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January 3 mailbag

Answering all of your Warriors questions.

Jonathan Kuminga standing with his hands on his waist Photo by Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images

The Golden State Warriors are rolling, with a season-high five-game winning streak following Monday’s theatrical double-OT thriller of a win over the Atlanta Hawks. And they’ve done it all while Steph Curry and Andrew Wiggins have been sidelined.

An off day seemed like a good day for a mailbag, and we got a lot of good questions for this one. Let’s jump into them.

Depends on who we’re labeling a “younger player.” Does Jordan Poole count for this exercise? If so, him. He played at an All-Star rate in the second half of last season, while just 22. The bumps in the road this year shouldn’t make us forget that he has the potential to be a 25-point, 6-assist per night guy on 60% true-shooting, which is an easy All-Star.

If we’re limiting “younger players” to the first, second, and third-year players, then ... uhh ... Gui Santos?

Jokes aside, it’s Jonathan Kuminga in my eyes. Kuminga is already becoming a vital part of the bench unit, and can’t legally drink for another 10 months. He’s flashed star potential and, just as importantly, he has a lot of different avenues to get there. I could see JK making the All-Star Game as a scorer, as a defensive-minded player, or as an early-career Andre Iguodala-style do-everything super athlete. There are just a lot of different paths that lead to Kuminga being a star in this league, even if he’s a long ways away from actualizing any of them.

None, I think. The Warriors weren’t even linked to any other free agents in the offseason, despite having the open roster spot. Whatever issues the Dubs may have, DeMarcus Cousins, LaMarcus Aldridge, and Carmelo Anthony ain’t fixing them.

The Warriors might sign a buyout player, but I don’t see them signing someone who’s currently a free agent unless Kevon Looney suffers a serious injury. Then I could see them taking a flier on Hassan Whiteside or Dwight Howard.

For one very big reason: because the Warriors still intend on playing Iguodala big minutes when the games matter most. Iguodala isn’t getting the Udonis Haslem treatment. He’s not being sidelined because he’s unplayable. He’s being sidelined because they want to carry him around in the bulletproof glass case that the pope rides in until the games matter more.

Remember: Iguodala averaged 19.5 minutes per game last year when healthy, and it wasn’t because he played in garbage time. If they can get to April with him being healthy, he’ll likely be playing a large role off the bench.

Sadly the magic that was Draymond Threen last season has not continued this season. A year after the Dubs went 20-1 in games where Dray made a three (including the playoffs), they’re just 11-5 in 2022-23. But they’re 4-0 when he makes multiple threes, so ... root for that, I guess!

At the risk of using a copout answer, getting healthy is the biggest thing that will help. Having more firepower to combat the second-half adjustments will aid the third quarters, while shifting better players to the bench unit will help maintain the first quarter leads.

Beyond that, sloppiness has been an issue with the Dubs for the last decade, and right now it’s being exacerbated when they face adversity. One thing they need to improve on is being more level-headed when the other team is on a run. Right now they start acting like a dog with separation anxiety at a big party, and it turns into a lot of inexcusable turnovers and rushed three-pointers.

Hopefully our wonderful film analyst Joe Viray breaks this down at some point, because he’ll have much more insightful things to say than I can offer.

What I’ll say is this: off-ball defense usually takes young players longer to learn than on-ball defense. Kuminga is substantially better on-ball than off-ball at the moment, and that should be expected. But we’ve seen the game start to slow down for him over the last month or two, and that’s usually when off-ball defense starts to click. He still gets tunnel vision on both ends of the court, though he’s quickly improving that.

Kuminga has all the tools to be a stud help defender. He has a dynamic first step, can jump out of the gym, and is very rangy. He can cover ground as quickly as anybody on the team, with outstanding body control. At this point it’s just a matter of continuing to put in the work. The Dubs are very overtly impressed with how much he’s dedicated himself to defense after the rocky start to the season, and there’s no reason to think we won’t see that reflected in his off-ball play in the coming weeks, months, and years.

It’s hard to say for sure what Moses Moody’s role will be going forward, because we often see players’ roles change fairly quickly with Steve Kerr. That said, Moody has been in Kerr’s doghouse pretty much the entire year, and I’m having a hard time seeing him getting out of it.

Moody hasn’t been bad this year, but he hasn’t been particularly good, either. He just kind of exists on the court, not making many mistakes but not making dynamic plays either. The Warriors seem to want more than that.

As for Anthony Lamb’s chances at getting converted, right now it feels like a toss-up between he and Ty Jerome. Lamb has been the better player this year, I think, but Jerome has been more important in Curry’s absence than Lamb has been in Wiggins’ ... and, even more importantly, Curry is a lot more injury-prone than Wiggins.

I’m in the minority here, but I don’t expect either player to have a role in the rotation when the playoffs come around, assuming the team is fully healthy. Jerome would earn a roster spot if they want insurance for an injury to Curry, Poole, or Donte DiVincenzo, while Lamb would earn a roster spot if they want insurance for an injury to Wiggins, Iguodala, or Kuminga.

It’s so hard to think of trade targets because you don’t know who’s available, and for what price tag. Right now I don’t see the Warriors making a trade ... I think the only player they’d be potentially looking to trade is Moody, and he has low trade value and a low salary spot, so it’s unlikely that anything materializes.

As for my favorite memory of 2022 ... if we’re just counting the calendar year, and not the season, then it has to be Klay Thompson’s return to the court a year ago. What an incredibly special moment that was, especially when he yammed it on the entire Cavaliers organization.

By working hard on defense, studying the veterans, and preparing himself for 2023-24. He has no path towards being in the rotation this season.

Yeah, it’s an issue at the moment. I think a pair of tweets from last night’s game — one from me, and one from Nate Duncan — spell out the issue:

Poole has been trying a little too hard to carry the offense, especially with Curry out. It’s a natural obstacle that shouldn’t be too surprising for a young player who began his career as a 2-guard. It’s something he very much needs to address, and I suspect he will.

Hard to say without knowing what the trade is, but I suspect no. I don’t think there will be many impact players available, and the ones that are probably won’t be gettable given the Dubs lack of assets.

The other issue with midseason trades is we’ve seen how hard it can be for players to pick up on the system. DiVincenzo is, a few months in, starting to really find his rhythm in the system. JaMychal Green was showing signs before falling ill. The likelihood of finding an impact player that’s actually gettable, and who can become comfortable in the system before the playoffs, is very, very low in my eyes.

This is probably the best mailbag question I’ve ever received, and I sincerely hope that people have fun answering it in the comments. Because, I’m ashamed to admit, I know nothing about Pokémon, so I’m useless here.

I was a Magic, The Gathering kid. Sue me.

Love to end on a positive note! I’m gonna take two big positive takeaways.

The first is that the Warriors have been elite at home. They have the best record in the league (17-2) and the second-best net rating (+10.8), and they’ve done that despite Curry missing five home games, Wiggins missing seven, and Klay missing three. Why is that such a positive for me? Because it shows what the Warriors are capable of. Being elite at home doesn’t fix their massive issues on the road, but it does show that they have greatness in them. Most teams that hover around .500 do it by being average. The Warriors have done it by being great half the time, and awful half the time. But the good thing about being great half the time, is it proves that you have greatness in you. The Warriors have a lot of work to do if they want to repeat, but it’s abundantly clear to me that there is a championship team in there ... they just need to access it more frequently.

The second is that Klay is rapidly finding his rhythm. Forget wins, that makes me happy as a fan, and as someone who loves watching good and fun basketball. But it also helps immensely with the wins, as Klay returning to even 90% of his pre-injury performance would go a huge way towards putting the team’s ugly start to the season in the rearview mirror.

As for who has impressed me the most, I think it’s been Kuminga. JK has been in such a difficult position as a lottery pick taken by a contending team. He has not had the chance to play the glamorous role that guys like Scottie Barnes, Josh Giddey, Franz Wagner, Cade Cunningham, and Jalen Green have gotten to play. Instead, he’s been forced to dedicate himself to defense and apply some veteran savvy, and he’s responded so well to that challenge.

Coming into the league, Kuminga felt like a player who would be a star or a bust, with no in between ... now he’s proving that he can be an awesome role player, all while maintaining that star potential.

It’s a joy to watch.

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