CHASE CENTER — The Golden State Warriors have four days between their Sunday practice — their first since the end of the preseason on Friday — and their season opener against the Los Angeles Clippers. That’s the way head coach Steve Kerr prefers it.
“I’m glad. We need it,” Kerr said early Sunday afternoon, following a lengthy, scrimmage-focused practice.
With nine newcomers — including eight under 23 — Kerr’s practices this training camp have involved more teaching and a greater focus on the basics, and will continue to do so into the season. That continued on Sunday, with the addition of Kevon Looney, who may be ready to play by Thursday’s opener.
“Our young guys have to get as many reps as they can, so we got a lot of good defensive reps, and we had a really good scrimmage,” Kerr said. “High energy, good focus, guys had fun. It was a great practice.”
Looney — who has missed all of training camp and the preseason with a strained right hamstring — also got his first full-contact run.
Golden State will see how Looney responds on Monday. If he’s still feeling good, he’ll scrimmage again on Tuesday. If that goes well, he’ll play Thursday, though it’s uncertain at this point whether he’d start over Marquese Chriss. Looney has, in the past, been at his best off the bench.
Looney had the third-highest total playoff plus-minus of any Warrior last season, behind Draymond Green and Stephen Curry, despite playing 400 minutes less than either of them. Looney’s athleticism, lateral mobility and length allow him to guard not just post players, but the occasional wing, as well. His net rating (the team’s point differential per 100 possessions he’s on the court) was fourth on the team during the regular season (10.3), behind Curry, Kevin Durant and Green.
“I think he probably would be [the starter], but I would probably do it based on matchups, from game to game,” Kerr said. “We lack size, obviously, with Willie and Loon out, so we get Loon back, probably look at the other teams’ lineups and see what makes the most sense.”
Burks — the odds-on favorite to back up the small forward spot — moved well on his injured ankle and seemed to be unencumbered during post-practice work. He’s made consistent strides over the last several days, but still hasn’t advanced to contact drills. If he does in the next few days, he could play in the opener behind starter Glenn Robinson.
Cauley-Stein (mid-foot strain) was also doing non-contact work at practice, shooting off of both feet and driving to the basket. He’s set to be re-evaluated at the end of October, but he and Burks face a hurdle that neither Robinson nor Chriss do: They haven’t actually worked in this system on the court. Alec Smailagic, 19, has missed the preseason with an ankle injury, but he at least played at G League Santa Cruz last season, and has an idea of the Warriors’ system, if not experience with the current players. He was shooting sans walking boot on Sunday, but there’s no more clarity as to his return date.
“It’s disappointing that [Cauley-Stein] didn’t have the full training camp, because he really could have used it. Same with Alen,” said Kerr. “Guys like Marquese and Glenn are way ahead of Alec as a result of just being healthy, so they’ve got to catch up. There’s no magic potion. They have to catch up and see what happens.”
Once the season starts, practices will change. Because of the need to keep veterans like Curry, D’Angelo Russell and Green healthy in a season where an injury to any of them could do serious damange to playoff aspirations, those three won’t get as much contact work, which means the younger players will need to supplement practices with extra study, and come in to get early reps.
“Draymond and Steph, D’Angelo, we’re not putting them through a practice like we did today,” Kerr said. “We’re still four days away from the season opener, so we needed a good practice today. Once we get going, it’s a game every other day, and there’s not a whole lot of time to really get great work in for the older guys, so the younger guys will have to do a lot of film work and some pre-practice stuff.”