers. McGee could sky for blocks and dunks. On D, the former were crafty, but ground-bound, while McGee was too eager, which often led to him falling out of position. In this new incarnation, Jones and company obviously lack the experience of the trio, but are tons more athletic, and versatile as well.

Jones (26:33 minutes, 12 points (6/7 FG), 3 rebounds, 2 assists, 3 blocks) is the one perhaps most cut from the same cloth as McGee. However, the 30th pick of the 2016 NBA Draft doesn't get fatigued as much as the former Shaqtin' A Fool poster boy, allowing him to stay on the floor for longer stretches.

"He [Jones] gave us exactly what we hoped for," said Warriors coach Steve Kerr after the game. "The lob threat, the presence inside, the ability to battle a great center, Steven Adams, with his size." Kerr later added that Jones would continue to start at center.

"We have Gobert and Jokic coming up on this road trip," Kerr pointed out. "He's [Jones] got the size and athleticism to deal with them and he's going to learn an awful lot. To come out of the gates in the season and face these three centers, he's seeing the best, so I think it's great for him."  

Looney (18:04 minutes, 10 points (5/11 FG), 10 rebounds, 2 assists, 2 blocks) was a revelation in last year's Playoffs, contributing valuable minutes against the top teams of the West. He continued his strong play in this game, his athleticism letting him keep in front of scoring wings like Paul George when he gets switched onto them.

"I thought Kevon was fantastic too," said Kerr. "[He] came off the bench and gave us great minutes. Those two guys [Jones and Looney] were really really key."

As for Bell (6:39 minutes, 0 points, 2 rebounds, 1 block), he got the least amount of playing time of the trio, but submitted this highlight play:

"Jordan will get his chance. He knows it. I thought he came in, did some good things tonight. Didn't get much of a chance, but he stayed ready," admitted Kerr.

While it's true that Warriors fans, and the NBA in general, are just waiting for the return of Cousins, to see how healthy is, to see what kind of an impact he can have on this squad, it doesn't mean that the team is a donut, with a hole in the middle. In fact, far from it. The J-B-L trio will get plenty of burn in at least the first half of the regular season, and they can only continue to get better, as hinted at by Kerr, given the situation that they're in.

And that only makes the Warriors scarier to face.

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