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These fun Alen Smailagic moments won’t keep him in NBA much longer


Stan Szeto-USA TODAY Sports


You know the good times are not going to last, the separation’s coming and you’ll grow without each other.

But the days Alen Smailagic spends with the Warriors sure are fun.

Steve Kerr warned after Wednesday’s 107-98 loss to the Bucks that his teenage big man, who brings so much energy off the bench, will not be around too much longer with the big-league club. Experience in the NBA matters, but so does playing every day, every minute.

“This has been a good opportunity for Smiley to feel the NBA, play in some games, play against a team like Milwaukee, national TV. It’s great experience,” Kerr said at Chase Center after the 19-year-old Serbian scored 10 points and grabbed four rebounds in his brief time. “But he plays 11 and a half minutes. He needs to go 30 minutes. He’ll do that soon. We’re not sure exactly when, but he’ll be in Santa Cruz and getting more time.”

The relationship has not been one-sided; the Warriors had enjoyed having him, too. With a roster depleted for so much of this season, the Warriors decided to give their second-round pick a chance, springing him loose Dec. 27 for the first time. In all, he’s played in six games, never hitting the 20-minute mark, but nearly always bringing life to a team that too often has flatlined. His 10 points were a season and career high and a reflection of just how aggressive he’s been in his limited time.

But as much as Golden State appreciates the run and experience he’s earned, a 9-30 squad needs to plan for the future. And as smiley as Smiley gets on the biggest stage (even if he didn’t realize he was on national TV Wednesday), the Warriors want him to improve by being a small-pond focal point, and soon.

“Honestly, I didn’t even think about it,” Smailagic said after occasionally matching up against Giannis Antetokounmpo. Asked if he’s still figuring out the offense, the amiable fan-favorite offered: “I just go out and play. I don’t know what I’m doing on the court.”

Often, it doesn’t show. Perhaps what separates the 6-foot-9 forward is his fearlessness, a quality rarely seen in players this young. Even if he feigns ignorance, he has to know he’s facing some of the NBA’s best, and no backdown ensues. He was active Wednesday, going 4-for-7 from the field and 1-for-2 from 3 while grabbing a pair of offensive rebounds. He’s also not afraid to throw his body around (or the ball away, finishing with two turnovers).

With Santa Cruz, which also houses Jordan Poole, who’s trying to get time and build his confidence, Smailagic has averaged nearly 17 points in 25 minutes per night. Sure, Smailagic praised the veterans around him who’ve helped his maturation process, but the more valuable learning process will be on the court.

Still, he’s made an imprint on these Warriors.

“Unbelievable. His natural talent, his natural feel for the game. No conscience. Just he’s gone,” Omari Spellman said. “That’s so inspiring to see. Someone so unaffected by their age, unaffected by expectations. Really just, he loves to play basketball. Someone like myself, I can definitely appreciate that. Just seeing him have fun out there no matter if he messes up, you’re going to get the same Smiley. He’s just gone.

“I’m happy for him, proud of him more than anything. That’s something I didn’t have last year [in Atlanta]. He has it at 19. Super proud of Smiley.

 

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