Sitting in a bar on Haight Street in San Francisco on Wednesday evening, a copy of The Chronicle’s Sporting Green rested idly on the corner of the bar top unattended. Picking it up, there was little surprise that many of the featured pieces were concerning the upcoming playoff series between the Golden State Warriors and the Sacramento Kings, completely free of the pernicious discourse—or lack thereof—on Twitter or the crazed ranting of some mouth-breathing sports talk radio hosts.
One particular column, by C.J. Holmes, with the printed title of “Matchup provides big test for youth” (digital version here), raised an interesting point.
The youth and inexperience of the Kings has been a point of emphasis in sizing up this first round meeting between Northern California’s two teams, and for good reason. Whether it was the Lakers reportedly wanting to play Sac due to the inexperience, or Draymond Green expressing that it’s important for he and his team to “pounce” on that greenness, or Mike Brown saying that such a target is “deserving,” there’s a universal understanding that experience matters regardless of how talented a team is.
Warriors fans that watched their franchise ascend from a large depression among the league were forced to witness their team go through some growing pains. They beat the third seed Nuggets and took the eventual conference champion Spurs to six games, but that loss, accompanied by a seven-game series defeat to the Clippers the following year, constituted the visceral feeling of falling short that is requisite—in some form or another—for title contention.
Experience can’t be made up. And on top of the lack of it, there’s an ostensible lack of seasoning on a team that, as Holmes points out, has an average age of 25.7.
However, as Holmes notes, the round one matchup will not only test the Kings, but also the younger players involved in Golden State’s rotation.
“Golden State’s big three boast some of the strongest playoff pedigrees of any players of their generation, but the Warriors relied on several less experienced players—especially Jordan Poole and Jonathan Kuminga—throughout the regular season just to stay afloat,” Holmes writes.
Of course, given that all of the players in question were on board for their championship run last season, it’s very different than the Kings regarding youth. But it’s an issue that does diminish—even if marginally—the perception that, up and down, the Warriors are free of incertitude.
There is definitely incertitude.
Amid Golden State’s odd and late-blooming season, the discussions surrounding the conundrum of the older guard players and the newer guard players were abounding. It’s nothing new.
Recall, the season prior to last, after they’d been eliminated from the Play-In Tournament, General Manager Bob Myers said the key to contention is having veterans. They added Otto Porter Jr., Gary Payton II—who has since returned via trade—and old friend Nemanja Bjelica. Outside of Jordan Poole—who was playing at a historic level early on—the playoff rotation that went all the way had little to do with youth.
This season, they added other old friend Donte DiVincenzo—who’s been terrific, which does not surprise Kings fans—as well as JaMychal Green to the roster, but Green has not been the replacement for Porter Jr. that they’d thought he’d be, and the team had to go out and reacquire GPII.
The inevitability of a transition to younger talent is on the minds of everyone inside and outside of the Warriors organization, and the hesitancy is undeniable. And here in these playoffs exists the need for that youth to, at least in part, be forced into a far more prominent role.
Jordan Poole, while still being that primary scorer off the bench, had an underwhelming season in terms of efficiency and reliability after signing an extension in October. Poole seems like the biggest question mark despite having a track record as Holmes described:
Which version of Poole will the Warriors see in this series? Will it be the guard who averaged 27 points per game while shooting 50.7% (44.7% from 3-point distance) during Golden State’s four-game homestand in late March, or the man who went 0-of-10 against an undermanned Sacramento team on Friday?
When Poole is on his game, it’s usually an offensive spectacle on par with something you’d see from Curry and Thompson. But when Poole’s off, pressing, committing turnovers and playing lackluster defense, his presence on the court can hurt Golden State in a variety of ways.
Another name is Jonathan Kuminga, who has been a bright spot in terms of holding down a role, but he’s all but 20 years of age and saw very limited minutes in last year’s playoffs. He’s not as raw of a talent, but the issues with adjusting to the game that kept him off the floor for much of his rookie season and which seemed to make Golden State reluctant to lean into his usage could potentially come into view with a rotational role in the playoffs.
They don’t even play Moses Moody very much despite his ability to be an effective scorer off the bench, but as Holmes writes, “Golden State is one injury away from asking Moody to play a larger role.” He went on to note that the former lottery pick has done well to stay ready, including in the Conference Finals last season, but could he maintain the right kind of impact for more than a few games? Warriors fans can’t even answer that.
This isn’t to say the field is level regarding experience in age, it most certainly isn’t. However, for all the talk about experience and inexperience, it’s fair to highlight the uncertainty of youth on both teams.