The Warriors’ plan to dominate the next era hits its first hurdle

The Golden State Warriors’ attempt to make it through two schedules had a shaky start.

The current champions this season got into a unique position: trying to keep winning with the core of Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson and Draymond Green, while also overseeing Al Shabab.

The Warriors have three recent lottery picks on their roster in James Wiseman (2nd in 2020), Jonathan Cuminga (7th in 2021), and Moses Moody (14th in 2021), all of whom have seen only limited action in their careers. Let’s call them “Young Warriors”.

Paired with 23-year-old Jordan Paul, the Warriors hoped that this next generation could one day trail behind the Big Three and move the team into a new era of championship contention.

The belief was that the Warriors would use this season to combine those two schedules—competing for the top two seeds while getting valuable on-court experience for their kids. It could be an important season for the development of Weisman, Cuminga, and Moody, who ostensibly can learn the NBA game in the league’s win-win environment.

However, through the first 14 games of the season, the Warriors provided further evidence that team development in the NBA is rarely a straight path.

The Warriors' plan to dominate the next era hits its first hurdle
James Wiseman and Stephen Curry. 
Phelan M. Ebenhack/AP Images

The Warriors 6-8, 10th in the Western Conference. Their problems are numerous – they’re 0-7 on the road, they don’t have a reliable second choice behind Curry, and their usually stout defense is down to 25th in the league.

So immersed in these issues is that the young warriors have looked — well, guys.

While the Warriors may outsmart their opponents when the Veterans are on the floor, they are easily outmatched when the Young Warriors are playing.

The Warriors bench struggles put more pressure on the rookies — Curry, especially — to get them out of the holes. For example, the Warriors needed 47 points from Curry to pull off a win over the Sacramento Kings last week.

Difficulties on the bench appear to have reached a breaking point for coach Steve Kerr. After a five-game losing streak from October 29 to November 5, Moody Wiseman missed entire games while Cumminga’s minutes were limited.

After losing 122-115 to the Kings on Sunday, Kerr acknowledged to reporters that the Warriors can’t win at the same time while developing their young core.

“The difficult part for Moses, JK and Wise is that they are guys who need to learn by making mistakes to know what they can and cannot do,” Kerr said. “But we are not a team that can allow players to make mistakes. It’s unfair to them, but it’s the reality of what we’re up against. The way we play, we’re not good enough to take so many mistakes.”

The Warriors' plan to dominate the next era hits its first hurdle
Moses Moody and Jonathan Kuminga have been up-and-down this season. 
Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images

While all three players saw some action in a 132-95 thrashing of the San Antonio Spurs on Monday, Kerr announced then that Wiseman would be going to the G League for a long time.

It’s the kind of move that can be a slam dunk for a young player who’s high in the draft. But Wiseman’s journey hasn’t been typical: He only played three games in college due to eligibility issues, played 39 games before tearing his ACL, then missed all of last year while recovering from an injury.

“I’m a big believer in the long run that he’s going to be a really good player, but he needs reps,” Kerr said.

Early-season hiccups are a reminder of why few teams are capable of a smooth transition of eras. As Kerr said, young players need the game to evolve, but opposing teams can’t deliver the necessary time.

Tottenham are one of the few teams to have accomplished in recent years, in large part because late gems like Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili were able to contribute early on, then take on bigger roles like Omar Tim Duncan. 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 most impressive examples of transitional ages included a gap year. The Celtics went to the playoffs six years in a row, won the championship, and made it to the Finals from 2008 to 2013. When they finally gutted Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce, and Rajon Rondo, they missed the playoffs in 2014-15 before successfully rebuilding and returning to the mix. .

The Warriors were more open than most teams about their hopes for a smooth transition of the eras, but even their leaders didn’t fool themselves into thinking it would be easy. Warriors general manager Bob Myers told Sports Illustrated’s Howard Beck last year about the challenge: “I don’t know there’s a map… I’ll tell you in a couple of years.”


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