Warriors shake up starting unit, bench Wiseman

    Nick Friedell is the Chicago Bulls beat reporter for ESPN Chicago. Friedell is a graduate of the S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications at Syracuse University and joined ESPNChicago.com for its launch in April 2009.

Golden State Warriors coach Steve Kerr has decided to insert veteran Kevon Looney into the team’s starting lineup in place of rookie center James Wiseman.

Kerr made the announcement prior to Monday’s game against the Minnesota Timberwolves, saying he hopes the move will improve the unit’s defense.

“Basically, you guys have heard me all year trying to establish ourselves as a defensive team and the last two games have been really disappointing defensively, particularly right out of the gate, first quarter,” Kerr said during a pregame video conference with reporters. “We gave up 41 to the Knicks I think and 38 to Utah. So I’m going to go with my veteran center, my veteran group together. That group happens to be our best defensive five on the season, that combination. So the hope is we can get off to a better start.”

Kerr hinted at lineup changes after Saturday’s blowout loss to the Jazz, saying at the time that “we have to assess everything as a staff.” Veteran swingman Kelly Oubre Jr. has continued to struggle throughout the season, shooting just 20.2% from beyond the arc, but Kerr decided to take out Wiseman, who at 19 years old has also struggled to play with consistency on both ends of the floor.

The Warriors’ starting five — which consisted of Stephen Curry, Andrew Wiggins, Oubre, Draymond Green and Wiseman — entered Monday with the worst net rating in the league (-20.3) among lineups that have logged at least 100 minutes this season, according to NBA Advanced Stats.

While the unit has struggled on both sides of the ball, 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 he has dealt with a variety of health issues for over a year and the Warriors have been cautious about his workload. Kerr said that 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, whom the Warriors selected with the No. 2 overall pick in the 2020 NBA draft, is averaging 11.8 points and 6.1 rebounds in 21.4 minutes a game this season.

Looney is averaging 3.8 points and 3.7 rebounds in 14.1 minutes a game this season.

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