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Within the Shadow of Superstars, Golden State’s Young Players Attempt to Bloom

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Moses Moody can be wrapped in his blankets, protected against the morning chill, when his alarm went off at 5 a.m. Nothing concerning the situation appealed to him. What teenager wants to pull himself off the bed before dawn?

But as a seventh-grader in Little Rock, Ark., Moody was starting to sense his promise as a basketball player. And he knew, even then, that if he desired to go places, he would want to work at his game — after which work at it some more.

His father, Kareem Moody, had made a cope with him: He would help Moses train each morning before school, but provided that Moses got up on his own. It was each a test and an early lesson in self-reliance: How badly did he wish to improve?

“So, if I desired to work out, I needed to wake him up, go dress, after which go wake him up again,” Moses Moody recalled in an interview. “After which he’d know I used to be for real.”

Their early mornings at LA Fitness soon became routine. Moses also had the keys to the gym at Absolute Athlete, a close-by training facility. He was all the time searching for the following workout, the following pickup game, the following challenge.

“You would like to have challenges, and you’ve to have obstacles,” Moody said. “Because if you happen to’re bad at something, that just means you’ve more room to grow.”

As a second-year guard with Golden State, Moody, 20, has a recent challenge: cracking the rotation and playing consistent minutes. He can commiserate with two other former first-round draft picks — James Wiseman, 21, and Jonathan Kuminga, 20 — who try to grow to be contributors on a team without much time to waste.

For Golden State, in Boston on Thursday for a rematch of last season’s N.B.A. finals against the Celtics, there may be tension between defending its championship and developing its young players. Ideally, it will have the option to do each. Nevertheless it is an advanced puzzle, especially for a team with outsize expectations.

Kuminga, a second-year forward, has spoken of upholding the “legacy” established by his teammates Stephen Curry, Draymond Green and Klay Thompson. Wiseman, a third-year center whose profession has been slowed by injuries, has cited his sporadic minutes as possibilities for him to “grow and learn.” And Moody has straddled a wonderful line between patience and impatience.

“It’s hard to maintain the precise head space,” he said. “But I also don’t wish to hide those emotions from myself, saying that I’m OK with staying on the bench. I don’t wish to be OK with it because I’m not OK with it. I need to play. I all the time wish to play.”

Moody, Kuminga and Wiseman have all hung out within the G League, where each has gotten ample minutes to attain and, normally, create as one of the best player on the court. (Moody said his five games with Santa Cruz last season were “sufficient.”) Coach Steve Kerr has also tried to reinforce their development via “the golden hour” — a period of additional work before the beginning of practice.

“But there’s no substitute for game reps,” Kerr said.

In late November, when Golden State visited the Latest Orleans Pelicans, Kerr rested a bunch of his banged-up starters. Consequently, Moody and Kuminga were among the many young players who supplied big minutes. Golden State lost by 45.

Afterward, Kerr had dinner with Curry and Green. He asked them a matter that happened to be on his mind that night: When did they feel confident that they may win games — really win games — as N.B.A. players?

“Draymond said it was his third 12 months, and Steph said it was his fourth 12 months,” Kerr recalled. “And also you’re talking about two guys who had a variety of college experience, who played deep into the N.C.A.A. tournament and played games that mattered.”

Kerr crunched the numbers. Curry spent three seasons at Davidson, while Green played 4 seasons at Michigan State. So, from the time they left highschool, it took each about seven years before they understood the ins and outs of the N.B.A., seven years before they were experienced enough to win when it mattered.

Moody, who spent one college season at Arkansas, is three years faraway from highschool. Wiseman appeared in only three games on the University of Memphis before Golden State made him the No. 2 overall pick within the 2020 N.B.A. draft. And Kuminga, who’s from the Democratic Republic of Congo, went straight from highschool to the G League Ignite, playing in a handful of games before he went to Golden State because the seventh pick of the 2021 draft — seven spots ahead of Moody.

“You’ll think their growth can be just a little more accelerated since you’re already within the N.B.A. and also you’re picking things up that you simply wouldn’t pick up in college,” Kerr said. “But the purpose is, grown-ups win within the N.B.A. It’s very rare to see kids winning titles.”

Thompson recalled his own growing pains. Early in his second season, with a probability to seal a win against the Denver Nuggets, he missed two free throws. The sport went to double extra time and Golden State lost. Thompson was so despondent that he left the sector in his uniform.

“All of us undergo those lapses,” he said.

But Golden State has less leeway for mistakes now, with its championship window narrowing as its stars age.

“We will’t give these young guys the liberty that they should learn through their mistakes,” Kerr said, adding that there may be pressure from being on national TV so often and playing behind such achieved stars.

A handful of blowout losses have presented opportunities for Moody, Kuminga and Wiseman to play longer stretches. In a 30-point loss to the Nets on Dec. 21, Wiseman scored a career-high 30 points in 28 minutes.

“I used to be capable of play through my mistakes,” Wiseman said.

Moody, meanwhile, figured to have an even bigger role this season given among the team’s free-agency losses last summer. But development is seldom linear, and Moody, who was averaging 5.2 points in 14.8 minutes a game entering Thursday, has occasionally dropped off the back end of the rotation. He wants his defense to grow to be more instinctive. Kerr wants him to take higher care of the ball.

“Stuff doesn’t all the time go your way,” Moody said, “but you’ve got to grow up. There’s also a way of comfort knowing I’ve been in similar situations before, and it’s worked out.”

As a highschool sophomore, Moody led North Little Rock to a state championship, then transferred to Montverde Academy, a basketball powerhouse outside of Orlando, Fla. He desired to be pushed by teammates like Cade Cunningham, who would grow to be the No. 1 overall pick within the 2021 N.B.A. draft, and Scottie Barnes, last season’s rookie of the 12 months with the Toronto Raptors.

At his predraft workout for Golden State, Moody spotted a celeb sitting courtside: Stephen Curry. Afterward, Moody made sure to “chop it up” with him, he said. Who knew when he would have that probability again? He figured he should pick up a number of pointers.

Because it turned out, Moody had no reason to fret. He has spent the past two seasons absorbing regular lessons from Curry and the team’s other veterans. Moody described Golden State as an “elite basketball academy.” Green is perhaps the self-appointed dean.

“With Dray, you don’t need to take heed to him,” Moody said. “But since he’s always talking and always giving out game, I try to absorb as much as I can.”

Not so way back, the team had a reprieve from the pressures of chasing one other championship. Golden State entered the 2019-20 season fresh off a fifth straight trip to the N.B.A. finals, then swiftly morphed into the worst team within the league. The season was an injury-induced oddity that landed the team within the draft lottery while accelerating the expansion of Jordan Poole, then a rookie guard, who played greater than he would have if the team had been at full strength. Poole has since established himself as one among the team’s leading scorers.

The team doesn’t have that luxury this season — the posh of losing. Golden State is fighting for a playoff spot.

Moody obviously would like to be playing big minutes. But in some ways, he said, he feels fortunate. If he were playing for a lousy team, he is perhaps developing bad habits that he never corrects. With Golden State, there is no such thing as a margin for error.

“You’ve got to be perfect,” Moody said. “So if I can determine a technique to play perfect basketball at once, that’ll set me up for the remaining of my profession.”

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