PRACTICE BEFORE GAME 2 The NBA Finals hadn’t started yet, but rookies Jonathan Kuminga and Moses Moody took a moment on the Golden State Warriors’ bench to soak up the rare atmosphere at the Chase Center.
Everywhere her young eyes looked there was a not-so-subtle reminder of exactly where they were. The NBA Finals italicized logo and the Larry O’Brien Trophy repeatedly flashed and weren’t on the giant big screen, on the LED panel that surrounds the arena, on the scoreboard, and even on the seats where they sat to overlook.
“What do you think?” Kuminga asked Moody as they looked at the Finals signage.
“What do you think if we lead this team one day?”
While Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson and Draymond Green bolstered the Golden State dynasty by winning their fourth championship in eight years and defeating the Boston Celtics, the Warriors also did something no champion had done in recent memory. As coach Steve Kerr put it, the Warriors also “raised” two NBA lottery picks for 2021 during that title run, hoping the championship masterclass Kerr and his Big 3 delivered each day of their quest would leave a lasting impression the couple left.
“They will have to [eventually] Chart your own course and fight your own battle,” said Bob Myers, the Warriors’ president of basketball operations. “They’re lucky they can see what it looks like.
“Steph, Klay and Draymond never have that advanced kind of scouting about what the finals and playoffs are. You had to go through it and find a way. So it’s huge for young people to just taste it, see it and hope it’s what they crave.”
Kuminga and Moody will march down Market Street in San Francisco with the Larry O’Brien Trophy during Monday’s Warriors championship parade, nearly a year after they were drafted.
Kuminga and Moody are the first rookie lottery pick teammates to play in the NBA Finals and they are the youngest pair of teammates to win a championship, according to Elias Sports Bureau.
Joining them is 2020 overall No. 2 James Wiseman – who missed last season with a knee injury, although Myers says he looks set to make contact soon and compete in next month’s summer league – and Golden State returns a trio of returns Lottery picks in their third season or less for title defense.
The trade-off of losing Thompson to two devastating injuries and Curry to a wrist injury, enduring 50 losses in 2019-20 and not making the playoffs for two straight seasons is a championship core and a new breed of lottery talent keen to maintain applies in Wiseman, Kuminga and Moody. Along with 23-year-old Jordan Poole, the youngsters will be pushing for more important roles next season.
Green had doubts early last season if this was the recipe for another championship: developing a combination of experienced vets and young first-round picks.
“If you look at how championship teams have been built historically, unless it’s a super young team like the Warriors that had veterans around us early on, you’ve just never seen it before,” said Green. “In the past we just hadn’t seen it work.”
Golden State resisted the urge to trade its future for more experience after starting the season 27-6, and the Warriors made it back to the NBA summits. While most defending champions need to find creative ways to retain and improve on key players, next season the Warriors will come up with two homegrown lottery picks who go into their sophomore year with invaluable playoff and finals experience, no matter how little have played.
Now, the Warriors’ championship DNA is flowing through Kuminga and Moody, too.
“Most people spend their careers chasing that,” Green said. “And worried like, I need to come to this team, I need to be with these guys, we need this coach. Unless you’re a loser, which we’ve brought a lot of through this league, then worry about your entire career.
“So they don’t worry as they advance like you already have that stamp of ‘I’m a champion.’ Now everything you do from there, you can do from somewhere else. They are not chasing or really wanting what some people never get.
THE INtoxicating AROMA Champagne can be spotted down the hall from the visitors’ locker room at TD Garden following Golden State’s six-game triumph over Boston. Kuminga and Moody dive into something no rookie lottery pick teammate has ever experienced.
As Warriors players take professional photos with the championship trophy, Kuminga, 19, holds it like a baby and snuggles it in his left arm. Moody, who turned 20 last month, holds the greatest prize in the sport, like an expensive guitar.
The grizzled veterans of the Warriors hope this moment is not lost for the duo who have been trying to become NBA champions all season.
“They are 19-year-old kids,” said Andre Iguodala, who turned pro in 2004, two years after Kuminga’s birth. “They should be on college campus learning about themselves, who they are as people, what they like, instead of these guys making more than $5 million a year, getting all the pressure, the madness, to make money have and be in the world spotlight. They can be blunted. You can start taking these things for granted.
This was Iguodala’s seventh NBA Finals. And he made sure Kuminga and Moody told them to capture that moment, even “taking pictures.”
Communicating these tips to teenagers without sounding like a parent can sometimes be difficult due to the generation gap.
Green noted earlier last season that every time he saw Kuminga walking past him, the teenager “started laughing.”
“I’m 32 and he’s 19,” Green said. “And what I love to do might just not be cool for him. … Imagine seeing one of the old minds do something. … They really laugh about how that’s so dated it’s funny.
“So I feel like he’s looking at me like, ‘Dude, you’re just old. You’re moving old. You look old.'”
Kuminga – a raw Congo forward who was drafted 7th overall after a season with the G League Ignite – had to be more patient than some of his lottery peers. Kuminga played a total of eight minutes in the NBA Finals. He averaged 9.3 points in 70 regular-season games and 5.2 PPG in 16 playoff games.
“I learned he was a crazy athlete,” said Warriors center Kevon Looney, who will be a free agent along with Gary Payton II and Otto Porter Jr. “He’s one of those other types of athletes…like the best athletes in the NBA, Andre at his peak, guys like LeBron.”
The 6-foot-7 forward started 12 games as a rookie and played some crucial playoff minutes in the second round against Memphis when Green was ejected in Game 1 for a flagrant foul 2, and in Game 2 when Green was after a hit the eye had to be sewn up. Kuminga also scored 18 points in Golden State’s blowout win over Memphis in Game 3 and 17 points twice in blowout losses to Memphis and Dallas, respectively.
While other rookies like Orlando’s Franz Wagner (No. 8 overall) and Sacramento’s Davion Mitchell (No. 9 overall) logged more minutes on non-competitors in the regular season, Kuminga had to bid his time and learn.
But unlike the other lottery picks, Kuminga and Moody now have championship experience.
“I never really worry about whether we’re going to play or not,” Kuminga said. “As long as I’m still here, I’m learning and getting better every day. When my moments are called, I know I’ll be ready. … all here [is] just help me a lot more than guys [other rookies around the league] are wherever they are.”
Moody, who was drafted into Arkansas after one season, is the more polished rookie. But the shooting guard is still learning from two of the greatest shooters in the game, Curry and Thompson. He also has the rising Poole ahead of him.
Despite this, Kerr played the 6-6 Moody in the Western Conference Finals against Dallas, and the guard’s 65 minutes was the longest in a conference finals by a teenager since Kobe Bryant’s 87 minutes in 1998. Like Kuminga, Moody played sparingly in the Finals. a total of 10 minutes to watch. During the regular season, Moody averaged 4.4 points in 52 games.
However, Curry repeatedly praised Moody’s approach and habits, noting how the rookie works with the same intensity as a seasoned veteran every day, no matter how little playing time he got.
“It’s amazing to see the result in just a short year,” Curry said. “He’s coming into a playoff series in the middle of the Western Conference Finals and he’s making an impression.
“That’s the stuff that you’ll probably look back on and be really proud of because there’s a lot of instability in this league. Not everyone has the infrastructure and presence to bring in people like that.”
IN THE MIDDLE Part of the Warriors’ team plane on their flight to Boston for Game 6, Myers saw Curry, Thompson and Green sitting at the same table laughing and joking.
Myers couldn’t help but appreciate the rarity of the moment. A trio of all-stars who still enjoy each other’s company after a decade on the same team.
“I think they see it,” Myers said of Kuminga, Moody and Wiseman. “I hope it gets registered. I’m sure it does, but it could be different for each of them. They are all different too. Just like Steph, Klay and Draymond are different. … It’s almost like a band, the personalities complement each other and so you stay ready to sit next to each other when you don’t have to.”
Maybe Kuminga and Moody will produce the same championship hits as their predecessors when it’s their turn. All they know is that they are already world champions.
“If you give a pig a pancake, it wants some syrup,” Moody said. “Once I have the championship, you’re going to want something else.”
When it’s their turn to lead the Warriors, Kuminga and Moody will have to wait before the Curry, Thompson and Green eras are ready to hand over the reins.
“Eventually, years from now, they’re going to pass the baton and see what the other guys can do,” Myers said.
“But it’s a difficult act to follow, I’ll tell you that.