CHASE CENTER — While Golden State will get Willie Cauley-Stein (foot) and Alec Burks (ankle) back from injury on Wednesday, the shorthanded, rebuilding Warriors will have to play without two rotation players for the foreseeable future.
Forward Kevon Looney is out at least for the next four games with a neuropathy issue linked to his balky right hamstring, and second-year wing Jacob Evans — finally starting to turn into the defender Golden State hoped he’d be — will be out for at least the next three weeks with a left adductor strain.
Head coach Steve Kerr came into this season knowing he’d have to be more of a coach this season than in his first five at the helm, when his biggest task was managing at times four future-Hall-of-Fame egos. Now, he has to see how two of Golden State’s nine newcomers fit in to a system that’s had little continuity.
“We have to see where they fit, and it’s tough, because they’ve never played in a game for us,” Kerr said. “They really haven’t even scrimmaged.”
Cauley-Stein was brought in to aid D’Angelo Russell as a screen-setter in the pick-and-roll, but he went down with a mid-foot strain during a scrimmage days before the start of training camp, missing the entire preseason.
Burks — an eight-year veteran — was brought in to potentially compete with Alfonzo McKinnie for the starting three-guard spot left vacant when Klay Thompson underwent ACL reconstruction surgery. He went down with an ankle injury several days into camp, Glenn Robinson III emerged and McKinnie was waived to make room for forward (and ersatz center) Marquese Chriss.
Cauley-Stein’s injury was the first of three in the frontcourt, with draft pick Alen Smailagic going down with an ankle, and Looney suffering what was called a hamstring strain. That hamstring strain has now been linked to a neuropathy issue he’s dealt with over the past three seasons. Ideally, Looney and Cauley-Stein would have backed one another up, and at times played together. Kerr has called Looney, 23, a foundational piece multiple times over the last year.
“He’s frustrated, and we’re frustrated for him,” Kerr said of Looney. “He’s scheduled to see some specialists coming up soon, I think early next week. We’re just hoping for the best. He’s able to kind of do controlled workouts with the training staff, so he’s getting conditioning, he’s getting shooting, just no live action.”
At least with the seven-foot Cauley-Stein back, Golden State has something it severely lacked over the first three games: Size.
“We desperately need both of them, but given that Loon may be out for a little bit, we don’t know yet, but it’s good to get Willie back,” Kerr said. “That’s a big deal for us. We haven’t had much size working with us here in the early goings, so Willie will help.”
Cauley-Stein, 26, was signed for a bargain ($4.4 million for two years, with a player option for the second year) this offseason, and was the projected starting center before he went down. Draymond Green will start there on Wednesday.
Burks has worked best off the bench as an on-ball wing defender, and that’s likely the role he’ll fill going forward.
“We liked Alec’s offensive aggressiveness,” Kerr said. “He’s a guy who’s traditionally played off the bench, he’s had big games in the playoffs, he’s not shy, he’s going to go out there and attack the rim. He’s been a really good offensive player. He’s got good size. We don’t have a ton of wings, as you know, so he should be a good addition.”
The loss of Evans is particularly disappointing, given that he re-engineered his shot during a disappointing, injury-riddled rookie year, shifted to the point during the summer league and proven a capable rotation player. He gave Golden State another wing defender, and averaged 6.0 points and 1.7 rebounds in 14.3 minutes in the first three games this season with a 2:1 assist-to-turnover ratio.
“It’s a big blow. Jacob has been really good throughout camp and through the first week of the season,” Kerr said of Evans, who will be re-evaluated in three weeks. “One of our better defenders on the floor, and guarding the ball, especially. We’ll miss that aspect, and most importantly, he’s just a young player who’s finally getting some time, finally getting some minutes to show what he can do. I feel bad for Jacob, but he’ll be back. He’s just got to get healthy and we’ve got to be patient.”