The NBA Report: Betting on teenagers


The Golden State Warriors are playing a dangerous game.

By using their first round picks in the last two drafts — selecting James Wiseman with the second overall pick in 2020 and both Jonathan Kuminga and Moses Moody with the seventh and 14th picks, respectively, in 2021 — the Warriors are betting on kids who aren’t old enough to legally buy a drink. 

Wiseman is 20 and Kuminga and Moody are both 19. All have shown promise during their short careers, though their skills are largely besides the point.

The point is that the three of them were drafted in the first place. 

In what is likely the tail-end of the Warriors’ dynastic nucleus’s reign (Steph Curry is 33 and both Draymond Green and Klay Thompson are 32), the Warriors are double dipping in two different timelines.

On the one hand, the Warriors are trying to win a title this season, in the first year since 2019 that their three core players will share the court together. 

On the other hand, the franchise has committed to a mini youth movement, in which they are attempting to develop Wiseman, Kuminga and Moody.

These two goals are contradictory and rarely undertaken by NBA franchises simultaneously. 

The reason for this is somewhat intuitive: It is difficult to give young players the necessary amount of playing time to develop while also trying to win the maximum amount of games possible.

Except in exceedingly rare circumstances, young players are error-prone and generally not well adjusted enough to contribute meaningful minutes in an NBA game. 

Think about what you were doing at age 19. Except for some exceptional people, it was probably nothing significant enough to contribute to your current field of work or study. 

The Warriors’ current strategy is nothing short of an extraordinarily risky gamble. They risk winning another title with Steph Curry at the helm of the franchise. 

One interpretation is that the Warriors are not going “all in” — that is, they are not using their draft capital to acquire veteran players who can contribute immediately — and this is a form of malpractice. 

Alternatively, if the Warriors are able to cash in, the rewards would be immense and nearly unprecedented. The only other franchise in recent history that has been able to develop young talent while contending with an established core was the San Antonio Spurs, which drafted Kawhi Leonard in 2011. In his second year, the Spurs made the finals. In his third year, the Spurs won the finals and Leonard was named Finals MVP.

Leonard eventually became disillusioned with the San Antonio franchise and departed for Toronto, but he remains as a singular example of a young player who was added to a Hall of Fame caliber core of players and found near immediate playoff success.

The Warriors trying to model themselves after San Antonio could be one part of the equation. 

The other component is the Warriors’ organizational hubris. 

The Warriors majority owner Joe Lacob is notorious for saying his organization is “light years ahead” of the rest of the NBA, a statement which drew the ire of other executives.

In addition, Lacob once said that his organization does not view itself as a basketball team, but rather “a sports, entertainment, media and technology company.”

If Lacob has the gall to refer to his NBA team as a technology company, a sentiment you almost never hear from sports executives, it explains why the team is so confident in its current balancing act.

The Warriors’ goal is to contend for the next decade.

The rewards of this two-pronged approach may be immense. The Warriors could contend for the next three or so years and entirely skip the typical “rebuild” period in which a formerly good team uses the draft to acquire new talent (a period typically accompanied by a lot of losing). 

However, if things don’t pan out, the cost of wasting Steph Curry’s last couple of prime years by focusing on developing young players would be steep.

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