SACRAMENTO -- Warriors coach Mark Jackson said starting center Andrew Bogut is a ways away from playing a preseason game, which raises questions about his status for the regular-season opener.
On Monday when the Warriors travel to Los Angeles for a preseason game against Clippers, Bogut will visit Dr. Richard Ferkel. He is going to have his surgically-repaired left ankle checked out, though the Warriors are saying it is a cautionary measure.
Fortunately for the Warriors, rookie center Festus Ezeli is giving them some insurance in case Bogut's recover takes longer than expected.
"He's been spectacular," Jackson said of Ezeli. "He's absolutely the real deal. Can't believe he was on the board at No. 30."
Ezeli, the last player drafted in the first round, has won over his coaches and teammates with his diligence and raw talent. But perhaps most important for the Warriors, considering the uncertainty surrounding Bogut, is Ezeli's bankable assets.
He's got legitimate size -- 6-foot-11, 255 pounds -- and a certain desire to throw it around. He's already a solid shot-blocker, and the defensive success he had at Vanderbilt seems to be translating to the NBA.
Jackson said Ezeli "didn't make a mistake" defending Utah's proven big man Al Jefferson. Jackson simply instructed Bogut and forward David Lee to give Ezeli a crash course on Jefferson's game, and the rookie was set.
Jackson said he asked Lee and Carl Landry to give Ezeli a crash course on Kings center DeMarcus Cousins' game before Wednesday night's game, a 98-88 Warriors win over the Sacramento Kings. Cousins played the first five minutes, missing all four of his shots.
Both Ezeli's first-quarter shots were against Cousins. First, Ezeli showed his hustle, getting out to a tip Cousins' 7-foot jumper not even two minutes into the game. At the 8:04 mark, Ezeli showed his timing, rejecting a 8-foot jump hook by Cousins.
"I've got to keep working on my defense, keep tightening it up," Ezeli said before banging with Cousins on Wednesday. "Any challenge, I look forward to it."
His biggest challenge yet might be serving as the opening-night starter.
Before Wednesday's game, Jackson didn't sound too optimistic about Bogut being able to play in the preseason. The goal was to get Bogut, who had arthroscopic surgery on his left ankle in April, into a couple preseason games as tuneup for the opener Oct. 31 against Phoenix.
Wednesday, however, Jackson said Bogut is "a ways away." The Warriors haven't officially changed the opening target date for their starting center. Neither has Bogut, who to the untrained eye looks at least close to ready when doing drills in practice.
But if he can't get into a preseason game, it's a fair guess the season opener is questionable. Remember, Bogut hasn't played an NBA game since he fractured that ankle in January while playing for Milwaukee.
"I think it's the best thing for him and for us," Jackson said regarding Bogut playing one of the Warriors' remaining three preseason games. "But at the same time, the most important plan is to make sure he's healthy. So we're not going to do anything to set him back. So we'll see how it goes."
Working in the Warriors' favor is seven straight off days between the last preseason game, Oct. 23 against Phoenix, and the opener. Also working in the Warriors' favor: Ezeli.
But is he ready for such a big responsibility? No doubt, Ezeli has some areas he needs to improve.
No. 1, he needs to stay on the floor. To do that, he's got to limit his fouling. Ezeli had three fouls in 21 minutes in a loss to Denver on Monday. He had four fouls in eight first-half minutes Wednesday.
Rookies tend to have foul issues. So Ezeli, who said he loves to mix it up, figures to have some foul troubles while he learns the ropes. That's not much of a problem if he's backing up Bogut. But it's a different story if Bogut is out.
Jackson said he wants Ezeli to work on his rebounding, to "go after the basketball."
"He's a high IQ basketball player, especially defensively," Jackson said. "I'm very pleased with his progress. ... I'm looking for Festus to be a force."
They won't return home until Tuesday, an eight-day road trip. Jackson said he chose to pass on three potential days at home to give the Warriors a road experience.
"In an ideal world we would have went away for training camp," Jackson said. "It is important for us to get the feeling of being on the road, extended road trips. I thought it was a great time for us. ... We're getting prepared for what we're going to face come regular season."
Warriors at Portland, 7 p.m. NBATV