With the NBA Finals firmly entrenched on their annual travel plans, the Golden State Warriors can't provide youngsters with the easiest paths to playing time.
But the right prospect can carve his niche regardless. Just ask Patrick McCaw, the sinewy second-rounder who made 71 regular-season appearances and played in all five games of the championship round as a rookie.
The 21-year-old swingman should have a similar role awaiting him in 2017-18, meaning Dub Nation mostly knows what to expect from the three-and-D sophomore. But there are three youthful prospects along the frontcourt—Kevon Looney, Damian Jones and rookie Jordan Bell.
Looney landed as the 30th pick in 2015, and Jones arrived at the same spot a year later. Bell, the 38th selection last month, was taken by the Chicago Bulls, then shipped out to Oakland for $3.5 million.
"We're thrilled," Warriors general manager Bob Myers told reporters after the draft. "... He's one of the few guys that we looked at and really wanted to see if we could get. I actually was not optimistic we would be able to get him, but somehow it came to fruition."
The three shared the floor at the Las Vegas Summer League, where McCaw monopolized the headlines with his 20 points per game. But each blossoming big found a strong spot during his Sin City audition—Looney on the glass, Jones on the defensive interior and Bell above the rim.
Upon first glance, the Dubs have a single frontcourt position open in their rotation. And that's assuming JaVale McGee doesn't a return, an assumption head coach Steve Kerr isn't ready to make, per Monte Poole of NBCSportsBayArea.com.
McGee averaged just 9.6 minutes a game last season. Save for mop-up duty, that could be the extent of what's available. Remember, the Warriors have already blocked out minutes at the 4 and 5 spots for Kevin Durant, Draymond Green, Omri Casspi, Zaza Pachulia and David West, so it's not as if bigs are a pressing need.
That said, Golden State squeezed a ton of mileage out of McGee as a vertical spacer (a fancy term for lob threat). It isn't hard to imagine Jones providing a similar spark since he's also a lanky 7-footer with hops and mobility. And it's possible he brings more to the table, as he showed smatterings of jump shooting and passing in Vegas.
"I'm looking for him to defend, rebound the ball, make good decisions offensively—moving the ball, cutting off the ball, those kinds of things," Warriors assistant coach Ron Adams said, per Bay Area News Group's Anthony Slater. "The kind of things that will get him minutes next season."
Bell, the reigning Pac-12 Defensive Player of the Year, fits the mold of a modern big. He has the lateral quickness to guard the perimeter and the springs to protect the basket (3.6 blocks per 40 minutes at Oregon).
The Warriors have struck gold with this type of scouting report before.
"The early word on Bell...is that the 6'9", 224-pound Oregon product is something in the mold of a Draymond Green clone," Bleacher Report's Erik Malinowski wrote. "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."
No one should expect Draymond 2.0, but the hyper-athletic Bell looks like another versatile, instinctive and energetic puzzle piece.
Looney is the furthest removed from consistent floor time, as injuries and roster crowding have limited him to only 58 games over two NBA seasons.
But during his lone year at UCLA, he flashed an intriguing blend of face-up and glass-eating abilities. He has mainly been a rebounding specialist with the Warriors, but he entered the league as an optimistic source of floor spacing and defensive switching.
Among this trio, Bell proved the most consistent at summer league. That's a scary thought given he's both a rookie and someone who doesn't count consistency among his greatest strengths.
Looney has had the most time to distinguish himself at this level, and that still hasn't happened. While it's safe to call him a good rebounder (career 10.3 per 36 minutes), it's a stretch to label any other part of his game as such. He has yet to recover the stamina lost to two hip surgeries in his rookie season, and it's fair to question if he ever will.
"Looney has shown scarce growth and though finally healthy still moves like ketchup in a glass bottle," wrote Marcus Thompson II, then with the Bay Area News Group.
Jones had a tremendous opportunity to improve his standing in Las Vegas.
Offseason pectoral surgery and a deep rotation ahead of him (85 total minutes in the regular season) all but washed out his rookie year. But he impressed late in the year at the now-NBA G League—Player of the Month for March-April—potentially positioning himself for a regular role with the varsity club.
Then he shot 42.9 percent, averaged nearly as many fouls (4.2) as rebounds (5.0) and more turnovers (2.3) than blocks (1.8) at summer league. That didn't take him out of the running for consistent playing time, but it underscored the fact he's a work in progress.
His offense is as raw as sashimi, and his jumpy defense suffers from a lack of awareness.
Bell opened the most eyes this summer, which should have surprised no one given the way he maximizes his explosive athleticism.
But there are question marks around his game.
He's not the longest (6'11 ¾" wingspan) or the strongest, two of the primary traits that make Green such an effective small-ball center. And while Bell looks comfortable as a complementary passer, he is woefully underdeveloped as a jump-shooter (10-of-31 last season, per DraftExpress' Julian Applebome).
"His ability to develop at least a decent mid-range over the next few years is likely the difference between him being a higher-ceiling James Michael McAdoo and a big-time NBA contributor," Slater observed.
Assuming the third center spot remains open, expect Jones and Bell to fill it together. The Warriors won't force them into action, but they should feel comfortable calling upon either one.
Jones seems likely to start this race with a half-step advantage. He has already been seasoned in this system, and as the closest McGee clone, he could provide a semblance of continuity.
But Bell looks too talented to ride the bench, and he could force a timeshare approach sooner rather than later. Matchups would then dictate who gets the call any given night, with Jones supplying size and Bell extending the Warriors' small-ball reach.
Barring injuries ahead of them, that means their playing time will be sporadic. And touches could be even harder to find, though both will be primary alley-oop targets to help collapse defenses.
Their biggest statistical imprints will be left in the blocks and boards categories. Don't be surprised if both make a run at McGee's gaudy per-36-minute numbers there (11.9 rebounds and 3.3 blocks), although if you had to bet on one player to reach them, Bell looks like the favorite. Jones might be bigger and stronger, but Bell's defensive skills are more advanced.
As for Looney, this looks like another year as an end-of-bench custodian. There are too many physical limitations to plan on him being anything more, especially when his skills are far from overwhelming.
Complete Stat Predictions
Jordan Bell: 9.8 minutes, 3.3 points, 2.9 rebounds, 0.9 blocks, 0.7 assists
Damian Jones: 10.1 minutes, 3.5 points, 2.8 rebounds, 0.5 blocks, 52.8 field-goal percentage
Kevon Looney: 7.7 minutes, 2.1 points, 2.4 rebounds, 0.3 blocks, 0.4 assists
Zach Buckley covers the NBA for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter: @ZachBuckleyNBA.