The Golden State Warriors failed in their bid to take a three-peat last June, a failure that was compounded by the exit of limping megastar Kevin Durant. His exit led general manager Bob Myers to dump beloved but costly elder wizards Andre Iguodala and Shaun Livingston in favor of youthful potential. The most heralded of the youngsters include:
- 23-year old D’Angelo Russell, the All-Star guard with the smooth game and the major chip on his shoulder. There’s a highlight of D-Lo daggering the Lakers in crunch time last year and then activating his iconic “Ice In My Veins” taunt that I have watched maybe 10,000 times since he joined the Warriors.
- 23-year old Kevon Looney, the defensive-minded big with the wingspan of a pterodactyl and the heart of a lion. He finished 9th among centers in Real Plus Minus last season, and has been encouraged by Warriors coach Steve Kerr to expand his range beyond the arc.
- 22-year old sophomore Jacob Evans III, 22-year old rookie Eric Paschall, 20-year old rookie Jordan Poole, and 19-year old rookie Alen Smailagic will all be given a real opportunity to battle for playing time.
That’s not even mentioning the crucial acquisition of 26-year old Willie Cauley-Stein, the agile, rim protecting 7-footer. It also means that after five straight Finals and seven straight playoff tours, the Golden Empire is attempting to prolong it’s longevity with a youth movement.
Nick Friedell dived into this topic in an ESPN article entitled, “Warriors’ ‘Strength in Numbers’ gives way to ‘Faith in Youngsters’”. He noted that the Dubs went from being the 3rd-oldest team last year to the 8th-youngest this season.
Out of curiosity, I compared the roster’s age to another other recent dynasty five years after its first title: the 2004 San Antonio Spurs. That team featured a third year Tony Parker and a second year Manu Ginobili alongside a 27-year old Tim Duncan. The investment the Spurs poured into Parker and Ginobili would pay dividends for well over a decade.
The Warriors are hoping they can do the same with their new youngsters, as Golden State’s Core 3 of Stephen Curry, Draymond Green, and Klay Thompson all will be in their 30’s by the time the season ends.
There wasn’t much room for patient development for young players when the Warriors were hellbent on ruling the NBA with an iron fist. Hungry veterans lent their savvy support to the dominant All-Stars. There were only so many minutes to go around and the standard was set too high to allow youngers player the full latitude they needed to grow.
My favorite quotes from Friedell’s excellent piece revealed the difficulty of integrating young players when the team is battling for championships.
Warriors assistant general manager Kirk Lacob cited departed draftees Jordan Bell and Patrick McCaw in particular as players who excelled in limited roles as rookies but struggled in their second seasons when they failed to receive an expanded role. When a team’s goal is winning titles, there’s little margin for the kinds of errors that young players make.
”I had a conversation with Draymond about this right after our season. He said, ‘I would not be the player I was today if I had come onto this Warriors team three years ago,’” Lacob said. “He’s like ‘When I got here, we were a completely different team. I was given a chance, and I failed a lot.’ And he’s like, ‘I sucked my first year. My second year I was OK. My third year I got an opportunity. That’s hard for young guys who aren’t being given that opportunity because we got guys who have been here a long time and have established roles. There’s just no opportunity for growth.’”
There’s plenty of room now. Dub Nation will be keeping a firm eye on who takes advantage of it, and who doesn’t.