Warriors

Warriors’ Rookies Contributing in Winning Ways

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Since Draymond Green‘s suspension, the Warriors are 4-1.

They had their most impressive win of the season against the Boston Celtics last Tuesday night at home. The Splash Brothers came up big with some heroic shooting in the fourth quarter and completed the comeback win in overtime.

But it wasn’t just Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson who helped will the Warriors to that win. The team’s younger players like Jonathan Kuminga and Trayce Jackson-Davis stepped up on both ends of the floor against one of the best teams in the league. They are continuing to grow with one of their leaders indefinitely suspended.

The Warriors have a lot of home games coming up. Things are finally starting to look up, and the young guys have a lot to do with it.

Golden State is on a five-game winning streak, and find themselves over .500 before their Christmas Day matchup against the Nuggets. Things are finally starting to turn around in the win column.

The Youth Movement Showing Out

As mentioned before, Kuminga and Jackson-Davis contributed to an impressive win against the Celtics.

Both have recently excelled in their minutes, contributed to wins and seemed to have gained Steve Kerr‘s trust. Brandin Podziemski left the game on Tuesday battling for a rebound with Neemias Queta in the second quarter. It wasn’t a serious injury, as he played without restriction over the weekend back-to-back.

Podziemski is another young player who has impressed since the first minutes of his NBA career. He was placed in the starting lineup along with Kuminga the game following Draymond’s suspension. Kerr has continued this lineup change as it makes the starters more dynamic and quick. Changes had to be made, and thankfully Kerr knew exactly what buttons to press.

Brandin Podziemski

“Podz” has been a revelation to this team.

Kerr had no plans to have him in the rotation when the season started. But he ended up playing so well that he’s been starting since the 24th game of the season. The main aspect about Podziemski is that he plays exactly how the Warriors need him to play. He moves the ball quickly, makes the right decision, can shoot and put the ball on the floor, rebounds well for his size, and plays with intensity and effort that is unmatched.

Mike Dunleavy found a gem at the 19th pick in the draft this year. We’re talking about a guy who drew a charge on Shaedon Sharpe to seal a road win.

No one could have foreseen this level of production coming from a questionable prospect from Santa Clara University. According to Cleaning the Glass, Podziemski ranks in the 95th percentile in offensive rebounding and the 96th percentile in defensive rebounding for his position.

And that matches the eye test. He will fight and hustle for rebounds on both ends. The 6’4 guard has an elite instinct for the ball and finds himself in the right position more often than not, which is more skill than luck.

His All-Around Game

Podz is surprisingly strong and competitive on defense. Especially with Gary Payton II still out with a calf injury, he’s been great holding up against bigger guards who try to bully him.

His offensive game is more polished at the NBA level than expected. Coming from a smaller school, it would be fair for him to struggle during his rookie year, but he looks very comfortable out there. Aside from shooting just south of 40% from three, he has other ways to score from all over the floor. He already has a reliable floater that he can use to mix up his drives and finish over shot-blockers.

Needless to say, Podziemski has been an absolute delight for this team who started to look old and stale in their offensive approach before he was inserted in the starting lineup. With a superstar in Curry to warm up with and learn from, the ceiling for him can be much higher than anticipated.

Trayce Jackson-Davis

Formerly known as “Baby T” in the Warriors locker room, Jackson-Davis earned himself a new nickname, “Trayce Jr.”, coined by Klay Thompson. We’ll just call him TJD for now.

Klay is right. TJD has brought an element that they have been severely lacking in the last several seasons. He’s an athletic center who is a vertical spacer and rim protector. He’s on the Warriors, so by rule, he has to be shorter than 6’10. But even with being an undersized big man, he plays bigger than he is. Over his last four games, he’s shown how much of a weapon he can be.

Several plays in these four games manifest why he should be playing almost every night. In Portland, he was inserted to match an uber-athletic Blazers team filled with youth. Especially with the struggles that Kevon Looney has had this season, TJD can be seen as a 2.0 version of him.

The last two vertical spacers the Warriors have had at the center position were Marquese Chriss during two disappointing seasons in 2020 and 2021, and JaVale McGee, back when Kevin Durant was on the team. For some odd reason, that center archetype just was not in their blueprints both when they were dominant or mediocre (does anyone remember Willie Cauley-Stein?). This season, they finally have a center who can play with a mixture of athleticism and feel. In the past, the Warriors never had bigs with both qualities.

TJD’s Strengths

Immediately, Jackson-Davis is a reliable big in the pick-and-roll as a lob finisher. For a team that relies on outside shooting, this element of offense is crucial to keeping the defense honest. When you have guards who can accentuate a big who can finish inside, it’s a recipe for success.

He’s even making the short-roll reads like Draymond has done throughout this entire Warriors’ run of success.

When a team has a big who can be a threat inside the paint, it opens up more opportunities for other ways to attack. There’s a reason why almost every team in the NBA runs pick and roll as their main source of shot creation. Plus, having that inside scoring threat forces the opponent bigs to play more drop coverage, a defensive strategy that Curry can thrive in as the world’s greatest shooter.

The problem with the Warriors’ offense in the past was never having a consistent roll threat. It’s almost unfathomable to think that a frontcourt of Draymond Green and Kevon Looney worked this well for a title team.

On the defensive end, TJD is a shot-blocking presence. He had two emphatic blocks on Jaylen Brown on Tuesday night (even though the first one was a goaltend).

The Evolving Rotation

Brandin Podziemski already fought his way and earned his spot in the starting lineup. He’s going to continue to look great as the other guard playing alongside Curry or Chris Paul. The veterans and coaching staff have seemed to already put a great amount of trust in him to provide a new energy that this team has lacked all season.

The emergence of TJD forces more questions about Kerr’s rotation moving forward. He was very patient with Klay and Wiggins, but he made the move only recently to move Wiggins to the bench. Is it only a matter of time until the same happens to Looney?

The best thing TJD can do to earn Looney’s minutes is just do the things he has done in the last four games. The best part about those games is that his production did not seem out of the ordinary. He was making the right plays and played within himself. If he continues to make an impact consistently, we may be looking at a new version of the Warriors.

About Christian Oblena

Born in San Francisco, raised in the East Bay, lifelong Bay Area sports fan. Here to give my own opinions on everything Dubs.

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