26 May 19
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OAKLAND – Unlike what he experienced for most of his first two NBA seasons, Jordan Bell currently does not have to wonder about his role.
The Warriors might still have uncertainty on whether Kevin Durant (right calf) or DeMarcus Cousins (left quadricep muscle) will play against the Toronto Raptors in Game 1 of the NBA Finals on Thursday. The Warriors do not have uncertainty, though, on whether the 24-year-old Bell will spend most of his time on the floor or on the bench.
“He’s going to play,” Warriors coach Steve Kerr said. “We’ll see how it all shakes out. It depends on match-ups, health and the rest. But even if everybody is healthy, Jordan will find his way on to the court. He’s earned that.”
Kerr did not always feel that way about Bell after the Warriors paid the Chicago Bulls about $3.5 million for the rights to select him at No. 38 in the 2017 NBA Draft.
Bell spent his rookie season juggling initial excitement over his dunking and athleticism, while improving his fundamentals and preparation. Both parties expected Bell to improve during his second season. He struggled to receive a definitive role amid a bloated frontcourt, mixed results with his emerging jump shot and frustration with his on-court consistency. The Warriors also suspended Bell for one-game after charging a purchased candle to the hotel bill of assistant coach Mike Brown nearly two months ago in Memphis.
“It’s been tough this year. I was taking basketball too seriously. For me, it was life or death,” Bell said. “If it wasn’t going good, nothing else in my life was going good. If it was going great, everything else in my life was going great. I just have to find that balance of understanding what basketball is, controlling the ball and not letting the ball control me.”
Bell said it only took two days for all parties “to move on” from his hotel bill incident. It took much longer for Bell to overcome his season-long frustration, though. Bell normally loves the Christmas holiday for all the obvious reasons, but he described it as “being sucky this year” because of his evolving role as a backup forward. With Draymond Green, DeMarcus Cousins, Kevon Looney, Jonas Jerebko and Andrew Bogut competing for front-court minutes, Bell statistically regressed from his rookie season to his second year in points (4.6, 3.3), shooting percentage (62.7 percent, 51.6 percent) and playing time (14.2 minutes, 11.6). And Bell admittedly harbored concerns on what that would mean when he becomes a restricted free agent in July.
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“I found other things to keep my mind off it. I can’t think if I’m not playing, I’m going to be mad all day,” Bell said. “Things are now going well with basketball, obviously. So if things are going well, they’re going well. If not, you have to find something else to give you peace of mind.”
Bell said he began changing his mindset about 1 ½ months ago. Even if practice time did not guarantee minutes, Bell treated those sessions as his escape from frustrations with his evolving role. He often took walks to nearby parks either by himself or with his dogs. And when Bell played unexpectedly, the Warriors became encouraged that he tried hard with hustle instead of trying hard with showcasing his game.
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After fielding a combined five healthy scratches in the Warriors’ playoff series against the Los Angeles Clippers and Houston Rockets, Bell became one of several bench players to help in the team’s decisive Game 6 against the Rockets to compensate for Durant’s absence. Then, Bell had four points, two rebounds and two blocks in 11 minutes. He followed that up by averaging six points and 2.25 rebounds in 13.5 minutes per game in the Warriors’ sweep over the Portland Trail Blazers in the Western Conference Finals.
“He’s playing at a really high level now, giving us exactly what we need,” said Kerr, citing Bell’s speed, energy, athleticism, decision making and passing. “He’s been fantastic. I’m really happy for him because it was a tough regular season for him. But he’s finishing the season well, and I think this bodes well for his future.”
Even when Bell’s future appeared uncertain, he sensed some of this coming.
Although he described his rookie season as “a little different,” Bell’s playoff role had also gradually increased.
Kerr liked Bell’s hustle when he appeared in the final 35.6 seconds of the first half of an eventual Game 3 loss to New Orleans in the Western Conference semifinals. So after averaging 6.0 minutes during that series, Kerr elevated Bell’s role in the Western Conference Finals against Houston (14.2 minutes) and the NBA Finals against Cleveland (13.5 minutes) because of how matched up with both teams’ small-ball oriented lineups. It appears Bell has that same trajectory in this current postseason.
“I knew what was going to happen,” Bell said. “I’m not saying I knew the KD injury was going to happen. But for me, I knew a circumstance would happen where I knew my name would be called. I didn’t want it to come that way. But things have a way of working themselves out.”
And now that it has, both parties seem intrigued and exciting about the partnership.
“He’s played his way into that, and he’s helped us win games,” Kerr said of Bell. “So I’m really confident putting him out there.”
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