Neither of the Warriors’ usual rotation centers, Kevon Looney and Dario Šarić, was the team’s best big man Sunday night in Portland. And coach Steve Kerr, to his credit, recognized it.
Kerr watched the same thing as everyone at Moda Center: Rookie Trayce Jackson-Davis coming off the bench and making a positive impact in ways neither Looney nor Šarić can.
Jackson-Davis, seldom used but often discussed, was a richly deserving postgame topic considering his stellar contributions to Golden State’s 118-114 victory over the Trail Blazers.
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“Dario picked up his third foul, so that prompted Trayce’s entrance into the game,” Kerr told reporters in Portland.
“But before every game, we say let’s see if we can get Trayce out there. He’s impressive. You see how athletic he is.”
It’s entirely conceivable that had Šarić avoided early foul trouble, Jackson-Davis would have posted another DNP-Coach’s Decision in the game book. Which would have deprived the Warriors of his production: 14 points, on 6-of-9 shooting from the field, eight rebounds, three assists, two steals, one block and several instances in which he affected drives to the rim.
Golden State Warriors
“Trayce came out here today and hit the offensive boards, had energy on the defensive side, going after the ball, trying to block every shot he could,” Andrew Wiggins said. “It changed the game for us.”
Jackson-Davis was plus-8 over his 18 minutes, while Looney and Šarić each submitted 15 minutes and both finished at minus-2. In their combined 30 minutes, the vets had five rebounds, three assists and one block.
Blazers 7-foot center Deandre Ayton, seeing plenty of the athletic Jackson-Davis, finished with only eight points and eight rebounds in 33 minutes.
This was Jackson-Davis when given a chance and seizing the moment. The rookie was so active and effective that Kerr, whose tendency is to lean on the vets, could not take him off the floor.
“He did amazing,” Klay Thompson, who finished with a team-high 28 points, said of Jackson-Davis. “Deandre Ayton is a tough matchup. He’s big as well. Trayce played so good tonight, finishing the rim, almost had a double-double, making plays off the pick-and-roll. Playing like a seasoned vet. And he’s a rookie, which is great for the Dubs.
“He’s looking like the steal of the draft.”
The Warriors selected Jackson-Davis in the second round of the 2023 NBA Draft, No. 57 overall, last June. They were surprised to see him drop so far after an impressive four-year career at Indiana University. Somehow, they managed to snag someone with NBA bloodlines – his father is former power forward Dale Davis – as well as an athletic big man who stands 6-foot-9 and has a 7-foot-1 wingspan.
But minutes have been scant for the rookie. He entered Sunday’s game having played 115 minutes, fewest of anyone who has spent most of the season with Golden State. By comparison, Looney had played 559 minutes and Šarić 533.
Jackson-Davis showed no sign of rust that could have accumulated from nearly two months of relative disuse.
“Just always being ready when your name is called,” Jackson-Davis said. “I saw Dario got three fouls. Coach looked at me and called my name. And then just getting the most out of the opportunity. Just playing hard, trying to help do whatever it takes for my team to win.”
Jackson-Davis is the Warriors' only truly athletic big man. Their only legitimate rim protector. Their best lob threat not named Jonathan Kuminga or Gary Payton II. Jackson-Davis is the full set of skills, which is why Kerr and his staff have those pregame discussions.
They know he deserves minutes.
Kerr appreciates everyone on the roster, but Looney might be his favorite. Such smarts and such defense. But Loon has not solved the art of finishing at the rim, which results of missed layups.
Šarić also has a high basketball IQ. He’s a sharp passer, a terrific spacer, a genuine threat from beyond the arc. But his defensive limitations result in opponents frequently taking the express route to the rim.
Kerr is uneasy about a three-man center rotation. But he has done it before: JaVale McGee, Zaza Pachulia and David West. There was room for all three because each had a different set of skills. The same can be said of Golden State’s current big men. It’s time Jackson-Davis receives regular consideration for playing time against most, if not all, opponents.
The Warriors, for crying out loud, could benefit from an injection of youth, energy and athleticism. Jackson-Davis brings all three aspects.