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Four Warriors Summer League storylines to keep eye on

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The longtime NBA talent evaluator was puzzled. He couldn’t understand the Warriors’ thinking in choosing their latest first-round pick. He’d seen the youngster on video, seen him in pre-draft workouts and one exhibition game.

“He can’t play,” he told me in a Golden 1 Center hallway. “They took a guy who can’t shoot and can’t play at this level. He won’t help this year and probably not ever.”

This was one man’s unvarnished opinion, during the 2018 California Classic. He was talking about Jacob Evans III and, three years later, his opinion has been accurate.

Summer League is more than a few glorified practices poorly disguised as “games.” It is the NBA’s most valuable offseason training ground, more significant than the pre-draft combine and vastly more beneficial than pre-draft workouts.

The Warriors open their two summer league schedules on Tuesday, when they meet the Kings at Golden 1 Center. Golden State faces the Heat on Wednesday in Sacramento before moving to the 10-day Las Vegas Summer League next week.

The Warriors have four notable mysteries they hope to begin unraveling over the next two weeks:

Jonathan Kuminga

Mystery: How much skill is wrapped up within his elite athleticism?

Kuminga’s impetuousness was evident in the G-League and during workouts. He moves smoothly and with determination, has plenty of bounce, good footwork and lateral movement. The Warriors need to see if the 6-foot-7, 215-pound wing has useful basketball tools within his impressive frame. They need to get a feel for his timing, for how much work is needed for his shooting mechanics, whether he feels the game in real-time, whether he is dedicated to individual/team defense, and whether he has the discipline to avoid silly fouls and turnovers. They’d feel better about Kuminga’s ability to contribute as a rookie if he comes out of summer with even one ready-for-the-NBA skill.

 

Justinian Jessup

Mystery: A wonderful 3-point shooter at Boise State (40.8 percent), he was ordinary (34.3) in one season in Australia. Is there a path to efficiency in the NBA?

In selecting Jessup with the 51st overall pick in 2020, the Warriors took a low risk/high reward gamble. The 6-foot-7 wing was a fringe draft pick – with a good chance of going undrafted – whose appeal is a sweet jump shot that could make him a valuable reserve bomber. Kyle Korver and Wayne Ellington fashioned long careers in that role. Is his shot quick enough and accurate enough? The Warriors would like to establish a timeline for his future, and an impressive showing in summer league games could bring some clarity.

RELATED: Sources: Warriors land Porter Jr. on veteran's minimum

 

Moses Moody

Mystery: Will his wing defense be good enough to warrant minutes as a rookie?

The Warriors believe that Moody, in time, will get buckets. His shot is nice, and he’s willing to attack the rim.

But they need to know if the 6-foot-6, 205-pound wing loves defense and can play it at a level that can help them immediately. Moody’s college coach, Arkansas’ Eric Musselman, praises his team defense, something the Warriors value. The Western Conference is rife with scoring wings, and Andrew Wiggins can’t guard them all. Klay Thompson won’t be ready to do so on opening night. Kelly Oubre Jr. likely will be gone and Kent Bazemore reportedly is heading to the Lakers. If Andre Iguodala returns, his minutes will be monitored closely. There’s an opening, and it might be the surest way for the 19-year-old to get minutes.

Gary Payton II

Mystery: Is there room for a pesky, part-time defensive specialist?

Payton made a cameo appearance with the Warriors last season, and both sides were pleased. The NBA is offense-oriented, and nowhere is that more evident than the various backcourts. Nine of the top 15 scorers were guards, including the top three. Consider the West: Damian Lillard, CJ McCollum, Devin Booker, Chris Paul, Donovan Mitchell, Mike Conley, Ja Morant, De’Aaron Fox and more. Yet guards are the toughest slots to fill on All-Defensive teams. The Warriors last year learned the value of defense; they generally thrived when they played it well. In a league that has such defensive specialists as PJ Tucker and Patrick Beverley, the Warriors need to figure out if there is such a role on a tight roster.

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