Warriors week: Key issues facing team going into the playoffs

By John Krolik

By John Krolik

Special to The Examiner

Some thoughts as the Warriors get ready for the stretch run:

• Jonathan Kuminga, who had another tremendous game against the Clippers, is looking like one of the steals of the draft and a future star after a (bumpy) year in the G-League. LaMelo Ball won Rookie of the Year after spending years playing overseas instead of going to college or even finishing high school. (And he had his fair amount of struggles overseas, especially in Australia, which was his last stop before the NBA.) There are an increasing amount of venues for top prospects to play professionally instead of spending a year in college while they wait to become draft-eligible. It might not be long until a significant proportion of the top U.S. prospects won’t be setting foot on a college campus (or participating in March Madness) before they become draft-eligible.

• The Grizzlies did manage to overtake the Warriors for the No. 2 spot in the West recently, but the Warriors are only a half-game behind Memphis after a stretch where they went 2-9 over 11 games and lost five in a row. There’s still a very strong possibility that the Warriors will get the No. 2 seed back and get a first-round matchup against a team from the play-in tournament. (The Suns, who have a nine-game lead on the Warriors and just became the first team in the NBA to officially clinch a playoff spot, seem fairly well out of reach.)

• Even though Jordan Poole has played well above expectations this year and Thompson is still struggling to get back into form, expect Thompson to keep his starter’s spot. Thompson hasn’t come off the bench since his rookie year. Poole is better at creating his own shot, which makes him a natural fit for the second unit. Thompson is at his best when he’s working off of an assist, which makes him better suited for the starting lineup.

• How much of a luxury is it, especially in close games, that the Warriors have three players currently shooting over 90% from the free throw line? Steph is shooting 91.9%, Klay is shooting 94.3%, and Poole is shooting 92.8%. For those of us that remember the days of Baron Davis and his 71.1% free-throw stroke at the line in big situations, it’s a welcome change.

• Looking towards the off-season, the following players will be unrestricted free agents at the end of the year: Kevon Looney, Otto Porter, Nemanja Bjelica, Andre Iguodala, Damion Lee, Juan Toscano-Anderson, and Gary Payton II. The Warriors already have the highest payroll in basketball, so they’ll have some tough choices to make. The James Wiseman situation really hurts when it comes to Looney: If the Warriors let him go in the offseason, will they have a serviceable center on the roster next year? Apart from that, the players I’d feel strongest about keeping are Porter and Payton, although they may have priced themselves off the Warriors. Every team in the league wants 3-and-D players who don’t give away possessions, and Porter and Payton have both excelled in that role this season.

John Krolik is a freelance contributor to The Examiner.

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