Entering the 2023/24 campaign, the expectation in Golden State was that the addition of veterans like Chris Paul, Dario Saric and Cory Joseph, would help to offset the youth and inexperience that hampered the Warriors during their premature postseason exit a year ago.
While the synergy between Paul and Saric has been crucial off of the Warriors bench, Steve Kerr has had to rely on rookies Brandin Podziemski and Trayce Jackson-Davis much more than anticipated. Even third-year players Moses Moody and Jonathan Kuminga have seen their minutes fluctuate, but their preparation and maturity have paid off in high-intensity moments.
Not only have the Golden State Warriors' youngsters stayed ready in the face of persistent drama and uncertainty, but they've consistently delivered when their numbers have been called
For the second consecutive year, the Warriors' regular season is shaping up to be one heck of a rollercoaster ride. Draymond Green's recent series of on-court transgressions have left the Warriors devoid of their defensive anchor for another extended stretch, while the shoddy play of the starting unit has forced Steve Kerr to re-evaluate his rotational decisions on a nightly basis.
On December 14th, ahead of the Warriors' clash with the Los Angeles Clippers, the first game of Green's indefinite suspension, Steve Kerr decided to switch up his starting lineup, inserting 19th overall pick Brandin Podziemski and Jonathan Kuminga in place of Andrew Wiggins and the suspended Green.
The move came as a surprise to Warriors fans -- not because it wasn't warranted, but because Steve Kerr has been infamously hesitant to trust his young players during high-pressure situations. With Green sidelined indefinitely, and the team fighting to stay afloat in the crowded Western Conference, one could argue that Kerr has never faced more pressure in his entire tenure as head coach.
Not only does Kerr deserve credit for setting personal relationships aside and making a tough decision at a critical juncture in the season, but the Warriors' young guys deserve a ton of credit for earning the trust and respect of the coaching staff as well.
The move immediately paid off for Golden State, who rebounded from a defeat against the Clippers with consecutive victories, a feat they hadn't achieved in December until now. Brandon Podziemski showcased his offensive prowess as he notched a career-high 19 points in just 32 minutes, pivotal in propelling the Warriors to a triumph over the Brooklyn Nets. His standout moment, however, came the following game in Portland, when he took a charge against Blazers' guard Shaedon Sharpe in the final moments of regulation, ultimately securing a crucial road-win in Rip City.
""He’s fearless. And he connects the game. He plays the way we want to play. The ball moves when he’s out there. He’s attacking at the right times. He’s cutting at the right times. Defensively he’s good. He’s a damn good player. So, he’s going to play," Kerr said last month."- Steve Kerr
On Tuesday, the Warriors welcomed the Boston Celtics in a game that many felt could be a potential statement spot for Golden State. After all, a win over the Eastern Conference-leading Celtics without Green would surely boost the morale in the locker room, giving the Dubs a sense of reassurance.
The headlines will remember the late-game heroics of Stephen Curry, who put the C's to bed with a dagger three-point rainbow and his signature 'Night-Night' celebration. But it was the gritty, hard-nosed play of Jonathan Kuminga and Trayce-Jackson Davis that kept the Warriors in the contest down the stretch.
'Podz,' who started his third consecutive game, exited the contest in the second quarter after awkwardly falling on his back. With Stephen Curry in foul trouble for most of the night, the Warriors called on unlikely sources for a spark of inspiration, and both Kuminga and Jackson-Davis answered the bell.
Kuminga was a nuisance on both sides of the ball, consistently forcing tough shots out of Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown while applying pressure offensively with a steady dose of rim attacks.
In nearly 34 minutes of action, 'JK' recorded 17 points on 8-of-13 shooting from the floor, to go along with seven rebounds, two assists, and a pair of steals. Kuminga was everywhere for the Dubs, and his defensive efforts down the stretch were key in not only forcing overtime, but sealing the victory as well.
After the game, Steve Kerr let it be known that the game ball belonged to none other than Jackson-Davis.
""He was the player of the game. There were several huge plays, obviously Steph's shot probably being number one...Trayce's block on Jaylen Brown... But Trayce was the guy who shifted everything.""
Buried at the end of the bench for the majority of seven weeks to begin his NBA career, it's not particularly easy for a second-round pick to stay physically and mentally prepared for minutes that may never come -- but that's exactly what Jackson-Davis has done, and his persistence is starting to pay off in a big way.
With Kevon Looney struggling, and perhaps on a shorter leash than usual, Jackson-Davis saw the most minutes of any game in his young career. In 28 minutes of play, the Indiana product produced his first career double-double with 10 points and 13 boards. The big man also tallied three big-time blocks, including a huge rejection on Jaylen Brown late in overtime.
The Golden State Warriors have lost a lot of ground in the conference, and they will need to grind out wins to survive the bloodbath that is the NBA's West. In the absence of their proverbial backbone and defensive anchor in Green, the Dubs will have to rely on their young guys to step up and contribute solid minutes at both ends of the floor.
Tuesday's win over the Celtics should provide a much-needed confidence boost as the Golden State Warriors look to extend their win streak to four games against the Washington Wizards on Friday.