SAN FRANCISCO — Golden State Warriors coach Steve Kerr inserted veteran Kevon Looney into the team’s starting lineup in place of rookie center James Wiseman for Monday night’s contest — a 130-108 win over the Minnesota Timberwolves.
Kerr said before the game he hoped the move would improve the unit’s struggling defense. But after it was over, Kerr said he wasn’t tied to the idea of keeping Wiseman, the No. 2 overall pick in the 2020 NBA draft, out of the starting lineup indefinitely.
“I would say that development doesn’t equal playing time or vice versa,” Kerr said, when asked how difficult it is to balance trying to win while developing a young player such as Wiseman. “Development is really something that is — it’s tougher to define. It’s really about understanding the game, learning the game. Sometimes you can learn observing from the bench a little bit. We’re figuring out creative ways to try to teach him in practice sessions between games. His development is happening all the time. He’s working every day with [assistant coaches] Theo Robertson, Chris DeMarco, watching tape, individual workouts, 3-on-3, so it’s really the whole process.”
Wiseman finished the game with 13 points in 16 minutes but played just five minutes in the first half. Despite scoring only two points, Looney ended a plus-21 in 19 minutes.
“From the beginning, we’re trying to win games too,” Kerr said. “And so I have to figure out what that means. All it meant tonight was let’s start Loon, let’s try to get off to a better start, flip their roles, and I think it worked out well. It doesn’t mean I’m going to do it the whole year. It just feels like what I should do right now.”
Wiseman said he understood why Kerr made the decision he did and tried to take the news in stride.
“Just because Loon has [more] experience than me,” Wiseman said after the game. “So I look at it as [a] learning experience, and it’s nothing bad at all; it’s just due to the fact they’re just trying to figure out the rotations and stuff. But everything is coming together. And I’m most definitely learning over there — more — so it’s most definitely helpful for my development as a basketball player. As a person, I’m not really worried about that, because once I get in the game, I can impact it, so I just [learn from] my minutes as much as possible.”
Notably, veteran forward Draymond Green said that while he is still staying on Wiseman to be aggressive on the floor whenever possible, he also is trying to choose his spots a little more carefully. Green has repeatedly praised Wiseman since the Warriors selected him, but Green has had some noticeable outbursts directed at Wiseman in recent weeks, including one in which he yelled at Wiseman during Thursday’s home loss to the New York Knicks. The officials mistakenly thought Green was yelling at them and assessed Green his second technical of the game, resulting in his ejection.
“At the end of the day, you don’t want to say something to him all the time,” Green said. “You want to kind of let a guy play and not [be] always in his head. But where I see fit, if there’s something that I can tell him to help him, I still did.”
Warriors star Stephen Curry, who reminded everyone last week he was benched earlier in his career for former Warriors guard Acie Law, said he believes Wiseman can still learn “a lot” from watching on the bench and remains confident that the young big man’s time will come.
“You got to have the right perspective about it,” Curry said. “You can’t let it kill your spirit, you can’t let doubt creep in about who you are as a player. This league is very difficult to establish yourself and to understand who you are as a player and how you’re going to make a difference, not just individually but towards winning basketball and like the little things that matter. So it’s all about how you approach it, and it’s why I try to compliment him after the game.
“I think Coach said earlier: It’s not a demotion; it’s a necessary change. … He knows he’s going to play, so when he gets out there, be productive, focus on certain little things that can help him take the next step. And eventually, the body of work will come, so not get discouraged by it because it’s necessary right now.”
Kerr hinted at lineup changes after the Warriors’ blowout loss at the Utah Jazz on Saturday, saying at the time, “We have to assess everything as a staff.” Veteran swingman Kelly Oubre Jr. has struggled throughout the season, shooting just 20.2% from beyond the arc. But Kerr decided to take out Wiseman, the 19-year-old who also has struggled with consistency on both ends of the floor.
The Warriors’ regular starting five — which consisted of Curry, Andrew Wiggins, Oubre, Green and Wiseman — entered Monday with the worst net rating in the league (minus-20.3) among lineups that have logged at least 100 minutes this season, according to NBA Advanced Stats.
Though the unit has struggled on both sides of the court, Kerr reiterated that his focus is on the defensive end.
“[We] continue to try to pound home the identity to this group that we have to be a defensive-minded team if we’re going to be any good,” Kerr said. “So, I’m mindful of all the talk and lots of suggestions and everybody wants to weigh in. ‘Do we need this? Do we need that? Do we need to put more shooting around people?’
“I’m well aware of all that chatter, but I will continue to return to the theme that I’ve tried to hammer home from day one: We’ve got to be good defensively. And we’ve not been good the last couple games. So this is a subtle change. We’ll see if it makes a difference.”
Looney, 24, has long been a Kerr favorite for his steady play, but Looney has dealt with a variety of health issues for over a year, and the Warriors have been cautious about his workload. Kerr said Wiseman will now take Looney’s spot in the rotation with the second unit, coming in around the middle of the first quarter.
Kerr said Wiseman handled the benching “perfectly” when he told the rookie about the move earlier Monday.
“He understands this is not a demotion by any means. It’s simply a part of his development,” Kerr said. “And as I’ve said to you guys many times, we’ve got a lot of moving parts. We’re trying to develop young players and be a playoff team, be a contender, and we’re trying to do all that at once.
“And so part of that process is going to include occasional changes to lineups, combinations, whatever that means; and I’m very confident that this ultimately will be a good part of James’ development. He’s still going to play, but it gives him a slightly different role and a different way to look at the game, and it all goes forward.”
Wiseman is averaging 11.8 points and 6.1 rebounds in 21.4 minutes per game this season.
Looney is averaging 3.8 points and 3.7 rebounds in 14.1 minutes.