25 and under: Do 49ers or Warriors have better young talent? originally appeared on NBC Sports Bayarea
As the Giants watch their aging roster disappoint this season after an historic 2021 campaign, the 49ers and Warriors are about to embark on another season full of exciting young talent.
The Warriors will be trying to defend their title while continuing their two-timeline dream, and the 49ers are handing the keys to someone who has started three games of football at the most important position in sports since October of 2020, all while falling minutes short of a return to the Super Bowl last season.
So, which title-contending team has the better young talent right now in the Bay Area? Like everything, there are rules to the exercise.
The term "young" can be defined a number of ways. If you insist, young can be a mindset -- until you tear your ACL walking down the driveway to get the mail. In this case, we're setting a number to the madness: 25 years old.
Now that really the only rule to the game has been explained, let's look at the youth of the two franchises.
Tier 1: Jordan Poole, Jonathan Kuminga, James Wiseman, Moses Moody
Tier 2: Donte DiVincenzo, Patrick Baldwin Jr., Ryan Rollins
On their road to repeating and defending their title once more, the Warriors again will be led by Steph Curry, Klay Thompson and Draymond Green. Curry is the oldest of the trio at 34 years old, followed by Thompson (32) and Green (32). A third Splash Brother, or better yet, Splash Nephew or Kid Splash -- as the 23-year-old Jordan Poole might be called -- has emerged as a star who can carry the torch as Steph and Klay rise in age.
Poole didn't just break out this past season. He juggled multiple roles, did the impossible in giving his best Steph Curry impersonation at times and looked every bit of a star in the making -- one season after having to play 11 games in the G League. He barely missed putting up a 50/40/90 in his first postseason after shooting 50.8 percent from the field, 39.1 percent on threes and made 91.5 percent of his free throws.
Still only 22 years old at the time, Poole scored 30 points to start off his playoff run and followed that up with 29. He scored at least 30 points twice and at least 20 points seven times on the way to the Warriors being champions, all while having a 65.4 true shooting percentage.
Joe Lacob and Bob Myers will have their hands full in keeping Poole around for the long haul, but he now is a proven player ready to take an even bigger leap in his age-23 season.
Kuminga, Wiseman, Moody, Baldwin and Rollins are all no older than 21 years old. Wiseman (21) is the elder of the group, though he only has played 49 games of basketball since his college debut nearly three years ago -- three in college, 39 in the NBA, three in the G League and four in summer league this past July. Kuminga (19) is only one month older than Patrick Baldwin Jr., the Warriors' top pick from this year's draft, and has the highest upside of them all.
He also might be the biggest question mark. It's all up to him if he wants to reach his superstar potential, all while we all need reminders of just how young the ultra-talented high-flier is.
During the Warriors' run to their latest title, Kuminga and Moody became the second-youngest and fourth-youngest champions in NBA history. Ever. Only Kobe Bryant has played more minutes in a conference finals at 19 years old than the Warriors' two lottery picks from the 2021 draft. Coaches and players alike already trust Moody, and there isn't any reason he shouldn't have a strong, increased role next season.
Moody and DiVincenzo will help replace Gary Payton II, one of the most unique players in the NBA. DiVincenzo is the veteran of the group, turning 26 on Jan. 31, 2023. He already has been a champion in college and the NBA. His breakout season was his age-24 season, when he averaged 10.4 points, 5.8 rebounds and 3.4 assists per game, while shooting 37.9 percent from deep. Signing him to a two-year, $9.3 million contract with a player option for the second year can be both a steal this season and another motivated acquisition looking to play his way into a bigger deal next offseason with a big showcase as a Warrior.
Baldwin and Rollins likely will see much more minutes in Santa Cruz than San Francisco this season. The Warriors also viewed both as first-round draft picks, and higher than their actual selections of No. 28 and No. 44 overall. Rollins could play himself into minutes off the bench as the season progresses, serving as a back-end ballhandler. The Warriors believe Baldwin, when healthy, is much more of the player who was a top prospect in high school than the one who struggled as a freshman at Milwaukee. The commitment and Basketball IQ is far from a question when it comes to the 19-year-old.
At this time one year ago, the Warriors were tied for the third-oldest roster in the NBA at 27.8 years old. This offseason so far, they have replaced Nemanja Bjelica (34), Chris Chiozza (27 in November), Otto Porter Jr. (29), Juan Toscano-Anderson (29) and Gary Payton II (30 in December) with a 32-year-old, a 25-year-old, a 20-year-old and someone who turns 20 in November.
Well, a 38-year-old Iguodala, who turns 39 in late January, certainly could change a few things.
Tier 1: Nick Bosa, Fred Warner, Trey Lance, Elijah Mitchell, Brandon Aiyuk
Tier 2: Dre Greenlaw, Azeez Al-Shaair, Javon Kinlaw, Talanoa Hufanga, Drake Jackson
The top of Tier 1 can't be much stronger. It's also teetering on the edge of eligibility. Fred Warner turns 26 in November, and Bosa will be 25 on Oct. 23. Self-made rules be damned, Bosa and Warner are two of the best players at their position in all of football.
Coming off a torn ACL, Bosa was one of the best defensive players in the NFL last season and is on the road to superstardom. He recorded a career-high 15.5 sacks (fourth in the NFL), forced four fumbles and led the NFL with 21 tackles for loss. Bosa had four sacks, five QB hits and forced one fumble in the 49ers' three playoff games.
He now has eight sacks and 10 QB hits in six playoff games. As a rookie, he had an 86.7 Pro Football Focus grade. After missing nearly all of the 2020 season, Bosa had an 88.3 PFF grade. The former No. 2 overall pick already has been named to the Pro Bowl in both of his healthy seasons, won the Defensive Rookie of the Year and twice has been named a top-25 player in the entire league by his peers.
Warner, a former third-round pick, had a "down year" by his standards last season. He had a 75.2 PFF grade last season, down from his 88.6 grade in 2021. Warner also totaled a career-high 137 tackles last season. The year before, he was named to the Pro Bowl for the first time, along with earning All-Pro honors.
His 2020 campaign consisted of 125 tackles, one sack, seven QB hits, two interceptions, six passes defensed, two fumble recoveries and one forced fumble. He was been named a top-70 player each of the last three years. Warner signed a record five-year contract worth $95.23 million last July, and Bosa is well on his way to a giant contract as well.
Brandon Aiyuk is the oldest of the offensive trio in the top tier, and many believe he's primed for a breakout season. He and quarterback Trey Lance formed chemistry throughout the offseason. Over the first seven games of the season last year, Aiyuk only had 13 catches for 141 yards and one touchdown. In the final 10 games, he had 43 receptions for 685 yards and four TDs. Through two seasons, he has caught 116 balls for 1,574 yards and 10 TDs.
Mitchell, taken in the sixth round last year, broke the 49ers' single-season rookie rushing record ... in 10 games played. He wound up appearing in 11 games and finished the season with 1,100 yards from scrimmage (963 rushing) with six total touchdowns -- five rushing and one as a receiver. As a rookie, he ran for more than 100 yards five times.
Then there's Trey Lance, the man who has played in seven games and started three since Oct. 3, 2020. One of those starts came against Central Arkansas. The 22-year-old quarterback has the size, he has the speed and he has the arm strength to be an elite player at his position, worth everything to trade up to the No. 3 pick.
Does he have the accuracy, understanding of a complex offense and ability to dissect a defense in the NFL right now? Come Sunday, we shall see.
Dre Greenlaw (25) and Azeez Al-Shaair (25), along with Warner, give the 49ers one of the best, if the not the best, group of linebackers in the NFL. The fact that the 49ers found Greenlaw in the fifth round and signed Al-Shaair as an undrafted free agent make it that much better. Greenlaw was held to three regular-season games last season, though he did come through huge for San Francisco in the regular-season finale, giving the 49ers a game-high 12 tackles. In his first two seasons, he only missed three regular-season games and averaged 90 tackles -- five for loss, one sack and two QB hits per year.
Al-Shaair totaled only 53 tackles his first two seasons. In 2021, he stepped up in major ways, setting himself up for a solid payday in the future. He had 102 tackles -- nine for loss, five passes defensed, one interception, two sacks, one forced fumble and two fumble recoveries. On four different occasions, he made double-digit tackles in a game.
The 49ers' linebackers aren't to be trifled with.
Javon Kinlaw and Talanoa Hufanga find themselves on two opposite ends. Kinlaw is a former first-round pick who hasn't lived up to expectations, thanks to injuries. His talent is too much to pass on, though. He was a major standout this preseason, is healthy and looks to be in great shape. Hufanga stood out last season as a rookie out of the fifth round. He had 32 tackles over 15 games, and came up huge on special teams in some big cases. Kinlaw and Hufanga will both be season-opening starters for the 49ers, with high expectations.
Finally, Drake Jackson finds himself in the same lane as Baldwin and Rollins: All hype and potential before any production. And just like the Warriors' rookies, the young defensive end looks like a talent that can outplay his draft slot at No. 61 overall this last April.
Entering Week 1, the 49ers are the 15th-youngest team in the NFL -- with an average age of just under 26. They also have the youngest starting quarterback in the league right now.
On the advantage of experience, plus Bosa and Warner being at or near the top of their respective position, the winner of the exercise has to go to the 49ers. Kuminga, Wiseman or Moody taking a Poole-like step forward can quickly turn the tide. The Niners also have the biggest mystery between the two teams, and perhaps the biggest in all of football, while playing the most important position in sports.
Let's be real: It all comes down to Trey Lance.
He has the star power needed around him. He's the game's latest sports car, looking to zoom past his competition instead of spinning out of control. Everything's there for him to take the first of those two roads -- minus that whole unnecessary QB controversy thing, one that can either become real (it won't) or be erased in a blink.
Time to grab the keys and go.