Marquese Chriss shines and 3 more thoughts from the Warriors’ loss to the Kings

Photo of Marquese Chriss shines and 3 more thoughts from the Warriors’ loss to the Kings

SAN FRANCISCO — Returning from a one-game absence due to a sore left calf, Marquese Chriss continued to show why the Warriors view him as a long-term answer at center.

In Tuesday night’s 112-94 loss to the Kings at Chase Center, six of his eight made field goals were dunks or layups in the restricted area, providing easy buckets for the Warriors in a season when such shots have been hard to find.

When the Warriors (12-46) signed Chriss to a training camp deal, they did not expect Chriss to emerge, quite possibly, as the team’s starting center of the future. But Warriors head coach Steve Kerr has come to appreciate Chriss’ ability to run the floor, finish at the rim and facilitate on the perimeter.

And yet, he was one of the lone bright spots in a game the Warriors trailed from start to finish, falling behind by as many as 20 points in their seventh-straight loss.

Hours before going for 21 points on 8-for-10 shooting, 10 rebounds and three assists, Chriss told KNBR that, once he knew there was a chance he could return to the Warriors after being waived earlier this season, he prioritized re-signing over guaranteed money elsewhere.

It was in the locker room after a Jan. 6 loss to these Kings (24-33) in Sacramento when Chriss was informed the team was going to waive him in order to make room for guard Damion Lee, whose previous two-way contract was set to expire.

However, the front office told Chriss that, if he were to clear waivers, they would bring him back on a two-way contract of his own.

Eventually, Chriss’ patience paid off. After playing nearly a month on a two-way contract that prevented him from practicing as to maintain as many NBA days of eligibility as possible, he was re-signed to a rest-of-season contract after Feb. 6’s trade deadline. It was the fourth contract he signed with Golden State this season.

In Chriss, the Warriors believe they have a former lottery pick who not only can put up big numbers in a lottery-bound season, but also fit seamlessly next to a healthy Stephen Curry (left hand surgery) and Klay Thompson (left knee surgery).

Curry is expected to return in time for March 1’s game against the Wizards at Chase Center, giving him and Chriss 20-or-so games to rekindle the chemistry they flashed in preseason that is partly responsible for Chriss making the team in the first place.

Over the first four years of his career — which included stints in Phoenix, Houston and Cleveland — Chriss was mostly used out of position and asked to stretch the floor. In Golden State, he has found a team that encourages him to use his strengths, and is putting up career-bests in shooting percentage, rebounds, assists and blocks.

This is something the No. 8 pick in 2016 has come to appreciate, and prioritized when he was briefly a free agent earlier this season.

In addition to Chriss, the Warriors have several reclamation projects who played Tuesday, including recent acquisitions Andrew Wiggins (16 points on 6-for-14 shooting in 30 minutes) and Dragan Bender (0 points on 0-for-4 shooting, five rebounds and an assist).

This season is no longer about wins or losses. Rather, the Warriors are focused on finding players who can contribute for a team that aims to vault back into contention next season.

Wiggins may be the most important of the newcomers, but Chriss is nearly as consequential. His emergence allows the Warriors to enter this upcoming offseason with less urgency to fill the center position in the draft or free agency.

Despite mounting losses, finding contributors like Chriss is what can make the Warriors’ season a productive one.

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