Golden State’s greatest advantage heading into next season is that the roster is absolutely stacked at least 10 players deep. The entire rotation is ironclad months before the season kicks off on Oct. 17, with head coach Steve Kerr able to mix and match any number of second-unit players in with the core four All-Stars.
But the Dubs’ incredible depth doesn’t mean there wasn’t anything of import to glean from giving their rookies and would-be deep bench pieces a few runs during the Las Vegas Summer League, which wrapped up a July 17 at UNLV’s Thomas & Mack Center.
For the purposes of this analysis, we’ll look exclusively at the four players from this summer’s squad who are expected to actually play for the Dubs next season and how they figure to make their marks for the defending NBA champions.
Looney, a 6’9” power forward who is entering his third season in the NBA out of UCLA, was the Warriors’ elder statesman in Las Vegas and certainly looked like it—just not in a good way.
Since entering the league after his freshman year of college, Looney’s biggest bugaboo has been his stamina, which is a lingering and direct result from having to sit out nearly his entire rookie season after surgeries to repair injuries in both hips.
Missing out on months of playing competitive ball hurt his development, and there were times last season, even when healthy, that he seemed to have lost a step. The Warriors still think he can be a valuable two-way threat, should the stamina ever fully come back, but that possibility feels more fleeting with each passing month that it doesn’t.
Looney averaged just 6.8 points and 6.4 rebounds across 18.5 minutes per game in Las Vegas. Perhaps most underwhelming was that he didn’t even average one block per game, falling well behind more agile players like Jordan Bell (2.6 blocks per game) and Damian Jones (1.8) in that category.
The questions remain ever vexing for young Looney, and it’s hard to see him (especially such a forgettable summer league showing) becoming more than the 14th or 15th man on this Warriors roster.
The undisputed leader of this Dubs Summer League squad, McCaw was outright magnificent at times. He averaged 20 points across five games, swished 12 of 34 threes (35.3 percent) and exhibited not just a sweet stroke but a confidence and leadership that (naturally) wasn’t fully on display during his rookie season in the league, even as fans saw flashes of his true talent here and there.
If the Warriors hadn’t brought back Andre Iguodala and/or Shaun Livingston, McCaw’s development would’ve been accelerated during the 2017-18 season. But with those two veterans back in Oakland, the Warriors can continue to take their time with McCaw, who has the length and instincts to be a stingy defender, strong outside shooter and smart passer.
The most pressing issue is that McCaw is a free agent after this upcoming season, and depending on his growth this year, he could be a hot commodity for anyone seeking out a reasonably priced wing who is still on the steep, upward slope of his career.
The early word on Bell, whom the Warriors acquired by sending $3.5 million to Chicago for their 38th pick in the draft, is that the 6’9”, 224-pound Oregon product is something in the mold of a Draymond Green clone.
In his third Summer League game, Bell posted a legit 5x5 in just 32 minutes of action: five points, 11 rebounds, five assists, five steals, six blocks.
With all of the usual summer league caveats applied, it’s those six blocks that truly stand out for Bell, who appears to have a preternaturally developed instinct with regards to rim protection and where scorers are in space down in the paint. He led the summer league Warriors in average rebounds (9.0) and steals (2.0) as well as blocks (2.6).
Bell is also—judging from his recent appearance on the Full 48 Podcast with B/R’s Howard Beck and Jordan Brenner—a sharp, smart player who knows what he knows, knows what he doesn’t know and how to keep improving, even as an incoming NBA rookie. (The part where Bell explains the role the video game Guitar Hero played in his shot-blocking prowess was especially insightful.)
Even in this brief summer league showing, Bell gave all indications he is ready to contribute right out of the gate as a second-unit defender who can be molded by this team’s veteran core.
Imagine how much better Bell will be after a year of tutelage from Green, Iguodala and David West. When people talk about the Warriors being a force for years to come, this is how that happens.
Jones’ lack of playing time with the Warriors in 2016-17 was mostly a byproduct of Golden State’s deep bench. Especially once JaVale McGee established himself as a venerable big (and lob specialist) off the bench, there was often little room to play Jones, their 2016 first-round pick out of Vanderbilt.
But the Warriors remain high on Jones, and he figures to play an increased role next season, now that it appears all but certain McGee will sign elsewhere (although it’s not impossible that he returns on a minimum salary). In Las Vegas, Jones looked nimble, assertive and healthy, all attributes he’ll need to bring into training camp to make a good showing.
With 8.2 points, 5.0 rebounds and 1.8 blocks per game in the Summer League, Jones showed off a range of skills that still has the Warriors thinking he can develop into a valuable bench big as soon as this upcoming season.
His efficiency from the floor (42.9 percent) still needs a lot of work and he doesn’t impose his offensive will on defenders in ways you might expect from someone checking in at 7’0” and 245 pounds, but another season of development with the Warriors coaching staff—especially the defensively minded Ron Adams—could push Jones into making a significant leap in this coming season.
But the Warriors don’t need startling jumps from Jones or Bell or even McCaw yet. If they get even one, it’ll be yet another example of Golden State reloading for the future—the NBA’s richest getting just a wee bit richer.
Erik Malinowski covers the Warriors for B/R. His book, Betaball: How Silicon Valley and Science Built One of the Greatest Basketball Teams in History, will be published in October. Follow him on Twitter: @erikmal.