- The Warriors are trying to compete for a championship while developing a young core of lottery picks.
- It’s been a struggle to start the season, as the veteran starters have often had to bail out the youngsters for the 6-8 Warriors.
- Young center James Wiseman is headed to the G League, while Steve Kerr has benched the others recently.
The Golden State Warriors’ attempt to straddle two timelines is off to a shaky start.
The reigning champs entered this season in a unique position: trying to continue to win with the core of Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson, and Draymond Green, while also overseeing a youth movement.
The Warriors have three recent lottery picks on their roster in James Wiseman (second overall in 2020), Jonathan Kuminga (seventh in 2021), and Moses Moody (14th in 2021), all of whom have only seen limited action in their careers. Let’s call them the “Young Warriors.”
Combined with the recently paid, 23-year-old Jordan Poole, the Warriors have hoped that this next generation can one day succeed the Big Three and carry the team into a new era of championship contention.
The belief was that the Warriors would use this season to merge these two timelines — jostling for a top playoff seed while getting their youngsters valuable on-court experience. It could be an important season for the development of Wiseman, Kuminga, and Moody, who could ostensibly learn the NBA game in the winningest environment in the league.
However, through the the first 14 games of the season, the Warriors have only provided further proof that team development in the NBA is rarely a straight path.
The Warriors are 6-8, 10th in the Western Conference. Their issues are numerous — they’re 0-7 on the road, haven’t had a reliable second option behind Curry, and their typically stout defense has fallen to 25th in the league.
Baked into those issues is that the Young Warriors have looked — well, young.
While the Warriors have blitzed opponents when their veterans are on the floor, they’ve been handily outscored when the Young Warriors play.
The struggles of the Warriors’ bench has put more pressure on the starters — Curry, in particular — to dig them out of holes. For example, the Warriors needed 47 points from Curry to eek out a win over the Sacramento Kings last week.
The struggles of the bench seem to have reached a breaking point for head coach Steve Kerr. After a five-game losing streak from October 29 to November 5, Moody and Wiseman have sat out entire games while Kuminga’s minutes have been limited.
After a 122-115 loss to the Kings on Sunday, Kerr acknowledged to reporters that the Warriors can’t simultaneously win while developing the young core.
“The hard part for Moses and JK and Wise is they’re young guys who need to learn by making mistakes to figure out what they can and can’t do,” Kerr said. “But we’re not a team that can afford to let guys make mistakes. It’s unfair to them, but it’s the reality of what we’re facing. The way we’re playing, we’re not good enough to withstand a lot of mistakes.”
While all three players saw some action in a rollicking 132-95 win over the San Antonio Spurs on Monday, Kerr announced afterward that Wiseman will go to the G League for an extended stint.
It’s the type of move that can be a tough blow for a young player taken high in the draft. But Wiseman’s own journey has been anything but typical: He played just three games in college because of eligibility issues, played 39 games his rookie year before tearing his ACL, then missed all of last year while recovering from the injury.
“I’m a huge believer long-term he’s going to be a really good player,” Kerr said, “but he needs reps.”
The early-season hiccups are a reminder of why so few teams are able to smoothly transition eras. As Kerr said, young players need the game action to develop, but contending teams can’t offer the necessary amount of time.
The Spurs are one of the few teams to have pulled it off in recent years, largely because late-draft gems like Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili were able to contribute early on, then took on larger roles as Tim Duncan aged. The draft-day trade for Kawhi Leonard in 2011 also proved vital, as Leonard developed into an All-Star who led the team from 2015 to 2018.
Even some of the more impressive examples of transitioning eras involved a gap year. The Celtics went to the playoffs six straight years, won a championship, and made the Finals from 2008 to 2013. When they finally off-loaded the core of Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce, and Rajon Rondo, they missed the playoffs in 2014-15 before successfully rebuilding and getting back in the mix.
The Warriors have been more open than most teams about their hopes of smoothly transitioning eras, but even their leaders haven’t fooled themselves into thinking it’ll be easy. Warriors GM Bob Myers told Sports Illustrated’s Howard Beck last year of the challenge: “I don’t know that there is a map … I’ll tell you in a couple years.”