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Warriors give their young players a much-needed boost of confidence

With struggles and lack of playing time abound, the team gives its youth movement an injection of needed playing time

San Antonio Spurs v Golden State Warriors Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

Let’s get the obvious caveat out of the way: the San Antonio Spurs are far from being world beaters. They’re a rebuilding team gunning for a favorable lottery spot — and are probably one French phenom away from kickstarting their rebuild with a prized possession.

They’re 22nd on offense, 28th on defense, 26th in net rating, and are lacking in consistent advantage creation. They have promising young pieces in Devin Vassell and Keldon Johnson, with a veteran center in Jakob Poeltl who could find himself on another team before the trade deadline passes by.

In short, the Golden State Warriors were supposed to blow out this team.

On the other hand, there were many other teams the Warriors were supposed to win against: the Detroit Pistons, the Charlotte Hornets, and the Orlando Magic, to name a few. But for a variety of reasons, they weren’t able to do the job.

This isn’t to play down the quality of those teams, who are, after all, still NBA caliber and can beat other NBA teams on any given day. But as the defending champions with a top-heavy roster, the Warriors were highly favored in those matchups but failed to live up to such expectations.

You can take this win against the Spurs as one of two ways: you can appreciate it as a confidence builder of sorts for everyone, most especially for the young guys who have found it hard to garner a consistent rhythm due to inconsistent playing time; or you can take this win for what it is — an expected win against an opponent of inferior quality.

I choose to take the former viewpoint because of things that I loved seeing from the Warriors’ young players. The opponent being of a lower quality may have helped, but what the youth needs right now is that boost of confidence that can be highly transmissible toward future games, especially against more dangerous opponents.

Jordan Poole being in the starting lineup helped; being surrounded by players with high basketball IQ and veteran leadership unlocks his game and unloads a considerable amount of pressure off of him. He finished with 36 points on 20 shots against the Spurs, including a 5-of-10 clip from beyond the arc.

Poole is virtually a Steph Curry doppelganger when he’s on the floor, a whirling dervish off the ball and a dynamic on-ball creator. At his idealized form, he can be another Curry-like threat that presents a conundrum for defenses whenever both he and Curry share the court.

At best, he’s a poison defenses will have to live with should they choose to pay more heed to Curry:

The numbers would tell you otherwise about the Curry-Poole pairing: opponents are outscoring the Warriors by 2.3 points per 100 possessions in their 186 minutes together. Part of that is the untenability of playing two small guards — one who’s been a defensive liability — as a backcourt pairing.

But credit must be given where it’s due. Poole had one of his better defensive performances against the Spurs. His screen navigation was noticeably improved compared to his difficulties against the Sacramento Kings.

Even when he falls behind on this screen-and-roll possession, he shows enough tenacity to recover toward his man and block the shot from behind, which translates into points on the other end:

But the thing that was arguably more impressive was his denial of screen usage, directing ball handlers away from the screen and toward their weak hand (“Weak” pick-and-roll coverage) and/or directing them toward the sideline and away from the middle (“ICE” pick-and-roll coverage).

Jonathan Kuminga also had himself a night: 15 points on 8 shots, 3 rebounds, and 4 assists in nearly 25 minutes of action. One of the biggest knocks on Kuminga has been his decision making and processing. As someone expected to spend time shuffling up and down frontcourt positions — particularly as a 4 in small lineups and as a 3 in conventional configurations — Kuminga is expected to develop as a reliable cog in the Warriors’ read-and-react system.

The dunks were impressive; the defense —already showing signs of promise — continued to be there. Even the threes were going down (3-of-4). But the thing that arguably impressed the most was from this possession:

With the possession quickly turning into a stagnant mess, one would think that Kuminga would isolate against his man and attempt to create something out of nothing. Instead, he directs positioning on the floor by telling Kevon Looney to post up on the left block for split action — and then proceeds to set a split-cut screen for Anthony Lamb, only to slip the screen and dive toward the rim, which garners him a trip to the line.

It’s these flashes of sound decision making that will not only earn Kuminga minutes — it’ll compel Steve Kerr to keep him on the floor as a viable part of the rotation.

Moses Moody had a more modest stat line of 11 points on 9 shots, 2 rebounds, and 4 assists — which did not make his contributions any less impressive than his fellow youth. He has always been considered the “headiest” of the players’ recent draft acquisitions of the past two years, showing flashes of veteran poise and steadiness.

However, the recent string of DNPs for reasons unknown to the public has baffled observers and fans alike. With Klay Thompson resting and Poole starting, this was an opportunity for Moody to show he deserves rotation consideration from Kerr.

He’s a league average shooter as of the moment (36%), with the potential to become a 38-39 percenter in the future — as long as he takes shots within the flow of the offense and feasts on open catch-and-shoot looks created by his teammates.

This was a needed bounce-back win for the Warriors for a variety of reasons. Every non-starting-lineup configuration was suffering (outscored by nearly 9 points per 100 possessions, per Cleaning The Glass), with Kerr having to scramble for viable combinations and having to deduce who can be a reliable rotation piece and who needed to be shelved.

This game may have helped Kerr in determining who he can trust moving forward — but more importantly, it provided confidence for those who may have taken morale hits while being relegated to mere spectators on the bench.

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