— Ryan Gorcey (@RyanGorcey) October 18, 2019
Story updated at 11:52 a.m.
The Golden State Warriors are expected to waive wing Alfonzo McKinnie in order to clear a 15-man roster spot for training camp invitee Marquese Chriss, who will sign a non-guaranteed deal. McKinnie was not at shootaround on Friday morning.
Chriss, a former No. 8 overall pick, exchewed multiple two-way offers this offseason to sign a training camp deal with the Warriors, after concerns about his coachability and maturity pushed him to the fringes of the league.
With Golden State’s frontcourt decimated by injuries to Willie Cauley-Stein (foot), Kevon Looney (hamstring) and Alen Smailagic (ankle), Chriss — a Sacramento native — forced his way into the starting lineup, starting the last three preseason games and averaging 9.5 points and 8.3 rebounds in 22.6 minutes. Head coach Steve Kerr has called him the “surprise of camp.”
”I think it’s kind of a perfect storm, the way that things happened,” Chriss said at shootaround, though he denied knowing any official move had been made. “Obviously, I would never wish injury upon anybody. That’s why, when I came here, I was ready to compete, and ready to try and work for a spot. I had no idea that this many people were actually hurt, but … it happened the way that it did, and I’m just trying to make the most out of my opportunity.”
A 6-foot-10, 240-pounder with a 38 1/2-inch vertical and a seven-foot wingspan, Chriss has drawn praise for his basketball IQ, his passing out of the high post and his athleticism. At just 22 years old, Chriss has proven to be less a role player and more of a potential building block for a franchise looking to rebuild after the departure of major pieces of a core that went to five straight NBA Finals.
“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.”
Because Golden State doesn’t have enough room under the hard cap to add even another minimum contract — a consequence of the Kevin Durant-D’Angelo Russell sign-and-trade — the Warriors had to either waive McKinnie — who’s contract wouldn’t be guaranteed until mid-January — or trade someone in order to get Chriss on the roster. Cutting McKinnie proved the more logical choice.
Through four games, McKinnie — who played in Luxembourg, Mexico and the G-League before signing a two-way deal with the Raptors in 2017 — had failed to seize on the open starting shooting guard spot, averaging five points on 30.8% shooting (18.2% from 3-point range). He did average over six rebounds per game, but outside of that, he was largely a non-factor.
McKinnie — who made the 15-man roster last year as a training camp invitee — is expected to be one of the best available players on the market, after becoming a key bench contributor for a team that reached the NBA Finals.
Chriss will become the ninth new player for a Warriors roster seeing its most turnover since Kerr first arrived. Of the nine newcomers, he’s the eighth under the age of 23. On his fourth team in four years, Chriss has seen multiple disfunctional organizations on his way to San Francisco.
A lottery pick by the Phoenix Suns in 2016, Chriss endured a two-year stint with a chaotic organization that labeled him a cancer before a brief run in Houston and a lackluster, end-of-bench tenure with the post-LeBron James Cleveland Cavaliers. With no guaranteed offers in free agency, the Warriors seemed, he said, “the perfect fit,” for more than just basketball reasons.
“I haven’t played in California since I was in high school,” said Chriss, who was a four-star recruit out of Elk Grove (Calif.) Pleasant Grove. “My family’s an hour and a half away, so they come to the games. They’ve been to all the preseason games so far. It’s different for me, having to write down tickets every game.”
The plan, Chriss said, is for his mother Shawntae — who still lives in the Sacramento area — to help him move and find an apartment. He’s still living in a hotel.
As far as X’s and O’s, Chriss is an exceptional passer, a diligent screen setter and has worked the dribble handoff well with Stephen Curry, quickly becoming integrated into Kerr’s motion offense. His ability to flip screens, find the right angles and screen without fouling has been particularly impressive.
“Unbelievable kid. He’s just always open to coaching,” Kerr said on Wednesday in Los Angeles. “He’s asking a lot of questions. He’s never discouraged. If he makes a mistake, he comes over and he says ‘What should I have done on that play?’ He might go to Draymond [Green] or one of the vets. Our coaching staff really enjoys being around him. He has a lot of potential. You can see it.
“He’s probably ready to flourish after a few years in the league, playing on very young teams and not really having the chance to play with the caliber of guys like Steph and Draymond. It’s a good role. Sometimes, you just have to find a fit in the league, and sometimes, your first few years in the league, you’re searching, and I feel like this is a good fit for him and for us. He’s a good fit for us. Hopefully, he continues to play well.”