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SACRAMENTO — The California Classic sounds like a horse race at Golden Gate Fields, or perhaps a cocktail featuring fresh grapefruit juice and agave nectar. Who knows, it may be both of those things. But it was also an NBA Summer League preliminary event, with the four teams from California — the Warriors, Lakers, Kings and, um, Miami Heat (just roll with it) — playing round-robin games at the Golden 1 Center in Sacramento.

NBA Summer League is a strange production. It’s not as big-time as MLB spring training or the NFL preseason, because established stars don’t participate at all. The Warriors’ best players in a 77-71 win against the Lakers on Thursday afternoon were center Marcus Derrickson (24 points, 11 rebounds), guard Omari Johnson (15 points on 6-of-10 shooting) and small forward J.P. Tokoto (nine rebounds off the bench). If you have heard of them, give yourself credit. If you think any one of them will be on the Golden State roster in December, give yourself a karate chop to the neck.

And yet you can’t call Summer League worthless, because careers are launched here. Last year’s scoring leader was Utah’s Donovan Mitchell, a premonition of his dynamic rookie season. The Warriors’ Jordan Bell, another outstanding 2017-18 rookie, grabbed 16 rebounds in a game last summer. Young Stephen Curry had a five-steal game in 2009, followed by an eight-assist game the next day. Little Draymond Green set the Warriors’ Summer League record with 52 total rebounds in 2013.

“You got a mix of high-level college guys that are coming out, as well as some lottery picks that will be playing major roles on teams,” acting Warriors coach Willie Green said Thursday. “So you’re getting the best of the young core that’s moving toward the NBA, and even G League guys. … That’s what Summer League is about. It’s about a chance to get to see guys play in the systems that they probably will play in in a couple years.”

However sparingly that might be. Jacob Evans III played just under 7 minutes Thursday. The Warriors’ first-round draft pick took one shot and missed it. He recorded zero points, zero rebounds, one assist, one steal and one blocked shot, then retired to the bench. After the game, Green — normally one of Steve Kerr’s assistants — reported that Evans “got banged up a little bit.”

“I think he may have got his ribs bruised up a little bit,” Green elaborated. “Not sure how serious it is, but it was enough to pull him.”

Evans’ status is unclear as NBA teams pack up their satellite camps and head to Las Vegas for the bulk of the Summer League slate.

He is one of three summer Warriors likely to make the roster this year, along with center Damian Jones and power forward Bell. And Evans is the least-known of the three quantities. After three days of basketball, he remains a blank slate.

Evans missed Monday’s game against Miami with a toe injury that he suffered in practice last Friday. He returned to play against Sacramento on Tuesday and impressed analysts with his feisty defense and penetrating drives to the hoop; he also made just 1 of 5 attempts from the 3-point line, and displayed a jerky shooting motion that had folks whispering about mechanics. Thursday he turned in that nearly empty stat line, but found ways to make his presence felt.

Evans handled the ball a bit against LA, and looked comfortable doing it. And his defense stands out. At that end of the court, he could most often be found at the top of the key, in a crouch, arms stretched wide as he stared down a Lakers point guard. Evans’ block was a clean swat of the Lakers’ Svi Mykhailiuk that landed out of bounds. His assist came out of a double team as he moved the ball to Johnson for a 3-pointer. At one point, Evans successfully boxed out 6-11 Moritz Wagner, who preceded him in the draft by three picks and has five inches on him, on a rebound.

“I love what I’m seeing,” Green said of Evans after the game, in the hallway outside the Warriors’ locker room. “This is the time for him to be aggressive. He’s a knowledgeable kid on the floor, he can pick up things fairly easily. Great timing, and really good defender. And he’s still young, so he has a lot of upside in that sense.”

Evans’ game has yet to coalesce at this level, but the traits that made him attractive to the Warriors are coming to the surface. And they have little to do with scoring. Evans is a tenacious and demonstrative player.

“You wouldn’t even know he’s a rookie,” said Derrickson, another NBA neophyte who played at Georgetown. “Especially in training camp, he looked like a veteran out there. He was talking to us, telling us where to go, constantly picking us up, like ‘you gotta bring energy.’ It’s like he already knows what it takes to be a Warrior.”

Johnson, who is 28 years old and has spent three seasons in Canada’s professional league and three more in the G League, has spotted Evans’ natural leadership qualities, too.

“He’s vocal,” Johnson said. “That’s hard for a young person to do, come in and be vocal and have your place on the team, vocally. And he does that.”

The immediate question is whether Evans’ ribs are just sore, or more seriously damaged. The Warriors’ treadmill is a fast one, and the rookie can use every unit of summer school he can get.

The broader question is whether Evans can make shots in the NBA. He was a 13-points-a-game scorer as a sophomore and junior while playing in a balanced offense at the University of Cincinnati, though his shooting percentages dipped from Year 2 to Year 3, both overall (from 47.3 to 42.7) and from 3-point range (from 41.8 to 37.0). Now those questions have emerged about his shooting form.

With the NBA luxury tax whispering threats to co-owners Joe Lacob and Peter Guber, and with a core of indispensable and expensive veterans, the Warriors need some production from younger, cheaper players. They would really like Jacob Evans to be one of them.

On the other hand, it’s not like they’ll need the rookie to score 18 points a game.

“Right now, we know he can come in, basically what I’ve seen so far, and play a role for us,” Green said. “We just want to continue to build on that. Like I said, he’s a good defender, smart, he picks up things easily, he’s a good rebounder. He has good instincts. Offensively, you’re gonna be playing with four of the most talented guys, or five of the most talented guys on the planet, and things’ll open up for you.”

Translation: Evans is important to the 2019 championship run, but his job will be to play aggressive defense, run in transition and pass the ball whenever Stephen Curry, Kevin Durant or Klay Thompson is open. That’s how to be a Warrior when you’re barely 21 years old.

You can reach columnist Phil Barber at 707-521-5263 or phil.barber@pressdemocrat.com. Follow him on Twitter: @Skinny_Post.

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