SAN FRANCISCO – Tall relative to the average man but typical by NBA standards, the Warriors are a few days from entering the playoffs with four “big men” who lack the physical profile required for oohs and ahhs when stepping off the team bus.
The tallest, Nemanja Bjelica at 6-foot-10, looks as if he wants to shrink into his body. The youngest, 6-foot-9 Kevon Looney, has the deliberate gait of a retired NFL running back. The sturdiest, 6-foot-8 Otto Porter Jr., requires precautionary injury maintenance. The shortest, 6-foot-7 Draymond Green, is the firebrand.
This is the Golden State backline primarily responsible for opposing 7-footers to come.
If the Warriors face the Jazz, they get Rudy Gobert, who has the longest wingspan in the NBA.
If they oppose the Nuggets, they get Nikola Jokic, the reigning MVP and owner of the deepest set of skills ever associated with a center.
On the slim chance it’s the Timberwolves, they get Karl-Anthony Towns, the sweetest-shooting big man in the league.
It looks, um, demanding for the Warriors.
Health permitting, it might be more demanding for the Clydesdales on the other team.
Golden State Warriors
Most teams are bigger than the Warriors are upfront, but none offers more dimension. That versatility affords coach Steve Kerr a variety of options, based on need.
Bjelica and Porter are threats to fire from beyond the arc, where few 7-footers dare to roam. Beli and Green are particularly deft passers, forcing defenses to move. Green realizes his biggest advantage as a small center is to push the pace and dare the giants to keep up.
And if Draymond is making 3-pointers, that changes everything. When Green drained two in the first quarter Sunday at Sacramento, the entire offense gained energy. Moreover, the Kings’ defense had something else to think about.
“This is my time of year, where I hit shots,” Green said afterward, recalling his 6-of-8 shooting from deep in Game 7 of the 2016 NBA Finals. “So, I’m looking forward to those teams (that dare me to shoot). I love that. It’s about the time of year when I start shooting for it from 3.”
Said Kerr: “Even if he’s not making 3s, he’s still effective out there getting other people open. But when the play breaks down and the shot clock starts winding down, we want him taking that open shot in rhythm and if he can make a 3 or a couple 3s, it makes a big impact.”
The floor-spacing possibilities also could work in favor of the Warriors. With Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson, Andrew Wiggins and Jordan Poole are 3-point threats – Wiggins’ 39.3 percent is the highest among them – the floor becomes much larger anytime the accompanying big man also can create space.
It’s almost impossible to defend, and it’s practically built to punish defenses that want to double-team Curry.
“People are going to pay the most attention to Steph and Klay and Jordan and Wiggs,” Kerr said. “So, when you can put bigs out beyond the 3-point line and open up the floor, it’s a big factor for spacing, for execution.
“It’s one of the reasons we were so excited to sign Beli and Otto, because of their 3-point shooting, but also because of their skill as screen setters and passers.”
Much has been said about the Warriors’ lack of size, which they had hoped to address with the return of 7-foot-1 James Wiseman. Now that he has been ruled out until next season – he’s now limited to rehab sessions – they have to find a way to compensate.
The Warriors don’t yet know their postseason seeding, nor do they have an idea which team they will face. They know only that a 7-foot All-Star will be waiting.
And for that, they can counter with four veterans that bring an array of potential countermeasures.
“Once you get to the playoffs, all bets are off,” Kerr said. “Whatever matchup makes the most sense, you go with.”