Despite losing to the Milwaukee Bucks, 129-118, on Saturday night, the Golden State Warriors left the game with a silver lining: Their young guys outran and outhustled the contending Bucks, giving them a hard time all game long.
The Warriors even led 56-54 at the half, and it wasn't until the fourth quarter that the Bucks were able to pull away completely. Milwaukee used their veteran savvy in the fourth to defeat the youthful Warriors squad, who were playing without their captain and superstar Stephen Curry (rest).
Even though they came up short, the young guns showed they have the ability to compete against an elite team, which the Warriors can possibly build upon once Curry and Draymond Green return to the lineup. This showing also gives Golden State's front office a number of things to consider as the Feb. 8 trade deadline approaches.
With that said, let's break down how the Warriors' young core performed and how they nearly managed to upset the Bucks without their leading scorer.
First, the youthful Warriors ran the old Bucks off the floor. Without Curry, head coach Steve Kerr started rookie Brandin Podziemski at point guard. With Podz at helm, the Warriors pushed the pace. Save for some early sets for Klay Thompson, Golden State was up and running and tried to beat Milwaukee in transition all game long. Even slow-footed power forward Dario Saric was leading the break at some points, trying to turn up the tempo and outrun the Bucks.
If there was one possession that encapsulated what the Warriors tried to do, it was this one in the second quarter. Following a made basket by the Bucks, Jonathan Kuminga ran the length of the floor, beat Giannis Antetokounmpo and challenged Brook Lopez at the rim in the process to make a quick counter:
I like the mindset here. Bucks' Achilles heel on defense this season has been in transition. Off of a made bucket, JK pushes the pace and lays the ball over Brook. pic.twitter.com/PK8KkPUocJ— Joe Viray (@JoeVirayNBA) January 14, 2024
Kuminga breezed through the entire Milwaukee defense and jumped in the air before Lopez could get there. The Dubs just ran and ran, putting pressure on the Bucks (the NBA's oldest team).
Secondly, the young Warriors played hard; they deserve credit for their effort and energy. Without their best player and the hub of their system, the Warriors leaned on their youth and athleticism to challenge the Bucks, who were coming off their biggest win of the season (drubbing the Boston Celtics).
It started with Podziemski, who was playing in his home state of Wisconsin. He had a great game, recording a double-double of 23 points and 10 rebounds on impressive 10-of-14 shooting.
The No. 19 overall selection was active off the bounce, blowing by opponents and squeezing his way through the defense. He was also brilliant off the catch, where he got a couple of baskets off of stampede runs to the rim:
Interesting that the Bucks are actually hard hedging here w/ Portis as their 5. Puts them in rotation, Podz takes advantage w/ a face cut. pic.twitter.com/QDTFb7q9XZ— Joe Viray (@JoeVirayNBA) January 14, 2024
The 20-year-old out of Santa Clara also exhibited uncanny can't-teach instincts. In one play in the fourth quarter, he knew exactly what fellow rookie Andre Jackson Jr. would do, intercepting his pass to get an easy transition dunk on the other end. Podziemski’s feel as a rookie has been impressive and he fits nicely with the Warriors' core.
The Warriors’ other rookie, Trayce Jackson-Davis, also contributed by scoring 12 points in 18 minutes and making his presence felt inside for Golden State.
The No. 57 overall pick used his quick first bounce to freeze Bucks defenders on the floor and get easy baskets at the rim, scoring on plays like these:
Also, Jackson-Davis has been developing chemistry with Thompson, and he's often the beneficiary of their pindown screens when two defenders blitz Thompson. In the previous game against the Chicago Balls, he had four easy buckets off of passes from Klay alone.
The Klay-to-TJD tandem produced four easy baskets, including three dunks. pic.twitter.com/Y8uUr7m1Gb— Marcus Thompson II (@ThompsonScribe) January 13, 2024
In this instance, Klay and TJD had a nice give-and-go in a little two-man game for an easy bucket underneath.
Klay to TJD two-man game pic.twitter.com/Ai3JItodo1— Mon Anthony Valmoria (@Morval_) January 15, 2024
The 6-foot-9 center/forward has been a much better play-finisher than starting center Kevon Looney. He uses his athleticism to factor in on offense and serves as a lob threat. The 23-year-old gives the Warriors a new outlook at the big position. While Green and Looney are screeners and their main priority is getting guys open, Jackson-Davis is someone who looks to score and put pressure at the rim.
Finally, Jonathan Kuminga is becoming more and more polished as a scorer. Although there are ways he can still improve (like his feel for Golden State’s system), he’s finally arrived as a dependable scorer.
Off the bounce, Kuminga uses his body and strength to shield the ball away from defenders and utilizes his quick first bounce to get to the rim first before his defender can challenge him up top. The third-year player from the G-League Ignite is explosive, and he never gives his defender a chance to react.
Kuminga has also added a developing three-point shot to his arsenal, which forces defenders to respect his shooting and opens up his game even more.
The 21-year-old had arguably the best two-game stretch of his young career recently, scoring 24 points and 28 points in back-to-back games. This is the best he has played in his three years in the league, looking like a reliable scoring option who could get buckets at will.
Kuminga is looking more and more comfortable, and he has scored in double digits in his last 19 games.
The absence of Curry in this game unlocked the Warriors’ young guys and showed what they are capable of. The challenge now is whether Golden State's young core can continue producing at this level once Curry and Green are back.
The youngsters' athleticism and energy could help Golden State as they try to right the ship. The Warriors currently have the fourth-worst record in the Western Conference, so Kerr might have to tinker a bit and cater to the strengths of his current personnel rather than trying to force them to fit in his system.
Do the Warriors think the kids can help Curry and Co. compete for a title? Or was this just an audition for other teams and a way to improve the youngsters' trade value so they can be flipped for win-now pieces?
Regardless, the kids can clearly play given the right environment and opportunity.