Why Lester Quiñones is ready for Warriors audition for G League coach

Why the Santa Cruz coach says Quiñones is ready for Dub’s audition originally appeared on NBC Sports Bayarea

Lester Quiñones’ NBA dreams became so much more reality on Wednesday. Santa Cruz Warriors head coach Seth Cooper congratulated Quiñones in front of teammates on a call-up to the big squad, and the next morning showed why the 22-year-old guard deserved his shot.

Cooper received a call early Thursday morning that a handful of players were hoping to come in and shoot ahead of Santa Cruz’s game that night against the Cleveland Charge at Kaiser Permanente Arena. Quinones was one of them. Less than an hour after he received his job, the Warriors officially signed Quiñones to a 10-day NBA contract.

Although Quiñones will occupy the Warriors’ 15th and final roster spot, he will play for Santa Cruz on Thursday-evening. There’s a chance he’ll also play for the Warriors’ G League affiliate on Saturday, with Santa Cruz hosting the Charge for a 12:30pm PT at Chase Center. Quiñones would then fly to Los Angeles to meet the Warriors ahead of their Sunday game against the Lakers.

Whenever Quiñones gets a chance to prove himself in front of the Golden State coaching staff, it’s clear which skill most easily translates to the next level. The sniper lets him fly confidently.

“It’s the shooting, right away,” Cooper told NBC Sports Bay Area in a telephone interview Thursday morning. “It’s probably the fastest and easiest thing for him right now.”

The numbers confirm that too.

Across 21 G League regular season games this season, Quiñones averages 20.7 points while shooting 44.7 percent from the field and 36.1 percent from 3-point range at a high volume of 8.6 attempts per game . Those numbers don’t even tell the whole story. The G League has a regular season schedule and showcase circuit, which can make it difficult for players to navigate the full stats.

Between the two seasons actually, Quiñones has actually played 39 games and has a shooting percentage of 46.6 and 38.8 percent from deep. He made 109 of his 281 three-point attempts. A third of his made baskets have been behind the arch.

Quiñones was named G League Player of the Week on Wednesday. For the week of February 13 through February 26, he led all G League scorers with 31.0 points per game and dropped 42 in his final game of the month.

“I think right away, especially the kind of looks he could probably get at the NBA level, in the G League he walks into all those games that are at the top of people’s scouting reports,” said Cooper. “I think shooting is probably the quickest thing that you immediately feel comfortable with when he does it on the pitch.

“If he gets an open shot, you can feel good about the percentages he makes.”

The Warriors prioritized Quiñones immediately after the Memphis product was no longer drafted last June. Quiñones is a six-foot-tall combo with good size and ample athleticism, his shooting clearly being his most obvious attribute. He earned 40 percent of his three as a sophomore and then 39 percent as a junior.

That prompted the Warriors to add Quiñones to their summer league roster and then sign him to a two-way contract in early July. Between eight summer league games, three at Chase Center in the California Classic and five in Las Vegas, Quiñones averaged 6.8 points and earned 33.3 percent from his threes. He played in two of the Warriors’ preseason games, totaling 20 minutes and 10 points on seven shot attempts.

But the Warriors decided to move from giving Quiñones and Quinndary Weatherspoon two-way contracts to signing Anthony Lamb and Ty Jerome ahead of the regular season. Cooper first coached Quiñones in the California Classic and was with the Warriors during training camp before becoming his head coach at Santa Cruz. He has seen firsthand where Quiñones has improved the most and which areas of his game can be further refined.

Throughout the summer and training camp, Cooper saw a player with great potential, but one who needed to better understand how to be effective and efficient. Months ago, Quiñones’ game featured too much dribbling without seeing distance well enough and falling behind on defensive rotations. His sense of the game was clear, and at the same time it could be drowned out by improvisation. Weaknesses are now starting to shrink two with room for growth.

“The main thing he can improve on is he’s a really good defender at the moment,” said Cooper. “I think he can become an even better defender as he is just as locked in off the ball as he is on the ball. There are times when they are like a step behind the game off the ball. And if his man he’s at a bit of a disadvantage.

“He’s really good and really holds on when he guards the ball. But I think he can take a step up in his off-ball and team defense.”

With his shooting alone, Cooper believes Quiñones can step to the ground and help an NBA team right away. The Warriors have invested heavily in developing their players in recent years, and Quiñones may be the latest example. Cooper admitted over the summer that one of his goals wasn’t just to help his players put up eye-popping G League numbers, but to actually be ready to help fit with the Warriors.

The front office saw that in Quiñones going into draft and even when he no longer had a two-way deal. The door was not closed and could be wide open further down the road. Cooper is also in that camp.

“Yeah, sure,” Cooper said when asked if Quiñones might be part of the Warriors’ long-term plans. “I mean, I think that’s it. I definitely see his ability to first be an NBA player in terms of talent and ability and everything, and then also be a guy who can play for the Golden State Warriors. Part of his ability to shoot and move without the ball and shoot and play and pass from handoffs and movement, I think translates really well to how the Warriors play.

“And I think his ability to do that, there’s definitely an advantage to get even better, but I really think he’s going to be able to do and I see him being very effective for the Warriors for the next X amount of year.”

In addition to his shooting punch, Quiñones was also known in college for his short shorts, tattoos, and playing the air guitar – sprinkling salt on the wounds of opposing players who tried to stop him from center. Quiñones occasionally comes across as quiet or even “too cool”, wearing his sunglasses indoors and dancing to the side during pregame warmups. That’s all looking from the outside.

Players like Jerome Robinson and Pat Spencer, both of whom were also in Warriors training camp, have raved about Quiñones’ energy and personality. Cooper says everything Quiñones does is “well-intentioned” and that he has an “infectious personality” that takes the team to the next level in training and games, another quality that stands out in Steve Kerr’s staff and has brought him to the good side has of even more within Golden State.

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Every layer before an audition is important. Coaches can stare at stats and know they are just a small percentage of how a player can help the team. Part of Quiñones’ signing is also helping Lamb and Jerome, two two-way players who have exceeded expectations and been an important part of the Warriors’ rotation with all the injuries the Dubs have dealt with.

Two-way contracts are limited to players active for 50 NBA games. Lamb has already played 47, Jerome has played 40 and was active for three others. A team that has only 14 active roster spots is limited to 90 combined games of two-way players. Making Quiñones the Warriors’ 15th player on the roster allows the Warriors to use the full 100 combined games.

Whether Quiñones sees the word in games or not, the opportunity he gets in training, on the sidelines and in the dressing room is invaluable. His first season in the Warriors’ organization has been a bit of a rollercoaster and his grit and perseverance has paid off.

“What I told him privately was, ‘This is just one stop and this is nothing to be satisfied with,’ and knowing him, I know his long-term goals are bigger than this,” Cooper said. “So I think that definitely helps with this confidence in him, realizing all the work that he’s done and the way he changed his style and plan, his approach and everything is working and it’s paying off and I think that’s the most important thing .

“It gives him confidence that the Warriors believe in him. And also, I think, confidence that what he’s doing will continue to translate and keep working hard. So I think that will definitely help with all those things. The other thing with giving him a 10-day, I know there are some other teams that are interested in him as well. So it keeps him with us, at least for the foreseeable future.”

Many within the Warriors hope the same can be said for the long-term future. The development of Quiñones will first continue in the G League and he can rightly call himself defending champion.

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