— Ryan Gorcey (@RyanGorcey) October 15, 2019
LOS ANGELES — With 4:20 left in what was otherwise a meaningless preseason game — with stars like D’Angelo Russell and LeBron James resting — Golden State Warriors training camp invitee Marquese Chriss slipped past two defenders for a tip-in at the rim.
Chriss’ 14 points in the Warriors’ 104-98 loss to the Los Angeles Lakers on Monday represented the third straight impressive performance for the non-guaranteed training camp invitee.
On his fourth team in four seasons, long dogged by a reputation for being uncoachable, Chriss has been the talk of camp for rebuilding Golden State. Originally with no hope of making the team due to the Warriors’ salary cap situation, Chriss has now all but assured himself a spot on the 15-man roster, while Alfonzo McKinnie’s fate is far more tenuous.
“He’s got great vision, great playmaking skills, and he’s done a hell of a job,” head coach Steve Kerr said of Chriss.
In one two-minute sequence in the second quarter on Monday, Chriss showed just what he could be for Golden State. He blocked Jared Dudley, stole a ball from Alex Caruso, pushed it up for a lob to Eric Paschall (which the rookie missed), then gathered two offensive rebounds and dropped in a baby hook to get Golden State to within 10, down 41-31.
“He’s a complete player,” Paschall said. “There’s a reason why he was drafted so high.”
The No. 8 pick in the 2016 NBA Draft, Chriss’ supreme talent couldn’t save him from being on the league’s fringes. Over his first three seasons, he acquired one of the league’s worst labels — uncoachable — and got into an on-court fight with Raptors center Serge Ibaka. Coming to a place like Golden State, with the culture built by Steve Kerr over the last five years, he said, was a “perfect fit.” It’s why Chriss eschewed two-way deals this offseason to sign a training camp deal with the Warriors.
Initially, the thought was for Chriss to rehabilitate his reputation and sign a guaranteed deal elsewhere, or a two-way deal with the Warriors. After his first three preseason games, though, a two-way deal isn’t an option.
Chriss has averaged 10 points, 9.3 rebounds and four assists, and has excelled at the little things like dribble-handoffs with Stephen Curry, setting screens and showing not just the ability to pass out of the post, but a great affinity for it, and great vision. After fouling out in his first preseason game in just under 14 minutes, he’s only committed seven in his last 51 minutes. On Monday, he looked anything but shy in dealing with the size of a true NBA center in Dwight Howard.
“I think being in this system has helped me a lot,” said Chriss, who went 4-for-7 from the floor with 11 rebounds and four assists, to go along with a steal and three blocks. “I’m just trying to fit in.”
John Oliver being Marquese Chriss' biggest fan is great. pic.twitter.com/PrjKZ2Qubt
— Justin Russo (@FlyByKnite) October 15, 2019
With injuries to Willie Cauley-Stein (mid-foot strain), Alen Smailagic (ankle) and Kevon Looney (hamstring strain), Golden State needs a reliable big man outside of Omari Spellman. Chriss — a 6-foot-10, 240-pound 22-year-old former lottery pick with a 38 1/2-inch vertical — could be far more than a fill-in.
“We haven’t been able to add a lot of young talent, in terms of top-of-the-draft-type talent,” Kerr said. “It’s hard to get guys like that. If we have a chance to work with someone like that, try to help bring the potential out, then I think that makes perfect sense. That’s why the front office brought him in, and so far, it’s been a really good fit, and hopefully, it continues to be so.”
Said Chriss: “They’ve been saying positive things to me. They love the energy I’m playing with. I’m just trying to fit in, not trying to do anything too outrageous. I get the ball in position to score, I’m going to try and score. Other than that, I’m trying to set screens and get my shooters open.”
Added Paschall: “He’s been a great team player, listening to the vets, and he looks out for all of us.”
The problem with the Warriors’ current roster situation is that, because of the sign-and-trade that brought in D’Angelo Russell and sent Kevin Durant to Brooklyn, they are hard-capped, and do not have enough money under that hard cap to sign a 15th player, unless they waive or trade someone.
One way to make space would be to package second-year guard Jacob Evans III and a future draft pick in a trade, or to cut McKinnie.
McKinnie — who went from playing in rec league-size gyms in Europe to paying for his own G League tryout to a two-way contract with Toronto — averaged 4.7 points and 3.4 rebounds in 13.9 minutes off the bench last year as a surprise contributor for Golden State. At times this preseason, despite averaging 6.5 rebounds, McKinnie has been invisible. With Golden State needing length on the wing, McKinnie came into Monday averaging just 4.5 points and shooting 33% from the field in 18.5 minutes per game — not the performance of a player pegged as the starting three-guard until Klay Thompson returns from ACL reconstruction.
The Warriors could easily start Glenn Robinson III at the three — he went 2-for-6 in limited minutes on Monday, but has flashed at times — until Thompson returns, but it would be hard not to take a chance on a potential building block like Chriss. That said, McKinnie looked to be playing with a purpose on Monday.
McKinnie was active on both ends of the court, going 4-of-9 in 25 minutes with four rebounds, a steal, a block and 11 points. He and Chriss started the fourth quarter on the court, standing together at the top of the key — one playing for his NBA career, the other trying to rebuild it.