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Youth spotlight: Moses Moody and Jordan Poole flash the potential of the Warriors’ future

The young Dubs excelled despite another loss.

NBA: Golden State Warriors at Denver Nuggets Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports

The Golden State Warriors have now lost five consecutive games. They’re 1-5 after the All-Star Break. They’ve lost control of the no. 2 seed, and are half a game behind the Memphis Grizzlies for that coveted home-court advantage up till the Western Conference Finals.

The Warriors may not care about seeding at this point, even with the Utah Jazz breathing down their necks and the Dallas Mavericks also looming nearby. Being healthy and having a full squad to bring into what will be a tough playoff run is key.

Draymond Green is returning on Stephen Curry’s birthday. Andre Iguodala seems ready to come back at any moment. James Wiseman is close, but how close? No one outside of the organization truly knows.

(And when Wiseman does come back, plenty of doubt has been raised about the possibility of him cracking the rotation and playing meaningful minutes, so there’s that.)

This latest loss against the Denver Nuggets was expected. The Warriors opted not to bring their heavy hitters for reasons twofold: 1) to give their key guys rest by letting them return home to the Bay, instead of going on a tiring flight to Denver and then going on another flight home; 2) to protest the NBA’s decision to schedule their make-up game in a way that’ll force them to play three games in four nights.

With no Curry, Klay Thompson, and Andrew Wiggins, this was a grand opportunity to showcase the Warriors’ youth movement — and the youth didn’t disappoint. The energy and flow on offense was continuous. There was a certain verve that just wasn’t present the past couple of games. The ball movement and off-ball movement were mostly sharp.

The struggling half-court offense saw a one-night resurgence (107.5 ORTG in the half court, 83rd percentile). The transition attack (170.0 ORTG in transition, 90th percentile) took full advantage of a Nuggets defense that was fresh off a grueling overtime game the previous night.

The tone-setter that kickstarted the Warriors offense was Moses Moody, who finished with a career-high 30 points on 23 shots (5-of-11 on twos, 5-of-12 on threes) and 58.5% True Shooting. It was quite amusing to see the Nuggets treat Moody as a non-shooter during the initial stages of the game. The scouting report on Moody prior to the game pegged him as a 34.7% shooter from beyond the arc — roughly around league average.

What the Nuggets probably forgot to scout was the recent uptick in Moody’s shooting. Zooming in on his three-point shooting starting from January 31 will show a more representative sample of how he’s improved his stock as a floor spacer: 21-of-41 (51.2%) going into the game.

The Nuggets were content on slow close-outs and dropping back on ball screens for Moody, who made the most out of the space he was given. When the Nuggets finally did commit to some hard and fast close-outs, Moody had the presence of mind to use defenders’ close-out momentum against them.

What struck me as most impressive, however, wasn’t the shot-making from beyond the arc, but Moody being cognizant of the growing fear of his outside shooting chops. Hard close-outs, screen-level pick-and-roll coverages, and on-ball defenders going over ball screens will eventually become more common sights. The maturity in Moody’s game is showing through such awareness; the importance of attacking hard close-outs off the catch isn’t lost on him.

Because of Moody’s hot shooting night against the Nuggets, his 34.7% clip on threes prior to the game was elevated to a more considerable 35.6%. At this rate, it wouldn’t be a surprise to see that number go up to a highly respectable 37-39% range. Add his improving defense, and the Warriors may have a burgeoning 3-and-D weapon on their hands.

Another youth standout against the Nuggets was Jordan Poole, who finished with 32 points on 19 shots (3-of-7 on twos, 8-of-12 on threes) and 80.5% True Shooting. Poole hasn’t quite lived up to the expectations of him being an above-average long-range volume shooter — but his eight threes against the Nuggets, some of which were against drop coverage, were representative of the potential that his shooting could one day reach.

Consistency has been the buzz word for Poole this season. He has had bouts of hot streaks and scoring binges, followed by periods of fizzling out (which aren’t helped by moments of subpar decision making). Some of that is due to role confusion: the Warriors seem to want Poole to be both a secondary scoring force to complement their key guys, while also handling some of the lead playmaking duties with their second unit.

When the confusion isn’t there and roles are more defined — i.e., Poole is given more reps to handle the ball and create — he can work his magic, especially as a pick-and-roll ball handler who can punish defenders ducking under screens and/or opposing bigs dropping too far back.

What was more impressive was Poole’s passing in the pick-and-roll against the Nuggets. Some of his passes this season have been quite adventurous, to put it kindly, which has often been the source of doubt behind his true capability as a lead playmaker.

But when Poole slows down to a more manageable cadence — often straddling that thin line between being out of control and being perfectly in control — he can thread beautiful passes through tight spaces.

This wasn’t the best defensive performance from the Warriors (127.5 DRTG), which tracks with how their defense has fallen off from its lofty perch. But the focus and mindset throughout the game was always about the process; the result was secondary.

While the defensive process left a lot to be desired, the process on offense was something the young Dubs should take as a positive. Moody and Poole set the tone with their shot-making and playmaking, while the rest followed their lead.

On shorthanded nights like these, that’s the most you can ask out of a young and inexperienced squad.

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