CHASE CENTER — The first shot by a Golden State Warrior in Chase Center history was a 30-footer by Stephen Curry. He told D’Angelo Russell he’d do it right before the game. It was an airball.
When Curry finally did hit a shot — after Golden State missed its first 10 — there was a trace, just a trace, of Oracle Arena in the Warriors’ new $1.4 billion home, even if there just wasn’t much left of the last five groups that played there.
Golden State’s first preseason bow at their new palace was, by turns, frustrating, encouraging, exciting and baffling, which is to say it’s exactly what should be expected from a team that has eight newcomers, and seven under the age of 25. It spotlighted some of the Warriors’ glaring weaknesses, but also allowed for plenty of thought exercises in a 123-101 loss to the Los Angeles Lakers.
“A little chaotic, but all in all, it’s a good game to have on tape for our young players to learn from,” said head coach Steve Kerr.
— Ryan Gorcey (@RyanGorcey) October 6, 2019
First Takeaway: Alfonzo McKinnie may be playing for his job, and Marquese Chriss could be an option.
On Friday, the same day as their first practice on the main court at Chase Center, the Warriors worked out several centers. Kevon Looney has a balky hamstring. Rookie Alen Smailagic rolled his ankle this week and is out indefinitely. Projected starter Willie Cauley-Stein, is out for at least the first four games with a mid-foot sprain (he was without crutches on the bench Saturday evening).
Omari Spellman — who started at the five on Saturday — isn’t the answer, though he did look like a capable four.
The Warriors need a center, and they may have one in training camp: Marquese Chriss. The former No. 8 overall pick came into camp looking to shed the uncoachable label and maybe catch on elsewhere, but has impressed everyone from Steve Kerr to Draymond Green.
“He’s been amazing in camp,” Green said. “To me, it looks like he’s figuring it out and turning the corner. I think he played very well tonight, but that’s no different than what we have been seeing all camp.”
Here’s the problem: Golden State is hard-capped because of the sign-and-trade that brought in Russell for Kevin Durant, and because the Warriors are less than $300,000 away from that cap, they can’t add a 15th man to the roster. The only way to add a center would be to jetison another player, and that could be Alfonzo McKinnie, who was a -23 on the night with seven points and six rebounds in more than 20 minutes.
If there’s anyone worth making that move for, it’s Chriss, a 6-foot-10, 240-pound athletic big man who, at just 22, is all upside. McKinnie, at one point, was the projected starting three-guard, but played on Saturday in place of the injured Alec Burks, who tweaked his ankle in Friday’s scrimmage.
McKinnie was underwhelming in his first action after a breakout 2018-19, and as he underwhelmed, Chriss — an Elk Grove native — played with energy and got results, going 4-of-6 from the field for eight points with six rebounds in 14 minutes, mostly in the first half against the Lakers’ starters, though he did foul out in the third.
“First and foremost, I’d love to be a part of this team,” Chriss said. “… I think I’m just a little bit more patient with myself. In the past, I’ve probably been my biggest critic. It’s made it rocky for myself at times. Understanding that I’ve been through what I’ve been through, to become who I am, I think as a person, I’m more confident in what I’m capable of doing. I’m more collected, able to withstand the mistakes.”
— Ryan Gorcey (@RyanGorcey) October 6, 2019
Without a true starting center (Chriss was the first man off the bench), Golden State gave up 17 points and 7 rebounds in just 10 minutes to Anthony Davis and allowed Davis, JaVale McGee, LeBron James and Dwight Howard almost complete freedom in the paint (a 66-36 points in the paint margin). Given that glaring weakness, Chriss (or any center, for that matter) could be more important than another wing defender.
On Saturday, he was able to set screens and find open teammates on kickouts, and play within the system.
If Chriss can get out from under red flags that shuffled him to three teams in three seasons, he’d easily be the most talented player on the bench. Once Cauley-Stein and Looney get healthy, the Warriors won’t need a true center, just a versatile piece who can capably play it. That’s Chriss, who feels like Golden State’s culture is a major help.
“Going through free agency, hearing whispers that I wouldn’t want to hear about myself, I’m just trying to come in and show them that I’m not the type of person people are assuming,” Chriss said. “I think just being on this team is the best situation for me. The team’s energy is great. Since Day One, when I got here, they welcomed me. Having a coach that is OK with me making mistakes and is patient is really helpful. I’m able to talk to him, whenever, whether it be him or coach [Jaron] Collins.”
Second Takeaway: The kids are alright.
Jordan Poole seemed to Get It™. During the summer, he was more than happy to let fly with shots from anywhere on the court, and didn’t have much to show for it. On Saturday, he went 5-of-11 from the field and 4-of-9 from 3-point range for 17 points, adding a rebound and an assist. His energy made things happen, and it was easy to finally see why the Warriors have been so high on their first-round pick.
When Chase Center couldn’t generate much more than cricket chirps in response to some Bay Area hip hop favorites, it was Poole who woke the crowd with a transition three from Green, bringing half a dozen teammates to their feet as he pulled into the shot.
“We need sparkplugs all up and down the roster, and guys who play to their strengths,” Curry said. “[Poole] can shoot the ball. He works at it, and he’s not shy. We definitely want to lean into that, want him to feel comfortable on the floor.”
During a two-minute stretch in the second quarter, Poole hit a 12-foot jumper, that three-ball two foul shots after drawing contact on a drive toward the rim during a run where the Warriors cut an 18-point lead down to eight.
The energy that Pool can bring not just to the team, but to the arena, could help buoy Golden State until the February return of Klay Thompson from ACL reconstruction. If he and forward Eric Paschall (11 points in 24 minutes) can surpass expectations, it could be the difference between this year being a transitional one for the Warriors, or something more.
“They both played well, they both showed their skill, their ability,” Kerr said. “Jordan, obviously, we drafted him for his ability to put the ball in the basket, and you can see his confidence. Eric really stands out physically, out there. He’s a strong, explosive kid, and he’s not afraid. He can play multiple spots, defensively.”
Third Takeaway: Be patient.
It’s easy to look at the 0-for-10 shooting start and hand-wave it away as opening-night jitters or the fact that the newly-reloaded Lakers were too strong out of the gate defensively. It’s also easy to look at that and think that this will be a rebuilding year.
The truth is somewhere in between. The fact of the matter is that these Warriors are still very much getting to know one another. The reality is that Kerr didn’t install many of the defensive wrinkles he’s planning on installing, and this group has been practicing with each other for four days, and still has to mesh two disparate playing styles in Russell’s iso-heavy pick-and-roll specialty and Kerr’s pass-happy motion offense.
That said, Russell looks dynamic, fun and is every bit the spark Golden State thought it would be getting. He just may have to carry a larger load than he’s used to. He went 2-for-9 in 18 minutes, and 0-for-4 from 3-point distance, adding two rebounds and an assist.
”The main thing is he needs to get his legs underneath him,” Kerr said. “You saw him make some brilliant passes. He’s a wonderful passer, and I think he’s going to make a huge impact on our team handling the ball, distributing and making shots, but he’s got to get his legs underneath him. He’s not a guy who plays a ton of pickup ball in the summer, so he uses the preseason to get his conditioning. You could see he wasn’t quite there, nor did I expect him to be.”