Warriors smart to play waiting game with Jonathan Kuminga, young players


Warriors smart to play waiting game with promising young trio originally appeared on NBC Sports Bayarea

After two seasons of trying to find their identity, the Warriors know exactly who they are this year, and know exactly what they’re after: another trip to the NBA Finals. 

Whether or not that will actually happen will only be answered as it plays out, but they are the most equipped they’ve been in a while and are primed to make a deep postseason run. 

With such clear-cut and defined roles comes finding the perfect recipe to get them there. Golden State knows everything they do has to be with getting back atop the league in mind — their lineups, their play calls and their practices.

Those black and white plans lead to a question, though: what does that mean for their two 2021 lottery picks Jonathan Kuminga and Moses Moody, and their second-year player (who’s practically still a rookie) James Wiseman?

The answer to that is quite black and white as well: it means they — particularly Kuminga and Moody — most likely won’t be normal fixtures in the rotation. Wiseman has a chance to see the floor a good amount, but the Warriors will not allow him to learn through mistakes in games as they did last season. While balancing on the very thin tight rope of winning now and investing in the future, the team has decided that winning now is more important.

Before anyone asks, “Why did the Warriors use their draft picks instead of packing them in a trade for a star veteran, then?” Well, the first reason is that they believe there were no deals that they liked over the summer. The second is that Kerr and the Warriors don’t believe that instant gratification is always the right approach. Focusing on winning now doesn’t mean throwing out the future.

“In my experience of playing in the league, guys didn’t really figure it out until their second or third year,” Kerr said. “But in the world we live in, of instant gratification, everybody wants it to happen right away. The same thing is happening with James and will happen with Jonathan — everybody is going to want this to happen right now. But life doesn’t want to work that way in any field of endeavor.

“You’ve got to build a wealth of knowledge and build a skillset and that’s our whole plan here. And maybe our biggest challenge is to convince all these young guys that all this work is going to pay off down the road. Be patient because the world around us doesn’t allow for patience.”

Follow-up question: how will they grow if they aren’t playing in games?

The Warriors made several coaching staff changes this offseason, including the hiring of Kenny Atkinson, Dejan Milojevic and Jama Mahlalela. All three coaches have head coaching experience and have a knack for player development. Their experience molding players is something that Kerr and the rest of the staff that was present during Golden State’s dynastic run don’t have. Their tactics and philosophies, alone, will mold the Warriors’ young trio differently. 

The other tool the Warriors have is their G League affiliate, the Santa Cruz Warriors. Golden State and Santa Cruz have a long-standing relationship and work arm in arm in the plays they run and the way they work on players. Juan Toscano-Anderson, Damion Lee and Jordan Poole are all products of Santa Cruz. 

Kuminga, Moody and Wiseman would not spend nearly as much time in the G League as Toscano-Anderson, Lee or Poole, but it’s a useful space to learn the basics of the Warriors’ system. Earlier this season, Kerr said he saw utilizing Santa Cruz as “100 percent an option.”

“The young guys are just learning what this league is about, and the league about work,” Kerr said. “It’s about figuring out how to build that foundation at an early age … that’s what JK and James and Moses, that’s what they have to do. It’s one of the reasons why Jordan Poole is now playing the way he is — because of two years of working.”

To better equip their young players with the playing time they get, the Warriors have shifted their practices to give them more opportunities. They’re running more five-on-five and four-on-four drills this year — in part because of the change in COVID-19 protocols that limited the number of guys allowed in the gym — but also to get more time in sets with the role players. 

“They’re all very skilled individually, but they need to see the pictures, they need to see the traffic on the court and kind of navigate through that,” Kerr said. “And the only way to do that is to play. If they’re not in the rotation in our games, then we got to get them scrimmage time the next day.”

RELATED: Kerr finds perfect formula for Steph, Poole against Lakers

Moody saw some action in the Warriors’ season-opener against the Lakers on Tuesday night, but the six minutes he got are nowhere near the amount he’ll need to truly develop. Kuminga and Wiseman, on the other hand, are both recovering from injuries. They’re both participating in one-on-one drills but haven’t been able to scrimmage. Once they’re back, they’ll slowly be integrated into the game. 

But no matter when they come back, none of them will see significant playing time right off the bat. Do not worry about that. 

The Warriors see this trio as key pieces to their future who can become the new faces of the franchise as Curry, Klay Thompson and Draymond Green near the ends of their careers. 

While there’s a certain pressure to win a championship now, there isn’t the same pressure to have results from their young players now. Golden State believes time is on their side, and I agree with them. 

With the pieces the Warriors acquired during the offseason and the return of Thompson, they have what they need to be competitive now. They have the most depth they’ve had since their first few championship runs.

So for now, it makes sense to give the teenagers some time to find their footing. 

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