Not Saved by the Bell: Jordan's Sophomore Season Disappearing Act

Jordan Bell looked like a perfect fit for the Golden State Warriors after a solid rookie season, but his sophomore campaign has been disappointing.

When the Golden State Warriors bought the draft rights for Jordan Bell from the Chicago Bulls so that Jerry Reinsdorf could install another White Sox statue on his backup yacht, most of the NBA world decried yet another victory for the league's best team. Bell was a defensive world-wrecker at Oregon with incredible passing vision and no jump shot. Was there a better place for him to end up than on the Warriors, with Draymond Green as his mentor and virtually no expectations? The fit seemed tailor-made for Bell to join the defending champions--he would play some defense and pass to some of the best shooters in the history of the game. His offensive holes wouldn't matter as long as he could cut to the rim on occasion.

Those who bemoaned another moment of Warriors exceptionalism appeared to be correct after Bell's first season. He played in 57 games as a key cog in the team's bench, and even started 13 games due to injury absences. He shot 63% from the floor on a meager 3.2 attempts per game, doing most of his damage on the glass and in pick-and-roll defense. Bell seemed primed for a stellar second season as the primary backup to both Draymond Green and DeMarcus Cousins once the team was at full strength; after all, David West's retirement would open up even more minutes for Bell to claim.

Instead, year two has been a bit of a lost season for Bell. He was leapfrogged in the rotation by Kevon Looney and Damian Jones and his numbers are down across the board. Even though this is a contract year for Bell, he hasn't played with the kind of fire that cynical fans typically expect from a player looking to cash in. Fans should still be hopeful for Bell's future; after all, he hasn't been a complete zero this year and we shouldn't gloss over his rookie success so quickly. Still, this season should at least temper expectations about the kind of ceiling that Bell might have in the NBA.

Offense and rebounding: Not taking advantage

For most of last season, it looked like Jordan Bell had figured out how to be effective in the Warriors' offense. He made the pass to the open man, he set the best screens he could given his somewhat skinny frame, and he ran to the rim whenever there was an opening. He also snagged rebounds whenever he could, even when he had to battle against bigger players inside.

This season, Bell has taken a clear step back. His rebounding rate is down in his sophomore year--from 14.3% last year to just 12.6% this season per basketball-reference, meaning he's securing only 12.6% of all available rebounds when he's on the floor.

The offensive drop-off is even more stark. Bell is shooting about as often as he did last year which wasn't all that often. He's putting up 8.3 attempts per 36 minutes versus 8.2 per 36 minutes last year. However, his efficiency from last season has faded into a distant memory. His True Shooting Percentage dropped from a fantastic 64.1% mark last year to just 54.3% this year--well below league average. There's a difference between being unselfish and tentative on offense, and Bell has fallen into the latter camp this year. You can see him hesitate on plays where he needs to make quick decisions:

There's still plenty of reason for hope where Bell's offense is concerned. He's still a good passer for his position, and he's still a nightmare to deal with in transition as he ranks in the 90th percentile league-wide in transition offense, per Synergy Sports. If he can make quicker decisions with the ball and be more decisive with his cutting (he ranked in the 88th percentile in offense generated from cuts last year but has been below-average this season), Bell's offense can be good enough that he will be worth playing for his defensive contributions.

Defense: Good, but not good enough

The defensive end of the floor was never going to be the biggest issue with Jordan Bell's game, and that has held true this season. In some ways, he's actually been better on defense than last season. He ranks in the 77th percentile in overall defense (per Synergy Sports) after grading out as barely above-average (in the 51st percentile) in the 2017-18 season. Bell has incredible lateral agility for his size, and makes up for being slightly undersized as a 6'9" center with good timing and great leaping ability.

Bell's tentative play on the offensive end does occasionally show up in his defensive play as well. He'll sometimes be a step slow on his rotations and then will make mistakes to cover that ground. In spite of those infrequent issues, he's already a good pick-and-roll defender with underrated rim protection skills; opponents shoot 6.3% worse than average when being guarded by Bell within six feet of the basket, per NBA.com. Bell has good instincts in help defense and excellent timing on his blocked shots:

Jordan Bell was a solid defensive player as a rookie, which is almost unheard of for a big man up front. He's been arguably more effective on that end of the floor this year. Unfortunately, his cratering on the offensive end has pushed his good defensive play to the edges of the conversation.

Future Outlook

It remains both unfair and patently ridiculous that every undersized defensive big man for the last five years has been marked with the Draymond Green comparison. Green is one of the smartest defenders in the history of the game and plays with more fire in a single quarter than Andrew Wiggins has used up in his entire career. Comparing any prospect to Green is unfair both to Green and to the outsized expectations heaped upon that prospect.

That being said, the example of Green's career is a helpful counterpoint for all of those who might argue that Jordan Bell is on his way out of the league. Bell showed more in his rookie season than Draymond did in his first two seasons combined. Even if Bell is on the older side as a 24-year-old sophomore, he's already been effective at the skill that arguably takes the longest amount of time for young players to learn--big man defense.

Jordan Bell might have fallen out of favor with the Golden State Warriors this season, but his NBA career is far from over. Any team with a dearth of backup big men could use Bell's defensive acumen and good passing touch to bolster their rotation up front. Even if the Warriors decide to move on from Bell this offseason, there are quite a few NBA teams that should be happy about the chance to add him to their frontcourt group.

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