No Two-Ways About It: Chriss, Lee Earned Roles

Jul 27, 2020/WARRIORS.COM

The 2019-20 season was a roller coaster ride for the Warriors for a number of reasons, but especially so for two of the Dubs’ players. Damion Lee and Marquese Chriss, though joining the team at different times and via different means, played through unique circumstances to eventually prove themselves as key role players for the Warriors.

Both players worked their way from two-way contracts to earning fully guaranteed deals with Golden State during the 2019-20 campaign, making them Warriors through what remained of the season and into the future. Take a look back at what they overcame and re-live their highlights as they worked their way to earning their keep.

Damion Lee

Damion Lee has been on the cusp of getting a role in the NBA since submitting his name for the 2016 NBA Draft, but his goal was not fully realized until this season. Over the last three-plus years, Lee had spent a Summer League with the Miami Heat, a training camp with the Boston Celtics, played two seasons in the G League, suffered a torn ACL for the second time, and rehabbed from a broken hand. Despite these tribulations, his patience and persistence paid off on Jan. 15, 2020 when he signed a multi-year contract with the Warriors.

Lee first entered the Warriors family when he was traded to the the team’s G League affiliate in Santa Cruz prior to the 2017-18 season while rehabbing from his ACL tear. After his first stint with the team, he signed a two-way deal for the 2018-19 campaign. Such contracts include the stipulation he can spend, at most, 45 days with the parent club. He played 32 games at the NBA level while leading the “Sea Dubs” in scoring with 20.3 points per game in 24 games.

Still seeking a chance at a full-time roster spot, Lee returned to the Warriors on a second two-way deal after not receiving a guaranteed deal elsewhere during the summer of 2019.

“Going into this season, this was sort of going to be my last year on a two-way,” said Lee in an interview with the Warriors prior to the NBA’s shutdown to due the COVID-19 outbreak, “at least that’s how I envisioned it.”

“Whatever happened at the end of the 45 days, whether I got signed or got waived or traded or got sent down to Santa Cruz, whatever happened I just knew I wanted to bet on myself.”

In many cases, a player does not approach their two-way contract’s 45-day limit. But with injuries plaguing the Warriors this last season, Lee’s story was different.

Lee appeared in the Warriors’ first 11 games, but then suffered a broken hand on Nov. 11 against the Utah Jazz. Through that time, the swingman averaged 10.0 points with 3.9 rebounds while shooting 34.3 percent on his three-point attempts

But after missing 14 games rehabbing his hand, Lee returned to the Dubs and played on another level. Over his next 15 appearances his stats improved across the board as the 45 day limit to his contract loomed: Lee posted a line of 14.1 points, 6.3 rebounds and 1.0 steals per game. He also upped his three-point shooting average to 36.9 percent while also attempting more shots from deep (4.3 attempts per game versus 3.2 prior to his injury). In that time he posted four games of 20-or-more points, while also grabbing a career-high 15 rebounds against the Houston Rockets on Christmas Day.

Lee’s stellar play and reliable three-point shot was made clear a second year in a row, earning him a multi-year deal with the Dubs. “Once I found out that I was going to get signed, it was I would say a little bit of relief, but I think the beauty of it is the day I got signed was nine years to the day that my grandma had passed away,” said Lee. “Probably the biggest joy in it all was how much she meant to me and my family. Being able to sign on that day, you know everything started to come full circle.”

Marquese Chriss

Sacramento native Marquese Chriss joined the Warriors during this year’s preseason training camp. At six-foot-nine-inches, Chriss’ future in the NBA was in question after an unconventional career start, and the Warriors’ frontcourt was depleted by an early injury bug. The pairing would not just help the Dubs through the preseason, but rather establish a key cog at the center position in the now 23-year-old Chriss.

Chriss’ NBA career started as the eighth overall pick by his hometown team in the Kings in the 2016 NBA Draft at the age of 19, but was then traded that same night to the Phoenix Suns. He spent his first two seasons in Arizona during which time his earned 2016-17 All-Rookie Second Team honors, but then was dealt to the Houston Rockets just before the start of the 2018-19 season. Chriss averaged over six minutes per game across 16 games for Houston before being traded to the Cleveland Cavaliers.

In all, Chriss was affiliated with four NBA teams through his first three full seasons during which he averaged 7.6 points with 4.5 rebounds and 0.8 blocks.

In an attempt to fill the gaps caused by injuries during the preseason, the Warriors gave Chriss a chance with an invite to camp. In doing so, the Dubs required him to play less power forward as he had earlier in his career, and more at center.

Chriss made an immediate impact on the Dubs with his energy on and off the court. Head Coach Steve Kerr noted Chriss’ impact as early as Oct. 5, after the team’s first preseason game when he told media, “(Chriss is) a great kid. He still wants to learn and he’s asking questions and I think the players like playing with him.”

The work Chriss put in during the preseason earned him a non-guaranteed contract for the 2019-20 campaign. He fared well with the Dubs through the early part of the year, too: though 37 games Chriss posted averages of 7.4 points, 5.4 rebounds, 1.9 assists and 0.9 blocks in just 18 minutes of action.

However, it did not mean Chriss’ future with the Warriors was set just yet.

The Warriors needed to clear a roster spot for Damion Lee, who had used all of the NBA-eligible days on his two-way contract, and Chriss possessed the only non-guaranteed contract on the team. To make room for Lee, the Warriors had to release the promising young center on Jan. 6.

But by converting Lee’s contract, the Warriors opened the opportunity to sign another player to a two-way contract.

Re-enter Marquese Chriss, who on Jan. 15 returned to the squad on a two-way deal.

Opportunity came knocking quickly, once again, as the Warriors struck a deal with the Dallas Mavericks just days later that saw the departure of center Willie Cauley-Stein. It was Chriss who earned not only the starting role in the lineup through the end of the Warriors’ shortened season, but also had his contract converted from a two-way to guaranteed.

Through those final 18 starts with the Dubs, Chriss averaged 13.5 points, 7.8 rebounds, 2.3 assists, and 1.5 blocks per game. He also posted a double-double in five of the Warriors’ last eight games, with one of those being two assists shy of a triple-double.

Though undersized at a position typically owned by players at or above seven feet tall, Chriss, who stands six-foot-nine-inches, displayed speed and hops that made him a force for the Dubs. Rather than play at power forward because his size dictates he should, Chriss found a roll at the center position with the Dubs.

Chriss stated early on that being with the Warriors was bringing out the best in him, sharing, “Coach Kerr has put me in a situation where I can play and it’s easy when all I really need to be in the energy guy… From the first day they have made me feel very comfortable and I feel grateful for that.”

Their paths were far from conventional, nor were they direct; but after overcoming challenges beyond on-court competition, Lee and Chriss have proven themselves to be Warriors in more ways than one.