The Golden State Warriors have made popular the concept of positionless basketball, shedding lineup limitations by using non-traditional centers. Before Kevin Durant came to the team in 2016, Golden State boasted its famous “Death Lineup” in which Draymond Green was the center.
Now, as the Warriors work with different personnel, they need a center with some size to defend the interior and work in the key on offense.
But as the Warriors prepare for the 2019-20 season, some of their key centers have suffered injuries. With the season ahead, the Warriors not having enough available centers in their rotation is surely of mild concern.
During practice on Wednesday, Kevon Looney reportedly suffered a tweaked hamstring, per The Athletic’s Anthony Slater. Looney’s injury isn’t serious, but he will not play in the Warriors’ first preseason game on Saturday against the Los Angeles Lakers.
Along with Looney, Willie Cauley-Stein is currently out with a left foot injury, and he was ruled out of training camp. Cauley-Stein is also expected to miss some games to begin the season, per NBC Sports Bay Area. Rookie Alen Smailagic, meanwhile, suffered an ankle injury in practice on Wednesday, and he won’t play in Saturday’s game.
Omari Spellman, who was traded to the Warriors from the Atlanta Hawks this offseason, will start on Saturday at center. Per Slater, Marquese Chriss will also see some time at center.
For the Warriors, having depleted depth at center is going to hurt them to begin the season. Coach Steve Kerr has said Golden State is going to run more pick-and-roll plays, per Slater. Cauley-Stein, with his rim running ability, was positioned to be a prime option in the pick-and-roll.
Training camp is a time for this reconstructed team to gain chemistry and see how the offense will look. With Cauley-Stein out, creating chemistry has been temporarily halted.
Looney isn’t as athletic as Cauley-Stein — Cauley-Stein is a better lob option. But Looney does score well in the key. Last season, Looney shot 72.4% from within 0-3 feet of the hoop, according to Basketball Reference.
Smailagic is a rookie, and last season he played for the Santa Cruz Warriors, the Warriors’ G League affiliate. Standing at 6-foot-10, Smailagic offers the ability to rim run as well as score in transition.
Spellman is heading into his second season; he played in 46 games last season for the Hawks. As Spellman comes off his rookie year, though, he’ll have to improve his conditioning. Per Slater’s report, Spellman was 315 pounds at Summer League for the Hawks. He’s currently at 275 pounds.
The Warriors missing some of their centers is reminiscent of last season. DeMarcus Cousins was coming off an Achilles injury last season, and he didn’t play his first game with Golden State until January. Cousins played in 30 games, but he missed time in the playoffs due to a left quad injury he suffered in the first round against the Los Angeles Clippers.
Golden State used Looney and Andrew Bogut at center while Cousins was out. Bogut was signed in March, and he played in 19 playoff games for the team. Looney suffered a chest injury in the NBA Finals, but he only missed one game due to the injury (but had to exit early in the Toronto Raptors’ series-winning Game 6).
The Warriors have benefited from using versatile lineups. From top to bottom, each of their starters over the past few years has been multi-skilled. And even more so, each player has had a succinct role in helping the team win.
Eric Paschall, a rookie out of Villanova, said he has experience playing center in college, per Slater. But at 6-foot-7, Paschall will likely be too small to contend with some of the NBA’s top bigs down low, especially considering the Warriors’ new personnel doesn’t offer as much defensive versatility on the perimeter.
For the Warriors, using Green as a center is still an option. Green is one of the best defenders ever, and the way he patrols the middle of the floor is perhaps his best defensive attribute.
Still, he’s not as good an option compared to past seasons because the Warriors’ perimeter defense won’t be as good, at least for the first half of the season. Klay Thompson is out until at least the All-Star break with a left ACL injury.
As the Warriors prepare for the season, they’ll need to see how to manage their depth at center.
The team hasn’t used a true center often, but with this upcoming season being one filled with transition and change, having size down low would help the Warriors on both ends of the floor.