How the G-League Helped the Warriors Get Back to the Top

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When you think of the Warriors you think of Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson, Draymond Green, and head coach Steve Kerr, and rightfully so. They’re the foundation of what the Warriors have been for the better part of the last decade, but Golden State wouldn’t be where they are now without the G-League.

The Warriors internal development has been a pivotal part of their return to the top of the NBA totem pole. The Warriors were handicapped the last few seasons and still found a way to get their roster back to one of the best in the league.

Were the Warriors Really Handicapped?

For those outside of the Warriors organization and fanbase, most would probably disagree with the notion that they’ve been handicapped the last few seasons, but it’s true.

Golden State has been paying Klay Thompson max money to sit on the bench for the last two seasons, Curry spent the majority of the 2019-20 season right next to Thompson on the Warriors injury report, and while their other star, Draymond Green has been healthy, those three guys take up a majority of the Warriors cap space. And with Andrew Wiggins making 30+ million a year, the Warriors haven’t really been able to go after any impactful free agents looking for even a small payday. The four of these guys alone take the Warriors over the league’s cap line.

And sure, they signed Otto Porter Jr. to a team friendly deal this past off-season but that’s been the exception not the rule.

Yes, you have to pay for stars in this league, but it’s not often you pay stars to rehab and sit on your bench. The Warriors were left with no other option but to improve internally.

The Warriors Use of the G-League

A handful of the Warriors rotation players were developed internally through the Santa Cruz Warriors. We’ll start with Oakland’s very own, Juan Toscano-Anderson:

JTA spent 75 games with the Santa Cruz Warriors from 2018-2020, and he only started in 28 of those games. But the Oakland native has come a long way. He’s appeared in 30 of the Warriors 31 games this season and while anybody who’s just looking at his numbers certainly wouldn’t be blown away, he’s been a key contributor off the Warriors’ bench this season. He provides a lot of what Green provides when he’s out of the game; he’s a facilitating big who almost always makes the right play and without the G-League he might not even be in the NBA, let alone contributing to the best team in the NBA.

Damion Lee, who started his NBA journey in the G-League with the Maine Red Claws (the now Maine Celtics), spent two seasons with the Santa Cruz Warriors before joining Golden State. He started 37 of his 62 games with the Santa Cruz Warriors and improved vastly in his 2nd season with them. Lee’s points per game went up 4.5 points in his 2nd season with Santa Cruz and his 3-point percentage went up nearly 10 percentage points in his 2nd season. It’s not coincidence that he’s a key contributor off the Warriors bench this season and has been for the last two. A lot of that can be credited to the time he put in with the Santa Cruz Warriors.

Gary Payton II the Warriors can’t necessarily take direct credit for, but he highlights the importance of scouting the G-League. Payton spent five seasons bouncing between the G-League and various NBA rosters before finally sticking with the Warriors this season. He played 128 games in the G-League from 2016-2021. Payton was resilient and determined to get to where he wanted to get and that’s exactly how he plays on the court. He only averages 14.4 minutes per game for the Warriors this season, but he’s valuable piece to this team. He’s one of the best on-ball defenders in the league at the moment and no, his numbers certainly don’t jump off the charts, but he’s been worth every penny the Warriors have invested into him.

The most productive piece that came out of the G-League for the Dubs is starting shooting guard, Jordan Poole. He spent just 14 games in the G-League over the course of two different seasons but without the G-League, I’m not sure Poole develops into the player we know now.

Poole spent the beginning of the 2020-21 NBA season struggling mightily. In the first full month of the season, he was averaging 7.6 minutes a game and 5.3 points. He couldn’t crack the rotation on a mediocre Warriors team, but then the Warriors sent him to the G-League bubble where he played in 11 games averaging 33.5 minutes a game, 22.4 points per game, and 3.5 assists per game while shooting 45.1% from the field. He went out and killed and came back to the Warriors active roster and did just the same. In his first month back from the G-League he averaged 18.5 points per game in 27.6 minutes per game on shooting splits of 49/39.2/90. The G-League helped Poole refine his game, get in game reps, and it allowed him to get his confidence back. All in just 11 games.

How Other Teams Can Replicate

The Warriors laid down a blueprint on how to improve internally. For small market teams like Sacramento and Minnesota for example, who’ve been god-awful for the greater portion of the last decade and a half, they should be taking a page out of the Warriors book. Identify players worthy of developing for how you want your team to play, put the time into developing them or do the proper scouting across other G-League teams, and pounce on them when the right time comes.

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