San Francisco Chronicle - (Sunday)

Warriors’ biggest questions in stretch

- By Connor Letourneau Connor Letourneau covers the Warriors for The San Francisco Chronicle. Email: cletournea­u@ sfchronicl­

The Warriors’ recent 62 stretch doesn’t change an important reality: This team’s top priority is positionin­g itself well for a return to title contention in 202122, not necessaril­y making the playoffs this season.

Golden State still views the stretch run of the regular season as critical, however, for a number of reasons — postseason positionin­g included. Here are five questions facing the Warriors over the next three weeks:

Will young players get highstakes experience in the playoffs?

With 12 regularsea­son games left, the Warriors are ninth in the Western Conference at 3030. That puts them four games ahead of 11thplace New Orleans, which is important considerin­g that the seventh, eighth, ninth and 10thplace teams will participat­e in a playin tournament for the postseason’s seventh and eighth seeds.

Additional­ly, the Warriors are three games behind sixthplace Dallas for the chance to avoid the playin. Coach Steve Kerr has conceded that Golden State won’t compete for a championsh­ip. But if it can get into the playoffs, it would offer youngsters such as Jordan Poole and Eric Paschall experience in highpressu­re spots.

Will Kelly Oubre Jr. warm up to the idea of coming off the bench?

Oubre made headlines last month when he told reporters, “I’m growing. I’m honing in on my skills in this league, and I can offer a lot more than coming off the bench.” The comment left many to assume that Oubre, an unrestrict­ed free agent this summer, wouldn’t be willing to play a sixthman role once Warriors shooting guard Klay Thompson returns from an Achilles injury next season.

Now Oubre is thriving off the bench. In three games since he returned from a wrist injury, he

has anchored the second unit, averaging 18.7 points on 48.7% shooting (41.7% from 3point range), 5.7 rebounds, 1.3 assists and 1.3 blocks.

The question now is whether this experience has made him more willing to come off the bench beyond this season. If it has, Oubre could resign with the Warriors and be one of the league’s better sixth men.

Can Paschall find a role?

Paschall is expected to return soon from a hip injury that has sidelined him for three weeks. When he gets back, the Warriors hope he can carve out a role in the rotation.

Since being named to the NBA’s AllRookie first team in September, Paschall has been at his best as a smallball center, an ultraspeci­fic job that can only be utilized in certain lineups. The Warriors need him to be more reliable at small forward and power forward. To do that, Paschall must improve his helpside defense and learn to score in the flow of the offense.

Far too often he’s only effective scoring in isolation situations. The good news for Paschall is that he proved at Villanova that he can adapt to different systems and roles. If he can find a way to be consistent­ly

effective for the Warriors, he’d significan­tly buoy a bench that needs a lot of work to complement a loaded starting lineup. Will the Warriors put Juan ToscanoAnd­erson on a guaranteed contract?

It has become clear that ToscanoAnd­erson is more than just a feelgood story. His passing, energy, defensive versatilit­y and shooting efficiency could earn him a spot in the rotation beyond this season.

Given that ToscanoAnd­erson has little more to prove, Golden State would be wise to lock him down longterm now. Though the league lifted the 50game and postseason restrictio­ns on twowaycont­ract players, ToscanoAnd­erson has shown enough to warrant some decent offers in restricted free agency this summer.

To avoid having to match an offer sheet, the Warriors should convert his twoway deal to a multiyear minimum contract. This would free up a twoway deal, which Golden State could use to take a look at a G League or overseas player. How will the Timberwolv­es finish?

Golden State acquired the Timberwolv­es’ topthreepr­otected 2021 firstround pick in

the D’Angelo Russell trade, and it wants Minnesota to finish with the league’s worst record.

If that happens, the Warriors will have a 59.9% chance of selecting fourth or fifth in July’s NBA draft. The Timberwolv­es (1644) entered Saturday with the league’s secondwors­t record — just one game ahead of the Rockets (1545). If Minnesota finishes with the fourthwors­t record, Golden State’s odds of getting the pick only improve to 63.4% — but the pick could be worse.

Houston has the NBA’s secondeasi­est schedule the rest of the season, and Minnesota’s is the 13theasies­t among 30 teams. But the Timberwolv­es have won eight of their past 23 games. Houston has won four of its past 39 games.

The Timberwolv­es’ pick would become unprotecte­d in 2022 if it doesn’t convey to the Warriors this year. Regardless of whether Golden State must wait to get the selection, it knows the pick could be a key piece to include in a potential trade package for an AllStarcal­iber player.

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