You can't blame Steve Kerr for sticking to the status quo as long as possible. It wasn't even two years ago the Golden State Warriors won a title behind a four-man core of Stephen Curry, Draymond Green, Klay Thompson and Andrew Wiggins, with heavy doses of Kevon Looney sprinkled in. Even during the Dubs' tumultuous failed championship defense last season, their traditional starting five was the single most dominant high-usage lineup in basketball.
That certainly hasn't been the six weeks into 2023-24. Golden State's veteran quintet currently sports a -11.4 net rating, per Cleaning the Glass, unable to score at even league average efficiency while faring far worse on the other end. Curry is still playing at a borderline First Team All-NBA level and Green, at least when not ejected or suspended, remains an invaluable all-court defender and offensive table-setter.
It's Wiggins and Thompson who have disappointed most during the season's early going, with Looney's largely related labors flying somewhat under the radar. The good news for the Warriors? Incumbent young players are in the midst of varying leaps while their rookies have proven ready for rigors of professional basketball.
Golden State could benefit from all of Moses Moody, Jonathan Kuminga, Brandin Podziemski and even Trayce Jackson-Davis getting more playing time. Yet as Kerr finally copped to the need for change in the starting five following Wednesday's ugly come-from-behind win over the rebuilding, shorthanded Portland Trail Blazers at Chase Center, it's clear one young player deserves a larger allotment of nightly minutes than his peers—no matter where the Dubs' opening lineup and full rotation go from here.
Moody's fully realized ceiling definitely isn't as high as Kuminga's. He has innate feel on both ends, but can't match Podziemski's preternatural two-way processing speed. Jackson-Davis' exploits as a pick-and-roll lob threat and aerial rim-protector fill bigger on-paper holes for the Warriors than anything Moody provides.
But it's no stretch to submit that Moody hasn't just been Golden State's most reliable wing over the first six weeks of the season, but the team's most reliable player overall not named Curry. Always a gifted spot-up shooter from deep, the 21-year-old is in the process of broadly expanding the scope of his game.
Moody has fared well at times guarding opposing star ball handlers, but his greatest utility on that side of the ball is his impact as a help defender. Beyond Green and Gary Payton II, the Warriors don't have a more disruptive presence on the back line or digging down at the nail than Moody.
“That comfort just comes from knowing where you’re supposed to be. Same with steals,” Moody told ClutchPoints in early November about his strides as a help defender. “I was talking to [assistant coach Kenny Atkinson] about it today, he was saying ‘You get steals when you’re in the right spot,’ and that’s kind of what’s been happening. So just paying attention to the gameplan, knowing where to be. Comfort comes with that.”
His 2.0 steal percentage is an easy career-high that ranks third on the team behind Payton and Chris Paul, while Moody's 1.1 deflections per game are more than Wiggins and Thompson have managed despite playing far more minutes. At 6'6 with a seven-foot wingspan, Moody has never been more comfortable throwing his body around on the offensive and defensive glass, either.
Defense is how Moody has finally gained what seems like lasting trust of Kerr and the coaching staff. He's was Golden State's first man off the bench on Wednesday and started the previous two games with Wiggins sidelined by slamming his right index finger in a car door.
The 13 minutes Moody played in the Warriors' disastrous loss to the Sacramento Kings on November 28th could be the lowest total he plays over the season's remainder. Kerr, remember, admitted shortly after the final buzzer that he made a mistake by (controversially) taking Moody out of the game for crunch-time.
The fourth quarter of that epic collapse proved a showcase of what a third-year Moody provides the Warriors offensively. These aren't shots he takes in 2022-23 nor as a rookie; it's unsurprising when they go in by now.
Moody's improved ability to knock down shots on the move and off the bounce is almost a luxury for Golden State. What really strengthens his case for a major regular role and perhaps starting spot is increased comfort putting the ball on the deck while attacking close-outs and curling around off-ball screens and dribble hand-offs, whether to finish at the rim or draw defenders and make the easy pass.
Moody's just never played with more confidence and aggression offensively, a result of both obvious skill growth and the Dubs' dire need for any offensive punch behind Curry. Still, he's mature enough beyond his years to know when to seek out his own offense more directly and when to find it within the team construct.
“Different situations, different units, I kinda try to bring whatever we really need at that time,” Moody told ClutchPoints on Tuesday of his offensive approach this season. “Yes, I could say it’s more freedom, being more free I guess. But just different situations, if we need me to more aggressive I try to do that, if we need me to move the ball, swing the ball I try to do that.”
Golden State's rotation is still in a s state of flux, with Payton's likely return from injury by the New Year bound to further muddy those waters. Just the notion Kerr is mulling game-by-game changes to the starting five speaks to the extent of that uncertainty.
But what's clear a quarter of the way through the 82-game grind is that Moody needs to play for the Warriors to reach their peak—and not as an eighth or ninth man. Shifting Thompson or Wiggins to the bench even on a single-game basis would definitely rock the boat, but two-way sequences like this from Moody make it seem a risk worth taking. When was the last time the Dubs' starting wings made a play half as dynamic?
Moody's consistently positive presence has seemingly already earned him a spot in Golden State's full-strength rotation. The question now is whether continued struggles from Thompson and Wiggins will force Kerr to make an even more difficult decision going forward.