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2 biggest needs Warriors must still address to win 2023 NBA Finals

Warriors

The Golden State Warriors are ready to defend their title. Barely three weeks after the start of free agency, the reigning champions’ roster is nearing its final form.

Kevon Looney is back, Gary Payton II and Otto Porter are out, and Donte DiVincenzo and JaMychal Green are in. Moses Moody and Jonathan Kuminga look poised for increased roles as sophomores, while James Wiseman will enter training camp with a clean bill of health.

The Warriors’ core is unchanged, another year older and more experienced after Steph Curry, Draymond Green, Klay Thompson and Andrew Wiggins didn’t play a single second together during the regular season—reason enough alone to believe Golden State will be better in 2022-23.

But championships can be lost on the margins, and the Warriors need to replace two members of their title-winning rotation against the Boston Celtics. Here’s what Golden State must do to win an incredible fifth ring in nine seasons come next June.

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What Warriors need to win 2023 NBA Finals

Another perimeter stopper

The Finals changed for good once Payton was cleared to play for Game 2 after recovering from that nasty broken shooting elbow suffered two rounds earlier against the Memphis Grizzlies. Boston put up a putrid 95.5 offensive rating with Payton, Wiggins and Green on the floor, per NBA.com/stats, suffocated at the point of attack and flustered by hyper-active help behind the play.

Whoever ultimately receives the lion’s share of playoff minutes left by Payton won’t be able to replicate his defensive influence. Young Glove was one of the best all-around defenders in basketball on a per-minute basis last season, wreaking havoc with his lightning-quick hands, top-tier athleticism and natural playmaking instincts.

The Warriors likely won’t reach the defensive peak in 2022-23 they did with Payton on the floor last season. But Wiggins has eyes for All-Defense honors in wake of his elite-level play on that end during Golden State’s title run, and Green remains the most valuable 16-game defender in basketball.

Will another impactful on-ball defender rise to the occasion?

DiVincenzo fit that bill under the playoff microscope with the Milwaukee Bucks two years ago, but hasn’t been himself athletically since undergoing surgery to repair a ligament in his left ankle. He’s also just 6’4 with an average wingspan, lacking ideal length against superstar wings.

Moody acquitted himself well when Steve Kerr dusted him off to check Luka Doncic in the Western Conference Finals, and boasts the processing speed and overall basketball IQ of a veteran—key to thriving in Golden State’s system. He has the upper hand on Kuminga in the rotation entering training camp, but the latter at least flashed his all-world physical tools defensively against Ja Morant and the Memphis Grizzlies. Kuminga’s mind catching up to his body would present the Warriors’ best chance of reaching their defensive ceiling.

Golden State has several options here, basically, even before accounting for Klay Thompson—whose much-improved isolation defense on Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown in the last three games of the Finals spurred the Warriors’ dominance. But options aren’t answers, and Golden State needs to find one before next spring.

Good thing Kerr has 82 games to do it.

One of the young guys to pop

The Warriors won’t repeat as champions unless Curry remains the clear-cut best offensive player in the league. Green needs to be near his all-court best, Thompson must tap more regularly into his pre-injury self and Wiggins can’t revert back to the marked passivity he was known for before the playoffs. Golden State will need more standout postseason play from Looney and Jordan Poole, too.

But even all that might not be enough given not just age and health concerns of the Warriors’ stars, but also other contenders leveling up this summer. Golden State did well to replace Payton and Porter on the roster, but is still a weaker team overall than it was last season.

There’s no subtle yet significant addition like Malcolm Brogdon in Boston or PJ Tucker with the Philadelphia 76ers here. The Warriors are counting on internal improvement to be better in 2022-23, and some of their young players are more likely to provide it than others.

Go ahead and count Poole out in that respect. His steep upward trajectory surely isn’t finished, but Poole’s overall game isn’t additive enough—especially next to a broadly similar superstar like Curry—to yield the type of impact Golden State needs. The same goes for Wiseman’s, at least in these early stages of his development.

Moody and Kuminga both have the positional versatility and two-way scalability needed to give the Warriors a jolt, though. Summer League proved Moody is more than a 3-and-D archetype, and Golden State continues trying to groom Kuminga into its next-generation superstar—a long, arduous process met with just as many stops as starts in Las Vegas.

Don’t count on Kuminga showing off that potential on a nightly basis next season. He’s still at least a year away from shouldering a heavier offensive burden, and likely more. But the intersection of Moody’s overall feel, shooting prowess and nascent playmaking ability make him a seamless on-paper fit next to the Warriors’ best players. He can theoretically play whatever role next season Kerr asks of him.

We’ll see how well Moody answers that call once 2022-23 finally tips off. What could ultimately decide whether Golden State goes back-to-back as champions, though, is if he does it in the playoffs.