The Golden State Warriors and Los Angeles Lakers are set for a second round series in the 2023 NBA Playoffs that does not feels like a typical No. 6 seed vs. No. 7 seed matchup. These are the league’s two most glamorous franchises, with Hall of Fame players on both sides and a deep history between the superstars. The Warriors and Lakers had to survive rocky regular seasons and tough first round matchups to get here, but it really does feel like both teams are playing their best ball of the year at the best possible time.
The Lakers’ season turned around thanks to an incredible trade deadline haul that restocked the team’s depth around LeBron James and Anthony Davis. LA needed to win a game in the play-in tournament just to make the playoffs, but they looked like a convincing contender as they knocked out the No. 2 seed Grizzlies in five games in the first round. The Warriors have had to weather of injuries and internal turmoil all season, but the defending champs leveraged their experience to win a hard-fought Game 7 against the Sacramento Kings to keep what might be their last dance alive.
With so much interest around the series, we decided to rank every rotation players who could see minutes.
19. Jonathan Kuminga, F, Warriors
Kuminga’s sky-high upside is easy to see, but the 20-year-old is not ready for prime-time just yet. After finishing seventh on Golden State in total minutes during the regular season, Kuminga only played 34 total minutes in the first round. He’ll probably be out of Steve Kerr’s rotation again, but he’s so big, so strong, and so explosive that there’s always a chance he can have a real impact in a short stint.
18. Troy Brown, G, Lakers
The Lakers are Brown’s third team in the first five years of his career, but he may have finally carved out a real role off the bench. The combo guard was fourth on the Lakers in total minutes during the regular season, partially because he hit a career-best 38.1 percent of his threes, partially because he’s one of the few guys on the team who was around the whole year. Even with the new additions, he still has a role in the rotation, playing about 15 minutes per game during the first round series against the Grizzlies. I’ve been writing about this guy since 2015, so it’s mind-blowing that he’s still only 23 years old.
17. Moses Moody, G, Warriors
I was a huge Moody fan entering the 2021 NBA Draft, when I ranked him as the sixth best player in the class. While he hasn’t quite lived up to that level of hype yet, he has started to establish a real role off the bench for Golden State in his second season. The 6’6 wing isn’t a super bouncy athlete, but he can hit a jump shot and is learning how to leverage his 7’1 wingspan defensively. Moody hit 5-of-11 threes in the first round vs. Sacramento, and the Warriors will absolutely take that once again in this series.
16. Malik Beasley, G, Lakers
Beasley was the last man in the Lakers’ rotation for the first round series against the Grizzlies, averaging about 10 minutes per game. His shaky defense makes him a liability against a team like Golden State, but man, there aren’t many better volume three-point shooters in the league. Don’t write off his ability to impact this series just yet.
15. Dennis Schröder, G, Lakers
Remember when Schröder hit the go-ahead corner three in the play-in tournament against the Timberwolves? The Lakers’ season would very likely be over at this point if he missed that shot. The speedy veteran guard led the Lakers in total minutes during the regular season (!), and was their sixth man during the first round. Schröder can be erratic with his decision-making and shooting, but his ability to bend the opposing defense off the dribble still makes him valuable. The Lakers might need a good Schröder series to advance past the Warriors, and that’s a scary thought.
14. Donte DiVincenzo, G, Warriors
DiVincenzo started 32 games for the Warriors during the regular season as a high-energy connector who can defend bigger guards and smaller wings on the perimeter. Offensively, DiVincenzo can typically be counted on to keep the ball moving while diving in for opportunistic cuts, but Golden State needs him to knock down a few more jumpers than he did against the Kings.
13. Gary Payton II, G, Warriors
GP2 still feels like he’s working his way back from the right adductor injury that limited him so much in the regular season. His still a ferocious defender, but doesn’t look quite as explosive attacking the basket on offense this year. Payton was such a solid contributor on the Warriors’ run to the title last year; they probably need that version of him back to win it all again.
12. Jarred Vanderbilt, F, Lakers
Defense and rebounding is the name of the game for Vanderbilt. He started every game for LA during the first round, but it will be interesting to see if Darvin Ham tries to get more shooting on the floor against Golden State. Either way, Vanderbilt’s versatility defensively should make him valuable in this series.
11. Rui Hachimura, F, Lakers
Hachimura’s hot shooting was both a pleasant surprise and a big boost for the Lakers in the the first round. After shooting 31.9 percent from three on the season between stops with the Wizards and Lakers, Hachimura canned 52.4 percent of his threes in the series against the Grizzlies, including going 5-of-6 from deep in Game 1. LA can’t win this series on free throws alone, and getting an extra shooter hot feels imperative to advancing. Hachimura would be a great candidate for that.
10. Jordan Poole, G, Warriors
Poole’s first round was a horror movie: he shot 33.8 percent from the field and 25.7 percent from three while getting roasted as always defensively. Warriors fans probably don’t trust Poole right now, but he’s still an explosive scorer when he gets hot. I’m not ready to totally write off Poole like some others are. When he’s on, he can win Golden State a game they have no business winning.
9. D’Angelo Russell, G, Lakers
Russell has mostly played like the best version of himself all season in a contract year with stops in Minnesota and LA. He gives the Lakers a guard with good size who can hit shots both off-the-dribble and on spot-ups, while also adding plus passing ability. Russell has been a punchline at times during his career, but the Lakers offense really needs his extra pinch of shot creation and floor spacing.
8. Austin Reaves, G, Lakers
Yes, LA remade most of its roster at the trade deadline, but Reaves’ ascent during the final month of the season might be the biggest reason the Lakers are still dancing. The second-year guard is simply a really talented offensive player: the 6’5 guard is a three-level scorer who can also throw some flashy passes. The key for Reaves in this series will be staying out of foul trouble when he draws the Steph Curry matchup, and making sure he’s not food on defense. A good series vs. the Warriors could send his value in free agency this summer skyrocketing.
7. Kevon Looney, C, Warriors
Is there a player on a more team-friendly contract in the NBA than Looney? The center is the 166th highest-paid player in the league, but his rebounding against Domantas Sabonis legitimately swung the first round series vs. the Kings. Looney averaged more than 15 rebounds per game for the series, and had 10 offensive boards in the decisive Game 7 victory. How he stacks up against Anthony Davis could be a barometer for this series.
6. Andrew Wiggins, F, Warriors
Wiggins didn’t miss a beat as he returned for the Warriors in the first round after being out since mid-Feb. as he dealt with a family matter. His shot was falling against the Kings — he hit only 27 percent from three — but he still flew around the court and impacted the game as a rebounder, defender, and rim attacker. Wiggins is still one of the best pure run-and-jump athletes in the league, especially for someone in a strong 6’8 frame. The Warriors’ clearest path to the title involves him finding his scoring punch, and putting those fresh legs to use on both ends.
5. Klay Thompson, G, Warriors
No, Thompson isn’t quite as terrifying to opposing defenses as he used to be. Yes, he still had a dynamic season shooting the ball this year, making 41.2 percent from three on 10.6 attempts per game. He only made 35 percent of his threes in the first round against the Kings, but his gravity helped open everything up inside the paint for Golden State. Why do I feel like a game or two in this series is going to come down to a Klay vs. Austin Reaves shootout? The Warriors will be very happy to bet on Thompson’s championship experience and sweet shooting stroke when they need it.
4. Draymond Green, F/C, Warriors
Green’s scoring may come and go, but his value to the Warriors on both ends remains as apparent as ever. He holds Golden State’s defense together almost by himself, mentally diagnosing plays as they happen and physically still quick enough with hands and his feet to disrupt them. Green’s screening and passing triggers so much of Golden State’s offense, too, making him a big part of their success even if it doesn’t look like it in the box score. He figures to spend time on both LeBron and Anthony Davis defensively in this series. His ability to stay engaged without theatrics will be vital for the Warriors.
3. LeBron James, F, Lakers
If you haven’t heard, this is season No. 20 for LeBron James, and the miles on his body appeared to be weighing heavily on him during the first round. James just didn’t have his signature explosiveness, and was instead happy to defer to younger teammates in big moments. Of course, James’ greatness isn’t only based on his athleticism, and he was still able to use his size and smarts to average 22 points and 11 rebounds per game in a “bad” series for him. If LeBron is going to bounce back, it starts with making some jump shots: he hit just 8-of-41 from three (19.5 percent) against Memphis. James can’t dominate every possession anymore, but he can still look like LeBron when he really needs to. The Lakers need his best at both ends to have a shot in this series.
2. Anthony Davis, C, Lakers
Davis finally had the bounce-back season the Lakers have been waiting for since the bubble, again looking like one of the best players in the world when he was available. His offense was a bit of a mixed bag in the first round against Memphis and Defensive Player of the Year Jaren Jackson Jr., but defensively he looked as good as ever. AD remains one of the game’s most terrifying paint defenders, always lurking with length and speed above the rim, and he put that on full display against the Grizzlies by swatting five or more shots in three of the six games. The Lakers’ best chance in this series is Davis thoroughly outplaying Kevon Looney in a way Domantas Sabonis couldn’t.
1. Stephen Curry G, Warriors
Stephen Curry has accomplished just about everything humanly possible on a basketball court, but he still keeps finding new ways to push himself forward. The latest example is Curry becoming the first player to ever score 50 points in Game 7 in league history as he ripped the heart out of the Kings and reminded the world the reigning champs are still here. At 35 years old, Curry remains a singular force of nature who can take over a game like no one else. The Lakers will try to fight over the top of every screen and funnel him to the paint where Anthony Davis will be waiting. Good luck. Somehow, Steph Curry always finds a way.