Curry’s Injury Only Highlights The Warriors’ Roster Concerns

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The only ones scared by the Golden State Warriors’ starting lineup moving forward will be the Warriors themselves. The play was already ugly enough in the new Chase Center before Steph Curry broke his left hand Wednesday night, but the wake of that injury will shine a light on how little depth Golden State has.

When they host the San Antonio Spurs on Friday, the Warriors will likely start some combination of Eric Paschall, Jordan Poole, Anthony Edwards and Alec Burks. One of those names is actually a freshman shooting guard at Georgia, the No. 3 recruit in the 2019 class, per, but the 18-year-old’s name blends right in with those other unknowns, doesn’t it?

Frankly, Golden State might be able to use Edwards right now thanks to the realities of top-heavy roster construction.

A rookie forward out of Villanova, second-round pick Paschall started Wednesday alongside Draymond Green in the Warriors’ frontcourt, playing 37-plus minutes and led the team with 20 points. Poole, the No. 28 pick from June, might be the primary beneficiary of Curry’s injury. Even when Curry was healthy, the rookie shooting guard averaged 23 minutes over Golden State’s first three games.

Some of Poole’s influx came from Burks’ absence up until this week as he recovered from a sprained ankle. Burks made his season debut in the loss to the Phoenix Suns with seven points in 18 minutes. A nine-year veteran that has always represented more a tease than a reality during a career beset by injuries, Burks could become one of the few bright spots on the Warriors’ roster.

Such is the situation in Golden State. With Kevin Durant biding his time in Brooklyn, Shaun Livingston enjoying retirement, Andre Iguodala currently enjoying a forced retirement, Klay Thompson waiting for his ACL to heal and now without Curry for perhaps a few months, the Warriors have no choice but to lean on the likes of Paschall, Poole and Burks.

Of course, Golden State still has Green and D’Angelo Russell, but the former’s back has already landed him on the injury report and the latter has the worst plus-minus in the league at a negative-74 in 119 minutes through four games. The only help in the frontcourt comes courtesy of Willie Cauley-Stein, who returned from a foot sprain to play 12 minutes on Wednesday, and Kevon Looney, out for at least another week with a couple of concerning issues. Cauley-Stein’s brief playing time was enough to push Marquese Chriss into DNP-CD status, despite his preseason impressions.

With a hard cap prohibiting nearly any move, the Warriors’ backcourt will continue to lag until Curry’s return. Even that will be a salve of only moderate effectiveness. After all, the Suns were winning by 29 when Aaron Baynes landed awkwardly on Curry, while Golden State has a negative-47 point differential through those opening games.

Russell’s negative impact on the roster goes further than that gaudy negative-74. Whether Golden State’s front office saw him as an asset-grab or as a long-term piece,  adding Russell forced the Warriors to lose Iguodala. The 2015 NBA Finals MVP has unquestionably lost a step at 35, but his presence and experience would undoubtedly help the Warriors’ league-worst defense.

Even once the sign-and-trade for Russell was executed, Golden State took another step that compromised depth in order to set aside a few dollars earmarked for Looney. Shabazz Napier and Treveon Graham initially arrived along with Russell, only to be sent to the Minnesota Timberwolves for the nominal rights to Lior Eliyahu. Considering the Israeli was originally drafted by the Orlando Magic in 2006, it is safe to assume the Warriors never had any inclinations of bringing Eliyahu onto their active roster.

They could, however, use Napier and Graham these days, two of the underrated acquisitions spurring the Timberwolves to a 3-1 start.

Without them, without the litany of core pieces to Golden State’s title runs and now without Curry for at least the near future, the Warriors are in the danger zone. They have to hope Glenn Robinson III develops at an accelerated rate and must pray that Omari Spellman can — excuse the pun — spell Green enough to alleviate his back issues.

The alternative is to tank. The verb implies an active stance, but the passive form may have already arrived in the Bay Area. The competitive Western Conference will feast on this depleted roster, perhaps somewhat gleefully given how many routs Golden State has dished out over the last four years.

There is a silver lining attached to a tank, be it an active one or a passive one. It again traces back to the Russell-for-Durant sign-and-trade. Reportedly, when Durant heard of the deal, he was offended and insisted Brooklyn receive more in the deal he had no other reason to agree to. Golden State tossed in a 2020 first-round draft pick, top-20 protected.

That top-20 designation should no longer be in peril, no offense to Paschall, Poole and Burks. If anybody is taking glee in the Warriors’ sudden look toward the reset button, they’re not alone. But, at least this time, the recapture of their first-rounder, plus the health of Curry and Thompson, represent a very clear light at the end of the tunnel — that reprieve may not come this season, however.