PORTLAND — Steve Kerr never averaged more than nine points per game in a 15-year NBA career.
His career statistics added up to 6.0 points, 1.8 assists and 1.2 rebounds per game.
Yet the 6-foot-3 guard found contributing roles on six different teams by setting the NBA record for career three-point percentage at 45.4, a mark that still stands 16 years after he retired. He twice led the league in three-point percentage by shooting better than 50 percent from beyond the arc.
Kerr won five NBA championships as a player, including one in 1997 with the Chicago Bulls when Michael Jordan passed to him for the title-clinching shot in Game 6 against Utah.
Kerr’s playing career gives meaning to the message he sends now as coach of the Golden State Warriors when young players are frustrated by inconsistent playing time.
“I tell these guys, because I lived it, they have to stay ready, stay in shape, and stay prepared,” Kerr said. “It is such a long season that inevitably when I call their number at some point, their whole job is to be prepared and ready to roll.”
The latest player to get that message is Jordan Bell, the former Oregon star whose playing time and stat lines have dropped during his second season with the Warriors.
“Just got to stay ready,” Bell said. “It sucks, but you really can’t be anything about it. I have to keep working, worry about getting better as an individual player and pay attention to detail.”
Bell, who was picked in the second round of the 2017 NBA Draft by Chicago and sold to the Warriors, averaged 4.6 points and 3.6 rebounds as a rookie. He scored 5.8 points while playing an average of 13.5 minutes during Golden State’s four-game sweep of Cleveland in the NBA Finals.
The Warriors appeared to open up playing time for the 6-foot-9, 224-pound Bell in the offseason after JaVale McGee signed with the Lakers, Zaza Pachulia signed with the Pistons and David West retired. When Damian Jones suffered a potentially season-ending pectoral injury last month, Bell appeared to have a spot in the rotation, at least until DeMarcus Cousins is cleared to return from injury in the next month or so.
However, when Bell played seven minutes in a 115-105 win at Portland on Saturday, it marked the sixth straight game he played nine minutes or less and the fifth time he went scoreless during that stretch.
“Jordan has not been in the loop lately,” Kerr said before the game against the Blazers. “Basically we are playing him at the five, we tried to play him at the four early in the season and decided that wasn’t the best way to go. He’s playing the five but he’s undersized so in certain matchups it is hard to get him on the floor.”
Kevon Looney, a fourth-year pro out of UCLA, beat out Bell for the starting spot at center while Jonas Jerebko has been playing about 20 minutes per game. Bell is on the court for an average of 11.6 minutes.
“It is not ideal, but something you have to deal with,” Bell said. “You have got to pay your dues. At the beginning of the season (Kerr) said he saw me playing the four and now the five, so I don’t know. It is pretty up in the air, based on matchups I guess. In college, people were bigger than me, but obviously they were not as good as people in the NBA. They know how to take advantage of people who are undersized so I have to get better at defending on the block.”
Bell had his best game of the year Monday when he made all five shots from the field for 10 points to go with six rebounds, three blocks and two assists in 16 minutes during a 132-109 victory over the Suns. He is averaging 2.6 points and 2.7 rebounds on the season.
“Just stay focused and that stuff with handle itself,” Bell said. “As long as you are paying attention during the game, calling out plays for the team on defense, that makes you engaged and talking all the time.”
Like he did at Oregon, Bell choreographs some of the team’s routines during the introduction of starting lineups and is often the first player off the bench to welcome his teammates during a timeout.
“Jordan has done a real good job staying engaged, staying positive,” Kerr said. “It has been a tough year for him, especially coming off his rookie season which wasn’t smooth sailing by any means, but he had more moments last year than he’s had so far this year. Of course, we finished it off in the Finals with him playing quite a bit and he had a great finish to the season. I’m sure he has been disappointed to this point, but that is all part of it and you have to keep grinding away.”
The Warriors are second in the Western Conference at 25-13 while remaining the odds-on favorites to capture a third straight championship. Bell is part of the one of the league’s top road attractions when he arrives in towns with Stephen Curry, Kevin Durant, Klay Thompson and Draymond Green.
Bell is in a similar situation as former Oregon teammates Tyler Dorsey, Dillon Brooks and Chris Boucher in trying to earn regular playing time. Dorsey and Brooks have both seen their minutes drop during a second season with Atlanta and Memphis, respectively, while Boucher was recently brought up to Toronto from the G League.
“We have all definitely been going through an up and down year,” Bell said. “We knew what we were getting ourselves into when we left. We knew that we weren’t lottery picks so we are trying to bust our ass. It is nothing we didn’t expect. You have to keep working and we know how to deal with stuff like that.”
Bell said he still keeps in touch with most of his former Oregon teammates and refers to his three seasons with the Ducks as “the most fun basketball I have played.”
His final game at Oregon was a 77-76 loss to North Carolina in the 2017 national semifinals. UNC’s Kennedy Meeks reached over Bell for an offensive rebound off a missed free throw with four seconds remaining that sealed the win for the Tar Heels.
Bell was distraught following that game in the locker room, saying he would never forget that moment. Even after he moved on to the highest level of basketball with an annual salary of nearly $1.4 million, Bell is still motivated by coming up short in the Final Four.
“That picture is still the screen saver on my phone,” he said. “It is something I’ve got to live with. I think it will help me as a basketball player and remind me that not just basketball, but in life you have to remember to do the little things. It is little things that matter as much as big things. Making shots is as important as blocking out and rebounding.”