Young Warriors creating fierce roster competition in training camp

SAN FRANCISCO — Steve Kerr has a special name for the start of Warriors practices: The Golden Hour.

The first hour starts with the veterans working in the weight room or training room, getting the treatment their bodies need. The court, at that point, is all for the youngsters. It’s all about reps, reps and more reps, physically and mentally. That can mean drills, 5-on-0 or simply going over concepts.

During this year’s training camp and throughout preseason, the first hour of practice, along with when young Warriors are joined by elders, has been very productive with what Kerr wants accomplished.

Along with Jordan Poole, who at 23 years old has entered star status, the top of the Warriors’ young core consists of James Wiseman, Jonathan Kuminga and Moses Moody. Kerr admitted Monday that Wiseman is even further along than he expected at this point. On that same day, he praised Kuminga for his understanding of how he can succeed in the Warriors’ offense, his on-ball defense, his attitude and approach. All of that was rewarded with a start Sunday at power forward in the Warriors’ preseason loss to the Los Angeles Lakers.

Moody continues to be trusted, and has been the first player off the bench in the preseason with Poole starting at shooting guard as Klay Thompson continues to ramp up before the season opener.

What really stood out to Kerr is the Warriors’ crop of players making a first impression and competing for spots with the big squad and Golden State’s G League affiliate in Santa Cruz.

“The young guys are really progressing,” Kerr said Monday. “I think this is one of the best crops of young free agents that we’ve ever had here. Maybe the best when you look at guys who are fighting for two-way spots and possible Santa Cruz players. Really impressive.

“Every single one of them is a good player and competes, and they’ve set a great tone for our camp.”

Kerr and the Warriors have already said goodbye to both Mac McClung and Trevion Williams, a decision the head coach said was not an easy one, and the Warriors do own Williams’ G League rights. McClung is expected to play in the Philadelphia 76ers’ G League system this season.

That leaves Quinndary Weatherspoon, Lester Quinones, Ty Jerome, Pat Spencer, Jerome Robinson and Anthony Lamb, as well as rookie draft picks Patrick Baldwin Jr. and Ryan Rollins as players pushing for the organization to believe in them.

Weatherspoon and Quinones currently hold the Warriors’ two two-way contracts. In his second season as a Warrior, Weatherspoon feels much more comfortable in the system and understanding plays. He also says he has gained more confidence in his outside shot, an area of ​​the game that would give the defensive-minded guard a big boost in opportunities.

So far this preseason, Weatherspoon is 6-for-8 from the field and has made his only 3-point attempt.

As soon as this year’s draft concluded, the Warriors jumped at the opportunity to add Quinones. They remain drawn to what the Memphis product can provide.

“Lester’s a really intriguing prospect,” Kerr said. “He’s very athletic, good size, combo guard, good passer. He can really finish at the rim. He’s an interesting prospect that we liked all summer and he’s continued to perform well here in camp.

“We’ll see how it all plays out.”

With an open spot still on the 15-man roster, Weatherspoon has the cleanest road to capturing the honor. But all indications are that the Warriors will most likely keep it open going into the regular season. And Ty Jerome could complicate things for the big picture.

Jerome, 25, essentially replaced McClung on the training camp roster and is a much better fit as a pass-first guard with better size and more NBA experience. The former first-round pick stands 6-foot-5, has three years of the pro game on his record and shot 42.3 percent from deep as a member of the Oklahoma City Thunder in the 2020-21 season.

His first run as a Warrior didn’t go smoothly, turning the ball over three times in six minutes off the bench on Sunday night, but Kerr isn’t overreacting to the small sample size.

“Yeah, Ty’s a vet,” Kerr said Monday. “I think that was really the appeal for us. He’s played a lot of point guard in the league. He’s got good size, he’s a good passer. We felt like was a good fit with our roster, and because of his experience, we don’t feel like we need to see as much from him.

“We’ve seen him live many times.”

Of all the new names showing up on a daily basis at the Chase Center, Spencer is easily the biggest wild card — for a number of reasons. After a dominant four-year lacrosse career at Loyola and winning what amounts to college lacrosse’s Heisman Trophy as a junior, Spencer used his college graduate eligibility year to play basketball at Northwestern. In his lone season of college basketball, Spencer averaged 10.4 points, 4.1 rebounds and 3.9 assists.

Golden State holds the 26-year-old’s G League rights, and Kerr loves what he has seen from him.

“Big fan of Pat’s,” Kerr said. “Great competitor, great athleticism in terms of his balance and his coordination and his core strength. He jumps with more explosiveness than I realized. He had the play in Tokyo where he tried to dunk on the whole team and got fouled.

“I love that he’s a lacrosse guy. I think sports like soccer and hockey and lacrosse kind of establish vision that you need in basketball where you have to see the field in front of you or the court in front of you and see everything positioning- wise. I think all of those things are helpful for Pat.

“He needs to play. He just doesn’t have a ton of basketball experience. He’s a really intriguing prospect.”

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Baldwin and Rollins are on guaranteed contracts and will spend time in San Francisco and Santa Cruz this season. Rollins has struggled with his shot so far, although the Warriors remain high on his long-term outlook. He and a handful of the younger players should get a lot of runs Tuesday night against the Portland Trail Blazers in the Warriors’ fourth preseason game.

Through three preseason games, Baldwin continues to look like a steal with the No. 28 pick in the draft and could play himself into some real meaningful minutes as a rookie. The 6-foot-9 forward has made seven of his 12 shots from deep, looking like a real threat from beyond the arc.

Spoken like a true coach’s son with maturity far past his age at 19 years old, Baldwin is soaking everything in during his first training camp and always invites any kind of competition.

“I think it’s a cliche — iron sharpens iron,” Baldwin said Monday. “And I think that has held true. We have all this talent fighting for positions, but we’re also brothers. We’re pushing each other in a great way. When we’re in the locker room we’re sharing information with each other and when we’re on the court we’re sharing information with each other.

“Competition is the best way to get better.”

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