The Golden State Warriors are somehow pulling off a delicate balancing act between their present and future that many advised against coming into this season.
After all, the remaining core members of their team that won them three NBA championships between 2015 and 2019 are now well into their 30s. Their days as a legitimate contender are limited and most pundits felt that it would be best to deal their younger players for a more established veteran who could immediately help their cause.
The Warriors eventually stood pat, deciding against a “win-now” move, and are beginning to reap the benefits of their belief in their prospects. While they have slid to third in the West, their ranking in their conference is more indicative of their rivals’ strength more than anything else–their 45-22 record is good enough to lead the Eastern Conference at the moment.
While the 33-year-old Stephen Curry remains brilliant and their focal point on offense, the next generation has begun to make waves of their own as perfectly showcased in their 113-102 win over the Denver Nuggets.
Curry dropped 34 points on 11-of-21 shooting in the win and his longtime backcourt partner Klay Thompson added 18 of his own, but the win would not have been possible without the tandem of Jordan Poole and Jonathan Kuminga.
The 22-year-old Poole was electric all night long, tallying 21 points, five rebounds, and seven assists off the bench. He finished with a team-best +29, beating out Curry’s +18 by a significant margin, and topped off his fantastic evening with two three-pointers in the last minute of the game that sealed the win.
After an initial struggle in his adjustment to a diminished workload following Thompson’s return last January, Poole has settled in nicely to his reserve role. He has scored over 10 points in all but two of his last 22 appearances and provides Golden State with another credible scoring threat who can help ease Curry’s load.
Jonathan Kuminga, the seventh pick in last year’s draft, has similarly come into his own over these past weeks. Kuminga was inconsistent at first after being thrust into more playing time in the absence of Draymond Green. More recently, the 19-year-old has finally put together a semblance of consistency as he has scored at least 13 points in five of their last six contests.
Kuminga scored 18 points in their win over Denver as a member of the second unit and continues to show improvement on a nightly basis. The knock on him in the build-up to the draft was that he was a ball stopper and that was deemed as his biggest weakness.
He fell into the perfect situation with the Warriors, who have won championships playing an unselfish style of basketball. His development has been promising and if he can further improve on his perimeter shot, at least one NBA All-Star game appearance should be within his grasp.
His fellow 19-year-old Moses Moody struggled as a starter against the Nuggets, but he torched them for 30 points in their prior meeting three days earlier. Sans Curry and Thompson, Moody took advantage and overtook Kuminga for the most points scored by a teenager in franchise history.
Golden State’s future is bright with these three onboard and if they can continue producing ahead of schedule the way they have been doing over these past few weeks, then winning another championship is a distinct possibility. These young scorers give the Warriors overall roster depth at a level that they have not had since their first title in 2015.
The rest of the decade is already looking exciting for this franchise even without taking into consideration their soon-to-be 21-year-old center James Wiseman. The second pick in last year’s draft is now ramping up his activity in the G-League as he enters the last few stages of his rehabilitation from a torn meniscus that he suffered late last year.
The extension of Golden State’s winning ways is practically guaranteed if the 7’0 Wiseman can even scratch the surface of his sky-high potential. On a franchise that has a long history of poor interior play, a couple of strong seasons and All-Star appearances will immediately make him their best big man since the legendary Wilt Chamberlain in the 1960s. The historically great level of shooting around him will only make things easier for Wiseman on the inside.
No one thought that it was possible for an NBA team to successfully juggle a title campaign and preparations for the future. These Warriors have proven their skeptics wrong so far and have made a habit of doing so since they first banded together. After all, no one thought that a three-point shooting team led by a scrawny point guard could ever win a championship before this group pulled it off.
While the past few years have brought them back to Earth, the progress that they have made this season–both for their present run and the future–has everyone thinking once again that maybe they really are light years ahead.