A bridge too far? Warriors youth movement not panning out as expected
Golden State is losing, yes. Are they also developing? Maybe.
Stephen Curry is going stank face, but the Golden State Warriors are still losing games. It’s an all too familiar problem that has returned with a vengeance in the early stages of this 2022-23 season. The team is bleeding points as soon as Curry sits, and it’s setting up an incompatible reality for a team that isn’t looking to ride the veteran core too hard during the regular season.
Tonight's game is the front end of a back-to-back. Golden State is still playing without Andre Iguodala (old/busted) and Donte DiVincenzo (hamstring) but will not be holding anyone out tonight - we’ll have to wait and see in regards to Friday’s game.
WHO: Golden State Warriors (3-5) at Orlando Magic (1-7)
WHEN: Thursday, November 3rd, 2022 // 4pm PDT
Wait, which bridge to the future?
The Warriors’ starting five-man unit is the best in the league, scoring 128.9 points per 100 possessions in their 92 minutes on court this season. Any conversation regarding the dynasty - or even the narrower scope of Golden State’s chances to win it all again this year - starts with that truth. It’s the same truth that has allowed the team to re-tool on the fly. Repeating just two years after having the worst record in the league is under-rated achievement.
Running it back this year was out of the question. Though reliable bench players they may have been, it was easy to understand the case the team pleaded while allowing Damion Lee, Otto Porter, and Gary Payton II to all walk away in the offseason. Right now, it’s painfully easy to see the early impact. Without a cadre of reliable bench players (remember that Iguodala has yet to play a single minute this season), the drop-off when Curry sits has been precipitous. And the team has fallen hard. Just take a look at what happened in the previous game against the Miami Heat; via Anthony Slater of The Athletic:
After Kerr made his first substitution, the Warriors were outscored by 13 points in the final 5:35 of the first quarter.
During that extended stretch, a quiet Poole didn’t take a shot or accumulate any other statistic. James Wiseman had three fouls and missed an alley-oop… the Warriors were outscored by 22 points in [Wiseman’s] 18 minutes.
Now it’s important to point out that the game wasn’tlost here. Fast forward to the final time Curry comes back in off the bench in the 4th quarter, and he steps onto the court with his team slightly ahead.
So sure, those bad minutes above are about Wiseman partially, and it’s easy to see where his failings crop up. It happens frequently enough, and the problems are widespread enough, that the murmurs of concern are growing steadily louder. As the Warriors keep dropping games, it gets harder and harder to ignore that murmur. Or maybe this is just what it looks like as a guy figures stuff out.
For now, Kerr is sticking with his bench. Then again, there’s aren’t really many options due to the wholesale changes that occurred down the rotation during the offseason.
As the Warriors have proved in different ways via the past, the regular season record isn’t a perfect indicator of post season success. On the other hand, as the sample size grows, it’s getting more difficult to hand wave away the difficulties. It’s not just a small change or two that seems to be required.
Last season was just the second in Curry’s entire career that the team didn’t bleed points in his absence, so this isn’t a new problem. But it’s an entirely new supporting cast this time around. A lot of the support framework that had been so painstakingly built over the recent seasons is now dismantled - and players from Jordan Poole to James Wiseman are floundering a bit.
Over the course of the 114 minutes or so that Curry hasn’t been on the court, the team has suffered a differential of -20.4 net points per 100 possession. That’s a real concern for a team that is hoping to not have to ride Curry hard during the regular season. It also serves to apply pressure to the front office’s two timelines plan.
After a strong preseason showing, the youth movement and new bench is faltering. Some more so than others, but pretty much across the board. Though we all love to point towards the recent championship as proof that the two timelines can coexist - or even thrive - it is a different team construction this year. The bridge bore very little weight last season, and now that it’s needed, has been lacking strength (in numbers).
But which is the real bridge here? Kuminga, Moody, and Wiseman aren’t ready to carry much burden, but look at Curry’s most frequent partners on court. It’s not Curry, Klay Thompson, and Draymond Green at the top of his list.
That Curry has spent about 27 minutes per game playing alongside Draymond Green shouldn’t surprise anyone - coach Kerr has settled into playing those two heavily in tandem. But Andrew Wiggins deserves praise as the real meaningfully impactful next generation of player here in Golden State. Both he and Kevon Looney have become a new wave of reliable veterans.
Have we all been looking at the wrong bridge?
One of the biggest concerns since drafting Wiseman is if he would be ready in time to help. Traditionally, the common wisdom is that big men take longer to develop, and it’s hard to even remember a prospect more raw than rookie Wiseman. Even now, years removed, he is still very much a work in progress. That he commands a high salary because he was drafted at #2 is the kicker - but not the main problem.
At the bottom of Kerr’s depth chart, the Wiseman minutes have been a struggle all season. The budding chemistry with Jordan Poole has been offset by their negative chemistry on the defensive side of the ball. Kuminga has been handed two straight DNP - coach’s decision; and Moses Moody is fighting an uphill battle on a team pretty well set with their wing players.
But in the playoffs, when the game tightens, maybe those guys aren’t the bridge that matters - not yet anyways. Look at the roster sorted by age.
Looney and Wiggins are the youth movement that is paying dividends right now. There’s a ton of development down towards the bottom of that table above, but Wiggins and Looney are looking more like the players that the core will be counting on this season.
Which is great. Because the rest of those guys aren’t ready to serve as a bridge yet. And it shows. They’re learning and growing in the hope that they’ll be ready soon(ish).
As a kid, I loved watching wrestling. One of the things I still think about is those matches where it was someone like Hulk Hogan or the Ultimate Warrior against some guy with a regular name. If the opponent was Jim Davidson, and his outfit was an unadorned wrestling singlet, you knew you were about to watch some filler.
The Orlando Magic are tanking. Mega tanking. Already rebuilding, their injury list looks like a list of everyone on the roster with a recognizable name.
I don’t know exactly who suits up tonight for Orlando, but this is one that the Warriors should expect to win. And if they can’t even beat this team? Well, people are going to start looking at the other bridge and thinking hard about when and if it will ever be ready. Every week is infrastructure week!