Jones rises to oc­ca­sion for Golden State in loss

San Francisco Chronicle Late Edition - - SPORTING GREEN - By Con­nor Le­tourneau

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.­riors-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: cle­tourneau@sfchron­i­ Twit­ter: @Con_Chron

San­ti­ago Mejia / The Chron­i­cle

New War­riors start­ing cen­ter Damian Jones throws down a dunk against the Lak­ers on Fri­day.

San­ti­ago Mejia / The Chron­i­cle

War­riors for­ward Dray­mond Green played for the first time in two weeks against the Lak­ers.

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