After winning an NBA championship, the Golden State Warriors are entering a strange changing of the guard. It’s time to put Light Years to the test.
Would you tell me, please, which way I ought to go from here?” asks Alice of the Cheshire Cat in Alice in Wonderland. “That depends a good deal on where you want to get to,” replied the cat.
The Golden State Warriors are about to face the music. After years of excellence, finding contributors in free agency, drafting well and developing in-house talent, the front office made a decision not to bring back several veterans on a title-winning team.
This past offseason was a clear line of demarcation, where the front office told the Cheshire Cat they’re boldly heading one way.
When Gary Payton II and Otto Porter Jr. walked in free agency, it was disappointing, but understandable. Running the 2021-22 NBA champion roster back would’ve been a defensible move for any front office, but with an abundance of young talent on the roster, Bob Myers had to eventually give them a shot.
But giving the young talent increased roles doesn’t mean that there’s any less pressure on this team to win. Steph Curry has proven that he’s still one of the best players in the world when the playoffs come. And his sidekicks are no slouches either: Draymond Green was a Defensive Player of the Year candidate before a back injury cut his season short and Klay Thompson should still be getting better after a long absence.
Additionally, none of those guys are getting younger, and while I thought last season was their final chance at winning a title together, there’s a world where they can do it again.
What can we expect from the young players?
Jonathan Kuminga and Moses Moody are entering their second seasons and while Steve Kerr 2.0 still didn’t trust rookies playing serious minutes (just like the previous versions of Kerr), there’s no excuse next season.
Kuminga was thrust into a bigger role in February and March last season, right as the injury bug started biting, and he filled the athletic four role perfectly. In those 26 games, he averaged 13.1 points per game, 4.6 rebounds and 1.5 assists while shooting 53 percent from the floor and just under 30 percent from three.
He’s definitely not the passer that Draymond is (1:1 assist to turnover ratio in that same time frame) and he was lost defensively inside the three-point line, but he added a transition element the Warriors haven’t had in a long time.
And outside of transition, he was able to effectively find his shot, shooting over smaller defenders or skying for alley-oops via cuts or rolls. And while on that, holy f**k, he’s one of those incredible leapers like Zach LaVine or Vince Carter. I begrudgingly smiled every time Bob Fitzgerald said “where did he find the trampoline on the court”.
His finishing for a role player is something that the Warriors haven’t had in a long time and it should be a proven commodity that Kerr can bank on when looking for an easy bucket. At full strength, Kuminga could have some very high-scoring games as he finds himself more open than ever.
It was clear he needed to jump some mental hurdles last year, after being featured on the G-League Ignite roster in 2021 to getting some DNP-CDs for a playoff team in May and June, he was never truly sure when he was allowed to put his head down and hunt his own shot against a set defence.
If he’s getting spoon-fed ten points per game off cuts and spot-ups, that confidence should naturally come, and we might see what a fully actualised Jonathan Kuminga looks like next season.
Moody was as advertised last season: 19 years old, going on 34. He’s a mature defender who was trusted to guard Luka Doncic, Jalen Brunson and Spencer Dinwiddie in the Dallas Mavericks series.
Unlike Kuminga, Moody was unlucky with injuries ahead of him in the rotation so his minutes remained low.
In the 2022 Summer League, Moses averaged 16.3 points including a hyper-efficient 34-point performance on 13 shots. That’s not who he is in the league, but it’s nice to know he’s better than the worst players out there.
After letting OPJ, GPII, Juan Toscano-Anderson and Damion Lee leave in free agency, there are a lot of minutes on the wing and both the second-year players should be lapping them up.
Unfortunately, I’m still reading off the scouting report here since Moses didn’t have a two-month stretch like Kuminga where fans got to see what he can do in 30-plus minutes a night.
But it was only a matter of time before I mentioned it… James Wiseman looks good in the preseason.
Big Jim is dunking on defenders, trying to finish alley-oops over seven-footers and looking like a number two overall pick. He’s faster than every big man he shares the court with and, while only preseason, he looks like a rotation player.
I’ll believe it when I see it, but after missing an entire season with a meniscus injury, Wiseman is ready to return to the court and at the very least, he can’t look any worse than he did two seasons ago.
If he can play, he’ll be battling with Kevon Looney for starting minutes. If he can’t, the Warriors have Looney and JaMychal Green in their big rotation. Wiseman would be a very easy player to salary dump, but that’s an awful way to look at a player who has been extremely unlucky throughout his career.
And just because it needs a mention; there has been plenty of buzz around Ryan Rollins and his potential role as a point guard off the bench. If the 44th overall pick turns out to be a real player, well that’s Light Years doing work, isn’t it?
The Warriors need to sign Jordan Poole to an extension
Jordan Poole is extension eligible right up until the start of the regular season. It’d be an extension from his rookie contract, meaning his possible max is lower than a standard max contract.
The Warriors would be foolish to not offer it to him. Not only would an extension lock up a seriously talented guard – especially one who can slowly replace Klay Thompson if he moves to the forward positions or can’t get back to his former glory – it’d be amazing value.
Poole had a Most Improved Player-like season last year and the 23-year-old should have an even bigger role next season.
A contract extension would pay him around $24 million in his first season, with slight raises for the next four years after that, should he want to sign a four-year deal. That’s a fine number for a player of Poole’s mould, look at it like Anfernee Simons or Jalen Brunson money.
It gets tricky when calculating the tax issues Golden State run into since they’re paying so much for this roster already. Tim Kawakami, The Athletic, breaks that down here but just know, it’s a shit ton.
Additionally, the league’s salary cap is about to jump by about 8.4 percent and any contracts signed under the old cap still rise from the old cap. A Poole extension, while rising, would rise much slower than the salary cap, making it even greater value.
But the Warriors wouldn’t risk losing a player for nothing would they? We know that this team is a title contender with Swaggy Poole coming off the bench and this ownership group has done nothing but pay for it… so far.
I don’t think we will see an extension before the start of the 2022-23 season. Yes, it’s exceptional value, both from a financial and a team morale point of view, but the downside risk isn’t too scary.
Poole would be a restricted free agent next season if he doesn’t sign an extension, and any contract offered by another team would be slightly less than what Golden State’s would start with. The Warriors might run into a Gordon Hayward situation of their own, but in the short term, they’d save a lot of cashola.
Who is Klay Thompson?
It’s really hard to judge Klay Thompson. On one hand, he shot the ball worse than he ever has: 43 percent from the floor and 39 percent from three (a career-low from behind the arc). He also posted a league-average effective field goal percentage, per Cleaning the Glass, the first time in his life he wasn’t near the top of the league.
But when you look at the full picture of his return, he played 11 seconds with Draymond Green and Steph Curry before the playoffs started. And when Draymond returned from his back injury, Steph missed the final 11 games of the season before coming off the bench in the first round against the Denver Nuggets.
Of course his stats will look worse, he didn’t have his long-time point guard and running mate next to him, Draymond was hampered and Andre Iguodala isn’t the same distributor and player he was the last time they played together.
Unfortunately, Klay wasn’t the defensive stopper he once was in the playoffs and it really became about hiding him on a weaker offensive option while Andrew Wiggins and GPII took the hard tasks.
This was after two seasons of missed basketball, and the 2022-23 season will be the first that Klay has been able to fully ramp up for and separate himself from those disastrous knee injuries (he’s not playing in the preseason as Kerr gives him more of a “ramp up” per Kendra Andrews, ESPN).
Against the Boston Celtics in the NBA Finals, Thompson flashed some defensive brilliance, excelling as a help defender from the corners. Wiggins and Payton II took the brunt of the offence but Klay knew where to be and how to clog passing lanes, helping slow down the Celtics’ stars.
Is that really something you can repeat and rely on in the regular season? Sure, he’s a great help defender but how much does that matter when you’re not running up against a specific opponent in Jayson Tatum who likes to turn around in the low post?
The elusive possibility of a trade
For the past few seasons, the content machine that is the NBA cognoscenti has gushed over every Golden State trade possibility, both realistic and not. It made a lot more sense when Wiggins wasn’t an established commodity and the young prospects were still draft picks, waiting to be used, but the rumours will still come up.
The Warriors have salary to send out for a max-level player, and the young talent in Poole, Wiseman, Moody and Kuminga to convince any team looking to blow it up that they can kick-start their rebuild with foundational pieces.
While all those trades will still be there this season, they’re less likely as there’s no pressure on the Warriors to push all their chips in for one final run at a title. Winning the 2021-22 championship should dispel the belief that this team has to make a major move if they want to win a title.
This also gives the front office the freedom to pursue the ‘two windows’ approach of competing for a title while developing the next young core of superstars. My friend and colleague, Dante Boffa, isn’t so convinced that this can be easily done but at the very least, we’re about to find out.
Also getting in the way of a trade is the buyout market. Golden State is unlikely to fill the 15th and final roster spot according to Anthony Slater, Shams Charania, The Athletic. By not signing a final player, they save [a big number] dollars in luxury tax bills while also keeping the powder dry for a veteran free agent mid-season.
It could be a Marvin Williams type, a Goran Dragic type or a Serge Ibaka type, but there will always be veterans in losing situations who want out. When that player comes, the Warriors will have a seat ready at the end of the bench.
Who needs to trade players for an upgrade when you can sign them for free *rolls eyes in Light Years*.
And now for a prediction
I didn’t think the Warriors would win last year. All I wanted was a close series between us and the Phoenix Suns, just to make The Deep Two NBA Podcast spicy for a couple of weeks, but things don’t always work out like they’re supposed to.
Today, I can’t see the Warriors stopping Kawhi Leonard, Nikola Jokic or Giannis Antetokounmpo in a seven-game series.
But in the proverbial tomorrow, we don’t even know what these teams are going to look like. What always seems to prevail is leadership and experience. The Warriors were able to adjust against two very tough opponents in the Memphis Grizzlies and Boston Celtics and pull off improbable playoff wins.
Last season saw people question if Steph was still ‘Steph’, if Klay could even play basketball anymore and if the cheap free agency additions were any good at all.
This season, we know that the top-end talent is there, the major questions are around just how talented the young players are. If they can’t be effective players in the league, then the veterans have a lot of work to do. However, if one or more of them explode, then this team could reach new heights.
You rarely see an NBA champion get better or have this much young upside. The question is no longer about if a ‘two windows’ approach will ruin their chances at another title, the question is how many titles will it get them. In my eyes, at least one more, one more in 2022-23.