Jones rises to occasion for Golden State in loss
DeMarcus Cousins has taken to calling Damian Jones “Hundred Million.” Though Jones will only make $1.5 million this season, Cousins reckons that the third-year big man’s skill set suggests he’ll sign a $100 million contract Go online to buy The Chronicle’s exclusive, 96-page magazine on the Warriors’ storied history in Oakland. bit.ly/warriors-mag. Chronicle subscribers will receive the magazine Sunday as part of their subscription. someday.
“He’s super athletic, strong, can rebound the ball well and move,” forward Alfonzo McKinnie said after the Warriors’ 119-105 preseason loss Friday night to the LeBron James-less Lakers at the SAP Center in San Jose. “He’s kind
of the ideal big man.”
No player did a better job hushing his critics this preseason than the 7-foot, 245-pound Jones, who, more than two years removed from draft night is beginning to make full use of his physical tools. In his fifth straight start at center Friday, he had 16 points, six rebounds, two assists and a block in 23 minutes.
Content to run the floor and catch lobs, Jones showed he is ready to fill the role Ja-Vale McGee — now with the Lakers — occupied the previous two seasons. A minute after Jones sent Golden State’s bench into a frenzy with a Sports-Center-worthy alley-oop dunk off a lob from Stephen Curry, Jones threw down another from a Curry lob.
“I’m just gaining more confidence each and every game,” said Jones, who was largely relegated to the G League for his first two professional seasons. “Each game, I feel like I’ve grown a lot. I’m in a good position.”
Added head coach Steve Kerr: “I think Damian’s been probably one of the best stories of camp for us. When we were giving him minutes, we weren’t sure what we would see. He’s been really good.”
Jones’ latest dunk-athon ensured that he’ll start Tuesday night’s season opener against Oklahoma City, and the Warriors’ youth movement hardly stops with the 23-year-old out of Vanderbilt. With forward Kevin Durant resting, Golden State didn’t fret much about rotations Friday, instead giving unproven players extended runs.
McKinnie, fresh off agreeing to a two-year contract, corralled seven rebounds. Late in the second quarter, rookie Jacob Evans drove fullcourt for a lay-in. Quinn Cook, who has solidified a spot in the rotation, chipped in 16 points off the bench.
It all underscored the fact that, even after losing several elder statesmen in the offseason, Golden State’s bench might have upgraded. As he tries to guide the Warriors to a fifth consecutive NBA Finals appearance, Kerr can rest a core player or two without fear that he is guaranteeing a loss.
Eager to bring along the team’s young players, Kerr introduced a wrinkle to training camp this season. Each morning, about an hour before the start of Golden State practice, relative NBA novices like Jones, Evans and Jordan Bell arrived at the facility to work with assistant coach Chris DeMarco.
During those sessions, DeMarco reviewed the reads and off-ball principles that are fundamental to the Warriors’ system. The extra work brought those greener players up to speed so Kerr didn’t need to spend time during practice reviewing basics.
Though Golden State finished the preseason 1-4, the warriors should feel at ease about where it is entering Tuesday’s opener against Oklahoma City.
Two weeks removed from his 30th birthday, Durant is showing no signs of age. Guard Klay Thompson (21 points in 18 minutes) appears to be at his catch-and-shoot best.
Curry, who had 16 first-quarter points before sitting the rest of the game with a minor illness, is back to his deep jumpers and dizzying dribbling displays. Cousins is on track to return midway through the season after suffering a torn left Achilles tendon in January while with the Pelicans.
Perhaps the only cause for even mild concern is the health of forward Draymond Green. Though the MRI exam on his sore left knee came back clean, he struggled in his first game in two weeks, tallying one point, three turnovers and four fouls in 21 minutes.
“I think we’re coming along like we hoped,” McKinnie said. “Our (preseason) record might not be the greatest, but that’s not really our concern. We were focused on getting better at certain things, and we did that.”
Late Friday night, a dozen or so reporters awaited the man of the night. As Jones made his way to the scrum, a fan in his 20s bestowed a new nickname on Golden State’s new starting center: “Damian, you’re The Truth!”
Connor Letourneau is a San Francisco Chronicle staff writer. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org Twitter: @Con_Chron
New Warriors starting center Damian Jones throws down a dunk against the Lakers on Friday.
Warriors forward Draymond Green played for the first time in two weeks against the Lakers.