OAKLAND, Calif. - The moment will not make Jordan Bell's highlight reel. It will stay fresh in the Warriors' memory bank, though.

Bell stepped on the court for what appeared to be a forgettable 35.6 seconds left in the first quarter of the Warriors' eventual Game 3 loss last week to New Orleans. Nearly 11 seconds later, Bell set up veteran teammate David West for an assist. That small snapshot convinced Warriors coach Steve Kerr that Bell understood the big picture.

"I appreciate that you're ready," Kerr told Bell. "It really shows that you've been a professional about everything and maturing."

The 23-year-old Bell has become that way after experiencing what he called "a lot of ups and downs and a lot of changing roles" during his rookie year.

After the Warriors paid the Chicago Bulls $3.5 million to the buy the rights to the 38th pick used to select Bell, he immediately impressed the Warriors with his athleticism and passing. After showing mixed results with both mastering his fundamentals and NBA personnel, Bell then suffered a sprained left ankle that kept him sidelined for 14 games from mid January through late February. After missing three more games with a right sprained ankle, Bell then fell out of Kerr's rotation because of Kevon Looney's emergence as a more dependable defender and decision maker.

"The thing I have to learn the most this year is being professional about it," Bell told The Bay Area News Group, "and understanding even if you're not playing, you still have to try to get better each day."

The Warriors have become convinced Bell has eventually passed that test. So even if Bell has only played in seven out of 10 postseason games in 4.9 minutes per game of mop-up duty, Kerr said that Bell "could definitely play a role" when the Warriors play the Houston Rockets in the Western Conference Finals beginning with Game 1 on Monday in Houston.

"It looks to me like Jordan is engaged," Kerr said. "It wouldn't shock me if he got back into the mix at some point during the playoff run."

Some of Kerr's reasoning stems from his want to keep his center rotation spot fluid for matchup purposes. The Rockets, coached by Mike D'Antoni, runs an offense that predicates on versatile frontcourt players, 3-point shooting and fast pace. Therefore, the Warriors would likely counter with similar players. As Warriors guard Stephen Curry said about Bell, "he would be a guy in a fast-paced small ball type series where it would really favor him."

Some of Kerr's reasoning also stems from Bell's development. The Warriors have become encouraged in recent weeks with Bell's work habits and attitude despite his diminished playing time.

"I'm trying to stay ready until somebody gets hurt or if something happens with a technical," Bell said. "Draymond (Green) might get a technical or something like that. So I'm trying to stay prepared for it."

Bell quickly realized the fallacy of his logic. Green has collected only one technical foul during the playoffs. Bell mused, "I thought he was going to have three already."

"I've gotten so much better physically and mentally understanding how to defend people better," Bell said. "I'll be a better contributor in the playoffs than I was during the regular season against Houston."

Nothing epitomized Bell's learning curve more than in the Warriors' season opener, though, when Houston guard Eric Gordon drove to the basket and dunked over Bell. In related news, Bell only played in an average of nine minutes in two games this season against the Rockets. He then sat out of the Warriors' loss in Houston on Jan. 20 because of his left ankle injury.

"When I got my (butt) busted that game," Bell said. "I actually went back and started looking how I was playing defensively."

Curry also related his own NBA experiences, instructing Bell not to waste energy, become more attentive with his movement and more observant of player tendencies.

In what Curry called a "wild year," he then saw Bell leave the Warriors feeling encouraged with his high-flying dunks and competitiveness. But then Bell injured his left ankle on Jan. 17 in Chicago after Bulls center Robin Lopez dunked over him. Once he returned following his subsequent right injury on March 14, Bell said he felt less comfortable.

"I was playing too cautiously. I wasn't playing the same way," Bell said. "I was thinking too much about not getting injured and wasn't playing hard. I wasn't myself."

Soon enough, Bell fell out of the rotation. As Kerr noted, "that allowed Looney to step in and fill that void. Looney has just taken that job."

"I know he wants to be out there every second and it might get frustrating," Curry said of Bell. "But you have to be ready."

Therefore, Bell became more self aware that perfecting that routine would impress the Warriors more than his entertaining dunks. It harkened back to a childhood lesson in Long Beach to accept playing basketball in casual footwear instead of basketball shoes because of his family's limited means. So for the past month, Bell said he has arrived to the gym before practice starts to work on his finishing.

"When everybody gets here, my whole shirt is dripping in sweat. I think all the vets can appreciate that," Bell said. "I could've just been the guy that was playing a lot this year and starting some games. And then I'm not playing, I'm just going to be mad about it and say, 'That's (expletive)!' I was doing it for me personally, not just to get recognition for it. I want to get better."

Therefore, Bell treated his mop-up duty against New Orleans as an opportunity to further showcase his seriousness.

As Bell sat anxiously on the bench, Warriors veteran Zaza Pachulia told him to stay supportive of his teammates and remain ready of any unexpected playing time. As Pachulia said, "come out with the same intensity and treat it like a real game." Bell leaned on Pachulia's message both because of his experience and because he has also become a casualty of Kerr's fluid frontcourt rotations.

So as the Warriors nursed a double-digit lead in an eventual Game 3 loss the Pelicans, Bell spent time warming up on a bike in case he would enter the game. Once Bell stepped on the court in the final 4:59 in a blowout loss, he recorded two assists and a block. Afterwards, Bell said that Kerr told him, "That was a really good job.' Even though it was garbage minutes, you still went out there and played hard."

Those moments, as well as his assist in the final 35.4 seconds of the first half of the same game, prompted Kerr to grant Bell mop-up duty again in Game 4 (five minutes) and Game 5 (six). It appears those meaningless minutes will yield significant playing time in the Western Conference Finals.

"What I'm pleased about is despite the fact that Jordan hasn't played much," Kerr said, "he's worked really hard."

Bell is still learning, obviously.

Pachulia teased Bell by revealing to a reporter that he has not forgotten about the Warriors rookie forgetting to bring poker chips on the team plane during a recent trip. After Bell committed a foul in the final minutes of the third quarter of Tuesday's Game 5 win over New Orleans, Warriors forward Kevin Durant spoke with him at length about the mistake. Yet, the Warriors are becoming more encouraged with Bell's intentions.

"Really nice personality and good kid," Pachulia said. "As long as he keeps working hard and stays smart, he's going to have a long career."

Visit The Mercury News (San Jose, Calif.) at www.mercurynews.com


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