STILL LEARNING: Jordan Bell hopes for long NBA career
OAKLAND — Jordan Bell stood outside the Golden State locker room at Oracle Arena, 45 minutes after the Warriors' 114-111 victory over the Trail Blazers on Thursday night had given them a 2-0 lead in the NBA Western Conference finals.
It had been a momentous game for the second-year center/forward from Oregon, who scored a career playoff-high 11 points on 4-for-7 shooting to go with three rebounds, two steals and a block in 14 minutes off the bench.
Piggybacked by important contributions off the bench in the previous two games — in the series-clinching Game 6 win over Houston, then in the opener of the series against Portland — Bell's fortunes seem on the rise.
"This is a good series for him," Golden State coach Steve Kerr said afterward. "It's a good matchup. The way we're playing suits him. We need a lot of speed out there.
"The last three games, Jordan has settled down and has been very comfortable, very relaxed. He's not in a rush. He's playing good basketball, so he will continue to get minutes."
That's music to the ears of Bell, 24, whose playing time had been sporadic through the regular season, and very limited in the playoffs until the last game against the Rockets.
"I'm finally playing, getting to touch the floor, and not just garbage minutes," he said, leaning against the wall as several teammates walked by and greeted him with a smile and a fist bump. "You have more rhythm. You're fresher. You're not sitting on the bench the whole game and coming in cold and not stretched out.
"I can't put into words how happy I am that (Kerr) finally went back to me in the rotation, especially during this time. At every level, I've always played my best in the postseason. He knows that. Last year, it was the same thing. Hopefully, things continue and I keep following the game plan and doing things to help me stay on the floor."
The fun part of it for Bell was the situation he walked into after he left Oregon following his junior year in 2016-17.
Rookie season, bingo! NBA championship.
And now Bell and his teammates are deep into the hunt for a second title, with the Blazers standing between them and a three-peat and their fourth title in five years.
Does Bell wear the championship ring he was presented with in October at Oracle?
"I actually don't," he said during an interview Wednesday at Golden State's training facility. "I don't want to say where I keep it — somebody might come and try to take it — but it's in a place where anybody can see it if they went to the place where it's at."
What does the ring mean to Bell?
"Honestly, it doesn't mean that much," he says. "It's the experience more than the trophy. I can't remember the last time I looked at it.
"It's like being married. The marriage is important, not the ring. Being able to be around this team is more important than anything."
Bell hasn't played as much he had hoped this season. The 6-9, 225-pound front-line reserve averaged 3.3 points, 2.7 rebounds and 11.6 minutes in the regular season, then played sparingly through Golden State's first 11 playoff games. But after Kevin Durant suffered a calf injury in Game 5 of the Houston series, Bell was called on for bench duty. He contributed four points, two rebounds and two blocks in 11 minutes as the Warriors wrapped up the series. Then in the opener of the West finals, he came on for three points, four rebounds and three assists in 11 minutes in a 116-94 romp past the Blazers.
That caught the attention of the player to whom Bell is sometimes compared, and a mentor — Draymond Green.
"He's a true professional," Green said of Bell. "He's a young guy, and you usually don't expect that from a young guy. They tend to say, 'Oh, man, I'm not playing,' and they sulk and they complain. I have not seen him sulk one time, and I have not seen him complaining one time.
"He has stayed upbeat, and he has stayed in the gym working on his game. He has gotten his opportunity the last two games to show what he's capable of doing. He has given us some big minutes. Great to have him playing that way."
"I love that," Bell says when told of his teammate's comments. "It shows he appreciates the hard work I put in. People are always watching you. You always have to be professional, even if things aren't going my way.
"I have to think about the bigger picture. My thing is, 'How long are you going to be in the league?' Do you want to be two years and be done, or do you want to have a 10-, 12-year career? Rome wasn't built in a day. It takes time to crack the NBA and solidify myself. I won a championship in my first year, but I still have a lot to learn."
Bell had a lot to learn when he stepped onto campus in Eugene in 2014, a year after he graduated from Long Beach (California) Poly. He didn't shoot or score a lot as a freshman for Ducks coach Dana Altman, averaging only 5.1 points as a part-time starter. But he played enough minutes to set a school record with 94 blocked shots.
"They didn't recruit me at Oregon because I had the prettiest jump shot," says the center/forward. "It was the way I played, how hard I played, blocking shots and being physical. But it was basketball. It's a pretty simple game."
As a junior two years later, Bell had begun to blossom, averaging 10.9 points, 8.8 rebounds and 2.3 blocks while shooting .636 from the field and earning Pac-12 Defensive Player of the Year honors. The Ducks tied for the conference championship, went 31-7 and reached the Final Four, losing 77-76 to North Carolina in the semifinals.
"It was such a fun season," Bell says. "Everybody on that team knew our big goal. We all sacrificed something. We didn't have anybody on the team among the top 15 scorers in the league. We always knew in any given game, someone was going to explode, go crazy. When it happened, we all rooted for the other person. It was a great year."
Bell and teammates Dillon Brooks, Tyler Dorsey and Chris Boucher have all gone on to play some NBA ball.
"We had a lot of talent," Bell says. "We all knew we were probably going to the NBA after that year. But it wasn't just us. It was guys like Casey Benson and Payton Pritchard and Kavell Bigby-Williams — those guys played an important role in our season as well.
"We all still talk. We have the same group chat. Whenever somebody does something, whether it's funny or successful or stupid, we bring it up in a group chat and talk about each other, crack jokes. We're all very close."
After joining Golden State as a second-round draft pick, Bell shot a team-best .627 from the field and averaged 4.6 points and 3.6 rebounds as a rookie with a team that beat Cleveland for the NBA title last season.
"It was a learning experience," he says "First year in the NBA, to win a championship, to play with All-Stars, future Hall-of-Famers — I enjoyed it and learned a lot. And I've learned even more this year."
But he hasn't played as much. With the addition of DeMarcus Cousins and the emergence of Kevon Looney, the Warriors' front line is deeper than a year ago.
"Coach Kerr has always been very positive with me," Bell says. "It's not because I'm playing bad; it's because of the way the team has been going this year. We got 'Boogie' Cousins. Kevon is playing great. We're playing Draymond more at the 5.
"I just have to take it. It's my second year in the NBA. I shouldn't be starting, anyway. I should have to pay my dues. I'm not on the court as much, but I'm still seeing everything, taking everything in and appreciating the opportunities I do get."
Kerr appreciates Bell understanding the situation.
"It's been an up and down year for him," Kerr says. "We have too many people to get into the rotation because of the talent we have. I like Jordan. He's a hell of an athlete and a good player. He can get better. He has to continue to work.
"It's a transition when you go from college to the NBA. You have to figure out who you are and where you fit. That's hard for a lot of guys to do. It's hard to be a star in college and then a role player in the NBA. It's an important role. Not only can you help your team win, but more importantly, it gives you a long career. If you establish a niche and figure out what your role is and help your team win, you're going to be around a long time.
"That's the next step for Jordan — to really zone in on what makes him effective, what allows him to help our team win. Zero in on those things and become a star in that role. Everybody wants to start, but on this team, he's not going to start."
Bell says he has tried to enjoy his time with the Warriors for what it is. He says "it's dope" to be playing alongside such players as Green, Stephen Curry, Kevin Durant and Klay Thompson.
"In college, I'm watching them and cheering for them, and suddenly I'm playing with them," he says. "But you learn that, at the end of the day, everybody's human. You see the way people react to them as superstars. You used to react the same way, but now that you're around them, you realize they're regular people.
"The crazy part of it, when I got the NBA, I realized that people are probably looking up to me — not nearly as much as them. But I can tell you, I'm just a regular guy. It was funny to see how people treat us, just because we happen to be really good at one thing. Everybody's good at one thing. Our thing is just put in the spotlight more."
Bell's contract is up after this season. He'll be a restricted free agent this summer, and hopes the Warriors will choose to retain him.
"I would love to stay here and win more championships," he says. "Great organization, great coaches, great players. I've never had to deal with contracts. I don't know how it's going to go this summer. I'll focus on the basketball part of it and let my agent worry about all that stuff."
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