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Bridge to the future taking shape
No Otto Porter (rest) as Warriors host Pacers
This is an exciting time for the Golden State Warriors. Poised on the cusp of a playoff return, in the midst of a Splash Brothers return, and awaiting the readiness of the youth brigade, the Warriors have a lot going on these days.
But most importantly, it’s the present - not the future or the past - that’s got Dub Nation buzzing. Klay Thompson just had his best offensive night since coming back: 21 points (on 13 shots) in 22 minutes. Jonathan Kuminga became the youngest Warriors since Andris Biedrins to record a double-double. His 12 points, 10 rebound game was solid enough for coach Steve Kerr to pencil the 19-year old in as a starter until the return of Draymond Green.
Fresh off an encouraging win over the struggling Detroit Pistons, Golden State starts off a very friendly back-to-back with tonight’s game against the middling Indiana Pacers, and then the rebuilding Houston Rockets tomorrow.
On the injury front, the Warriors are proactively resting Otto Porter, but it looks like tonight is the one that Thompson will appear in.
WHO: Golden State Warriors (32-12) vs. Indiana Pacers (15-29)
WHEN: Thursday, January 20th, 2022 // 7:00(ish)pm PDT
WATCH: TNT, NBCSBA
Build them to last
The Warrior are getting the first early glimpses of what makes this roster a contender. Shown first prior to Thompson’s arrival, this is a team with all sorts of defensive potential, and an offense that can kick into overdrive once the Splash Brothers are fully powered up.
We are already getting a look at how even at less than full strength, the presence of Thompson is enough of a counter punch to punish teams that over-commit to stopping Curry.
Much like the signing of free agent, Kevin Durant was facilitated by some friendly timing on the NBA’s salary cap, so too has the tenuous bridge to the future been bolstered by plenty of quirky luck. First the Curry injury that landed the team in such favorable draft position that led to James Wiseman. Is it luck? Misfortune? Serendipity? Whatever we call it, it happens again just one year later, the team landed another lottery draft where they picked not once, but twice. A rare opportunity for a team with the loaded payroll and roster of veterans they have.
This is all part of owner Joe Lacob’s crazy plan to bridge the gap. To do what few teams have ever successfully done: cycle in a whole new batch of young talent to carry the core through to a new era. Even Lacob knows it was a fortuitous turn of events that landed both Kuminga and Moody here.
Here he is back in July, talking to Anthony Slater of the Athletic:
“I’m ecstatic,” Lacob said. “Ecstatic. We’ll probably never have two lottery picks again. If we do, we’ll have a problem. The thing that’s most amazing to me is how it worked out. I shouldn’t say where they were on our board, but it’s hard for me not to say it. I’ll just tell you they were both clearly in our top 10. We feel like we got really fortunate on Kuminga. Then with Moody, I think it’s pretty common knowledge we were seriously considering him at seven. So it’s pretty astonishing to me that we could get him at 14.”
We’ve started to transform our team with James (Wiseman) and now him. We’re bigger and more athletic. Both those guys and Moody have 7-foot wingspans.
Like any good bridge, you don’t want it to be your only option. But because of the luxury of the core that’s been assembled here, you don’t need the bridge yet. That same old path is still looking awfully solid.
Green isn’t back, and that’s a bummer. But in the meantime, Thompson has a whole new group of players to click with. The core is waiting there in the background, and that helps everything feel a little more ok, even as the roster shuffles nightly.
Bridge Building 101
There’s also been some learning that is helping this season.
The team revamped their coaching staff, bringing in additional expertise rather than promoting from within. They’ve also changed their approach. Unlike Wiseman, neither Moody or Kuminga were immediately tossed into a starting role — which makes sense, this is a veteran roster chasing a championship, and it’s exceedingly rare to find a rookie that starts on a team like that. Wiseman’s best moments of his rookie year came later on in the season, when he and the team had simplified things a bit. But then he got injured. Twice. Pausing a promising trajectory.
So Kuminga finds himself representing the youth movement. The second foundation stone.
None of this works without the Warriors core. As Lacob mentioned in that July interview, they know that the team can get away with developing their youth movement because it looks like Curry, Thompson, Green, and Wiggins are all going to be high quality players for a while.
“Honestly, this is sort of my dream,” Lacob said. “And I know this isn’t popular with a lot of people. They think we ought to go get the next star. We already have the stars. And we have a payroll that’s — and I’ve said this when I was interviewed before, but nobody listened. It’s very unlikely, I’ve said that we’re not going to trade for anybody that people are expecting. Very unlikely. It’s not impossible. But if it was going to be somebody, it was going to be somebody really great. It was going to be a big trade. It’s unlikely.”
“So the more likely path — and the path that I think, as an owner, I feel most comfortable with, quite frankly — is to bridge the gap to the future,” Lacob said. “We’ve got three or four contracts and big players that are still in their early 30s, still have quite a bit of time to go, especially in this day and age. If we can kind of have a Wiseman and a Kuminga and a Moody and a Poole (help in the meantime). They don’t have to be awesome next year. With a great investment in our player development staff, we just want them to show great potential.”
While far from perfect, Kuminga is definitely showing great potential. According to Cleaning the Glass, he gets fouled on a higher percentage of shots than any other Warrior: 16% of them to be precise (which lands the rookie in the 77th percentile for all players at his position).
The Warriors don’t need Kuminga (or any of the non core players) to be dominant in every way… but in one or two ways wouldn’t hurt.
As the first member of the youth brigade to find traction this season (with apologies to Jordan Poole, who is somewhere in the middle of it all), Kuminga has found a niche. The team needs him for what he’s best at. Moves like this will go a long way towards cementing a place for him in the team for a long time.
The Pacers are coming into this game on their own back-to-back, fresh off a big win over the Los Angeles Lakers last night. Also… can we just take a moment to appreciate this?
The Pacers hadn’t been doing so hot prior to last night's win. Coming into the Lakers game, Indiana had won just one game in their last 11 and have critical rotation players, Malcolm Brogdon and Jeremy Lamb listed as questionable. Myles Turner is out indefinitely with a stress reaction in his foot. It’s a common story in the NBA this season, but the Pacers have struggled to find consistency.
On paper, Indiana is an… average-ish team? They don’t have any big weaknesses, but neither does the team to excel in any one aspect. Looking at their statistical summary in bball reference is like going to a coffee shop that only serves one kind of coffee, and it’s not that good.
If Golden State plays better than bad coffee, they win.