OAKLAND — It used to be Andrew Bogut playing center for the Warriors.
Then, it was Zaza Pachulia. He was the Warriors’ starting center in all 85 games he played last season. With him as their starter, the Warriors won the championship.
They don’t have a starting center anymore. Head coach Steve Kerr benched Pachulia after the All-Star break and never named a replacement.
Now, Kerr uses a committee of centers, and won’t declare which one he’ll start in the playoff series against the San Antonio Spurs beginning Saturday at noon at Oracle Arena.
Kerr might start a different center every game. He wants to surprise the Spurs.
“It will be matchup-based,” Kerr said Friday after practice.
“(Based on) who is playing well and matchups and foul trouble,” he said. “There’s a reason we have been playing everybody over the last month at that position. We wanted to get a feel for who is best and certain combinations.”
There’s another reason the Warriors have been playing so many centers recently: The position has changed.
Clearly, it has been changing for decades. Conventional centers who stand in the post with their back to the basket and shoot hook shots are rare. Practically extinct.
Think Kareem Adbul Jabar and his skyhook. When was the last time someone even attempted a skyhook?
The changes have been drastic. Kerr put it into perspective.
“(Former Memphis Grizzlies head coach) David Fizdale is here, and we were talking about that. (Grizzlies center) Marc Gasol was Defensive Player of the Year five years ago. It’s now an entirely different league.
“Back then, it was shot-blocking, protecting the paint, switching on to another big. Now, Marc Gasol is asked to step out 30 feet from the basket. It’s entirely different.
“So, the guys you’re going to see as the leading defenders in the league are going to be more versatile. They’re going to be Draymond Green or (Utah Jazz center) Rudy Gobert. Gobert is so active. He’s obviously an incredible rim protector, but he can get out to the screen and roll.
“You almost have to be able to switch and guard multiple spots at that center spot, and that’s a difficult thing to do.”
While Kerr was describing Marc Gasol and his limitations, he may as well have been describing the Warriors’ former starting centers — Bogut and Pachulia.
Both were good low-post defenders who couldn’t guard players on the perimeter. Both were too big and too slow to play away from the basket. The NBA has passed them by.
The Warriors’ third-year big man Kevon Looney represents the new style of center. He’s small and quick — “only” 6-9, 220 pounds.
He played power forward at UCLA. Now, he’s too big to play power forward in the NBA.
“The last couple years, everybody wants to go small,” Looney said. “We used to be one of the only teams that went small. Now, we’re not even the smallest team out there a lot of the nights in the regular season.
“I didn’t play a lot of center growing up. For this team, I bring defensive versatility, being able to switch on a screen, being able to switch on guards and make plays that way. That’s something I have been trying to hone in all season. Now that the playoffs are here, I’ll be able to show it.”
Warriors vs. Spurs
First-round playoff series
GAME 1: Saturday at Oakland, noon (ABC)
GAME 2: Monday at Oakland, 7:30 p.m. (TNT)
GAME 3: Thursday at San Antonio, 6:30 p.m. (TNT)
GAME 4: Sunday, April 22, at San Antonio, 12:30 p.m. (ABC)
GAME 5: Tuesday, April 24, at Oakland, TBD *
GAME 6: Thursday, April 26, at San Antonio, TBD *
GAME 7: Saturday, April 28, at Oakland, TBD *
* if necessary