NBA

2 biggest needs the Warriors still need to meet to win the 2023 NBA Finals

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The Golden State Warriors are ready to defend their title. Just three weeks into free agency, the roster of defending champions is approaching 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 set for increased sophomore roles, while James Wiseman will enter training camp in good health.

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Warriors core unchanged, one more year 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 to believe Golden State will be better in 2022-23.

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

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What the Warriors need to win the 2023 NBA Finals

Another Perimeter Stopper

The Finals changed for good once Payton was cleared for Game 2 after recovering from that nasty broken shooting elbow suffered two rounds earlier against the Memphis Grizzlies. Boston posted a putrid 95.5 offensive rating with Payton, Wiggins and Green on the ground, according to NBA.com/stats, smothered in the offensive line and troubled by an overactive assist 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 basketball’s best all-around defensemen by the minute last season, wreaking havoc with his lightning-fast hands, high-level athleticism and natural game instinct.

The Warriors likely won’t hit the defensive pinnacle in 2022-23 that they reached with Payton on the floor last season. But Wiggins has his sights set on All-Defense honors following his elite-level play to that end during Golden State’s title run, and Green remains basketball’s most valuable defender in 16 games.

Will another hard-hitting 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 athletic himself since undergoing surgery to repair a ligament in his left ankle. He’s also only 6’4 with an average wingspan, lacking the 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 a veteran’s processing speed and overall basketball IQ – key to thrive in the Golden State system. He has the upper hand over Kuminga in the rotation entering training camp, but the latter has at least shown his physical tools to the world defensively against Ja Morant and the Memphis Grizzlies. Kuminga’s mind catching up to his body would present the Warriors’ best chance of hitting their defensive ceiling.

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

Luckily Kerr has 82 games to do so.

One of the young guys to pop

The Warriors won’t repeat as champions unless Curry remains the best offensive player in the league. Green needs to be close to his best on all courts, Thompson needs to draw more consistently from his pre-injury condition and Wiggins can’t return to the marked passivity he was known for before the playoffs. Golden State will also need more offseason plays in the playoffs from Looney and Jordan Poole.

But even all of that might not be enough given not only the age and health issues of the Warriors stars, but also other suitors advancing this summer. Golden State did well to replace Payton and Porter on the roster, but remain an overall weaker team than they were last season.

There’s no subtle but 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 younger players are more likely to provide that than others.

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

Both Moody and Kuminga have the positional versatility and two-way scalability to give the Warriors a boost. The Summer League proved that Moody is more than a 3-D archetype, and Golden State continues to try to build Kuminga into its next-gen superstar — a long, arduous process that has encountered as many setbacks as starts at Vegas.

Don’t count on Kuminga to show that potential every night next season. He still has at least a year left to take on a heavier offensive burden, and probably more. But the intersection of Moody’s overall feel, shooting prowess and budding playmaking ability makes him a perfect fit on paper next to the Warriors’ best players. He can theoretically play any role next season that Kerr asks of him.

We’ll see how well Moody responds to that call once 2022-23 finally rings. What could ultimately decide whether Golden State goes back to back as champions is whether they make it in the playoffs.

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