NBA

NBA Finals: The Warriors are back, and Golden State's 'two-tiered strategy' has them set up stay

By Sports Desk June 01, 2022

The NBA got a two-season break from the Golden State Warriors.

Now, the Warriors are back in extremely familiar territory – the NBA Finals, where they will face the Boston Celtics in a mouth-watering series.

Golden State saw off the Dallas Mavericks in five games in the Western Conference Finals, reaching the NBA Finals for the sixth time in eight seasons.

And, thanks to what Warriors majority owner Joe Lacob described as a "two-tiered strategy", the Warriors may well be competing to remain on this stage in both the short and the long term.

The Warriors' success in returning to the Finals this season is down primarily to the three players that powered the start of their dynasty: Steph Curry, Klay Thompson and Draymond Green.

Curry has seven games of 30 points or more this postseason and is averaging 3.8 made threes per game, the most among players to have featured in at least 10 games in these playoffs.

Tied second on that list is Thompson (3.6), whose return after two years on the sideline has been a critical feel-good story for the Warriors. Despite his lengthy absence, Thompson has retained his ability to come through with clutch shooting, converting eight three-pointers in closeout games against both the Memphis Grizzlies and the Mavericks.

Meanwhile, Green, the undisputed heartbeat of the Warriors, has illustrated his all-round value in superb fashion. He is averaging 13.7 points, 11 rebounds and 11 assists per 48 minutes in the playoffs, with his influence on both ends of the floor encapsulated by an average plus-minus of plus-6.1 that is seventh for players with a minimum of 10 postseason games under their belt.

Andrew Wiggins (+6.9) sits two spots above Green, the 2014 first overall pick of the Cleveland Cavaliers taking a belated chance to blossom on the big stages in emphatic fashion. Wiggins has produced a series of strong showings and delivered one of the defining moments of the postseason with his monster dunk over Luka Doncic in the Conference Finals.

"I think the Wiggins trade is the key to all of this," head coach Steve Kerr said recently, referencing the trade with the Minnesota Timberwolves that took 2022 All-Star Wiggins to Golden State.

"I don't know where we'd be without him. He's just been brilliant."

A substantial part of the Warriors' ability to brush aside the Mavericks was Kevon Looney's dominance on the boards. Looney had double-digit rebounds in three of the five games, including 18 in the decisive Game 5 meeting, having also racked up 22 in Game 6 against Memphis as the Warriors closed out the Grizzlies.

While the Warriors are back in the Finals in large part through the play of four members of the core who helped them establish a stranglehold over the league and the success of the Wiggins reclamation project, perhaps the most exciting aspect of Golden State's surge to this point has been the glimpse of the future.

That glimpse has come primarily from Jordan Poole, the Warriors' first-round pick in 2019, who after starting for much of the regular season has served as a hugely important sixth man in the playoffs, offering Golden State another shooter alongside Curry and Thompson whose remarkable athleticism also makes him a substantial threat attacking the rim.

Poole is third in effective field goal percentage and second in true shooting percentage for the playoffs (min. 10 games), his composure belying the 22-year-old's inexperience in the pressure cooker of the playoffs in a postseason campaign in which he has demonstrated why he is a strong candidate to be the centrepiece of the next Warriors era that does not feature their big three.

 

Also expected to be a part of that future are Jonathan Kuminga and Moses Moody, selected seventh and 14th overall in last year's draft, the build-up to which was dominated by calls for the Warriors to package those picks to land another star after an underwhelming 2020-21 campaign ended with defeat in the play-In tournament.

Both Kuminga and Moody have played sparingly in the postseason, each averaging just over 10 minutes per game, but neither 19-year-old has appeared overawed when thrown into the fire.

The return to prominence with Curry, Thompson and Green, combined with the signs of progress from their proteges led Lacob to express a feeling of vindication in the Warriors' strategy.

Asked about rejecting the external pressure to trade their 2021 picks, Lacob told reporters: "I think the 19-year-olds that have played in the playoffs, the number of minutes over the history of the NBA or even in the Finals. I mean [Jonathan Kuminga and Moses Moody] haven't played very much and yet they're up there.

"Kobe [Bryant] I think was number one in terms of minutes for a 19-year-old. So the 19-year-olds just don't play deep into the playoffs or certainly in the Finals historically in the NBA.

"So the fact that we are where we are, and these guys have both contributed, maybe not as much as they would like to, they want to play more. Everyone wants to play more when you're a good player. But what they've done is great and what our coaches have done to get them ready for this level of play is great.

"I know we took, I, Bob [Myers, general manager], the organisation took some criticism from people that we should trade all our draft choices, that we had to get one more great player or whatever. I was very adamant about it. So was Bob. But that was not the path we were going down.

"We want to be good for a long time. We want to be great for a long time. And we felt that we already had our investment in our core great players. And they're still young enough to perform.

"Our success this year was always going to depend primarily on Steph, Klay when he came back, Draymond and Wiggins, you could argue. That was always fundamentally what the issue is. They're either going to be good enough or they're not, and we'll find out in the Finals too."

"I love what we've been able to do. We've been able to do this, call it a two-tiered strategy, call it whatever you want. But you've got your core guys that are going to get you this year. Meanwhile, you're going to develop these young guys. And I think we've done that."

Regardless of whether the Warriors overwhelm the Celtics to return to the NBA mountain top, Golden State's plan for this season has been an unequivocal success, and their next steps will be fascinating to watch as they continue to try to achieve the dual aims of setting themselves up to compete now and in a post-Curry and Co. future.

The trade winds may once again blow. With Wiggins having just one year left on his deal, there has already been some mention of him and James Wiseman, the 2020 second overall pick who has been kept off the court by injury, being packaged in a trade to land another star.

For now, such speculation can wait until after the confetti has fallen, and if it lands on Golden State, the Warriors will receive the ultimate reward for faith in both experience and youth that has quickly propelled them back to the league's elite and given them more potential options through which to stay there.

The Warriors are back. If they continue to execute the vision of Lacob and Myers, it could be a long time before they leave.

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