Three key Warriors role players to watch vs. Grizzlies


All eyes will be on Steph Curry, Klay Thompson and Draymond Green -- just like always -- as the Warriors begin their Western Conference semifinals series against the Memphis Grizzlies on Sunday at FedExForum.

Jordan Poole has earned the spotlight for months now, and he's served as Golden State's No. 1 option at times in their first-round series with the Denver Nuggets. But he faded off in the final two games, and the Grizzlies undoubtedly have watched the film and will be prepared to contain the breakout star. 

That's the Warriors' new Big Four, with the word "big" being quite the opposite of their construction. They can take them a long way, but this team will need more than them to handle the young and hungry Grizzlies, especially with the series starting in Memphis. 

So, who will step up outside the above four names? The three names below could play vital roles. 

Andrew Wiggins

This isn't fair. I've already argued against the "PTSD" nickname for the Warriors' latest version of the Death Lineup, for more reasons than one. Chief among them is the fact that it disrespects Wiggins

The former top draft pick became a first-time All-Star this season and is far from a role player. But as Poole's offensive responsibilities have grown, Wiggins' have shrunk in all the right ways. Golden State doesn't need him to go out and get 20 points. They do need him to be aggressive, hit open shots, grab rebounds and play sound defense. 

Against the Nuggets, he did just that. 

Wiggins averaged 14.0 points per game, shot 53.8 percent from 3-point range and led the Warriors by averaging 6.8 rebounds. His rebound totals are huge. When Steve Kerr unleashes his small-ball lineup, they need the ultra-athletic Wiggins to hit the glass hard on offense and defense. The Grizzlies led the NBA in rebounds in the regular season and are averaging the second-most in the playoffs through one series. 

His defense on the wing will be key, too. In nine-and-a-half regular-season minutes of guarding Grizzlies star Ja Morant, he held him to 29.4 percent shooting, and Morant missed all four of his 3-point attempts. It will take a team effort to slow down Morant, and Wiggins will be one of the Warriors tasked with the tall ask. So will the next name.

Gary Payton II

If you thought Payton had a big role against Denver, it's only going to grow against the Grizzlies. Could Kerr even start Payton at some point in the series? It at least would make sense.

Morant was guarded by Young Glove for slightly over 16 minutes in the regular season, and had a whole lot of trouble. He went just 2 for 12 from the field for seven points, missed all three of his attempts from deep, was blocked once and had five turnovers compared to four assists. Not great. 

Then there's his offense. Payton was a perfect 4 for 4 in the Warriors' Game 3 win against the Nuggets, and went 3 for 3 from deep. In Game 5, he hit the two biggest 3-pointers of the night, and 10 of his 15 points came in the fourth quarter. When he's shooting like that, it's game over for most teams. 

He started two games against the Grizzlies in the regular season. Are we about to see more of that for his defensive prowess on Morant, plus his improved offense? The only game the Warriors lost in April was one where Payton played just under seven minutes. 

The more GP2, the better. 

Jonathan Kuminga

All season long, the 19-year-old rookie has been the Warriors' ultimate X-factor and that isn't about to change in Round 2.

Kuminga opened everyone's eyes once again in Golden State's Game 4 loss to the Nuggets when he scored nine points in 11 minutes off the bench, all in the second quarter. He played five-and-a-half minutes in Game 5, and that could just be a taste of what's to come. 

RELATED: Warriors-Grizzlies playoff series could jump-start rivalry

The Warriors will need Kuminga's athleticism against the Grizzlies. That might be Sunday, or it might be later in the series. The Grizzlies turn games into track meets and Kuminga could be the perfect counter. He won't always be under control, but he will run the floor and he can fly with the best of them. 

Back in late March, the Warriors were without Curry, Thompson and Green in a blowout loss to Memphis. Kuminga started at power forward, played almost 35 minutes and put up 15 points, seven rebounds, four assists, two blocks and one steal. The Warriors won't ask all of that in one game again from the teenager in the playoffs, but they very well could unleash him more than we saw in the previous round.

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