It’s been the summer of change for the Golden State Warriors. After helping them to back to back championships and three straight NBA Finals appearances, Kevin Durant left to the Brooklyn Nets. Not only that but longtime veterans Andre Iguodala and Shaun Livingston, who were key players on title teams, are also gone. To make matters worse, Klay Thompson is expected to miss a good portion of the season while he recovers from an ACL injury.
It’s not all gloom and doom for the Warriors, however. Stephen Curry and Draymond Green are still around. Thompson is probably going to be back sometime after the All-Star break. D’Angelo Russell, one of the top rising stars in the league is now in the Bay Area. There is enough left to still make the Warriors a formidable team. There’s going to be some question marks regarding the bench, but there’s no reason to believe this team still isn’t one of the better teams in the Western Conference.
FIVE GUYS THINK…
How the mighty have fallen. The Warriors were seemingly set to rule the Western Conference, and the NBA, for quite a while. But a couple of injuries later, and everything changed. The Warriors have fallen back down to Earth and have rejoined the rest of the pack. That’s not to say they won’t still be among the NBA’s elite. As long as they have the core group of Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson, and Draymond Green, they will be a contender. Thompson will likely be out until the All-Star Break at the earliest, but they have a replacement in D’Angelo Russell. The main area of concern, however, is going to be the bench. Their depth has been one of their strengths in years past, but this season it’s a bit of a question mark. They have players capable of playing big roles off the bench with Willie Cauley Stein, Alec Burks, Omari Spellman and Glenn Robinson III, but those players haven’t exactly been the models for consistency. Steve Kerr has seemingly managed to get the most out of his players though it’s possible they end up forming a good second unit.
2nd Place – Pacific Division
– David Yapkowitz
The Warriors dynasty seems to be a thing of the past. But that does not mean they’re in need of a rebuild. They still have their big-three under contract for the foreseeable future (Steph Curry, Klay Thompson and Draymond Green). And while none of them are as durable and effective as they were a few years back, they are still all top-5 league-wide in their respective positions. They also made out pretty well in Durant’s departure – returning D’Angelo Russell; especially considering Durant could have walked for nothing. Unfortunately, that move also cost the Dubs Andre Iguodala. Shaun Livingston left, too – recently announcing his retirement. While the Warriors might be taking a wait-and-see approach with Russell, it might be in their best interest to swap him out for additional depth if they hope to continue to compete for championships with their current team.
3rd Place – Pacific Division
– Drew Maresca
With Kevin Durant off to Brooklyn, Andre Iguodala idle in Memphis and Shaun Livingston retired, the Golden State Warriors have had some major losses. Even Klay Thompson, who tore his ACL in the NBA Finals, is out until late winter or early spring. So the question everybody has is: Is the dynasty over? The Dubs don’t think so. We’ll see an unfamiliar duo with Stephen Curry and a rising star in D’Angelo Russell, which should make for a blazing backcourt. Looking at the additions of Willie Cauley-Stein and Omari Spellman – along with the return of Kevon Looney – the big man situation is solidified on both ends. Draymond Green is still the straw that stirs the drink. There’s a possibility that Jacob Evans breaks out as a second unit sensation, in addition to Summer League starling Alen Smailagic and Villanova standout Eric Paschall. Steve Kerr still has two-thirds of his original core to work with, so let’s not be foolish and eliminate Golden State from the playoffs in our minds. The five-game NBA Finals appearance streak though? That could be in jeopardy.
3rd Place – Pacific Division
– Spencer Davies
Eventually, every NBA dynasty comes to an end. While the Warriors still have Steph Curry and Draymond Green and that is a ton more than some teams have, the juggernaut is no more and the Warriors are mortal again. Klay Thompson will likely miss most if not all of the 2019-20 NBA season, which means if the Warriors are smart about their long-term future, this season will be more about “load management” with an emphasis on developing their newfound youth. The surprise addition of D’Angelo Russell gives the Warriors an interesting All-Star level guy to look at before the trade deadline, so it’s not as if the Warriors will head to the NBA basement, but winning more than 45-50 games seems unlikely given the circumstances.
4th Place – Pacific Division
– Steve Kyler
It’s unfortunate that the Golden State Warriors were hit with several devastating injuries to key players in the 2018-19 playoffs. In the aftermath, Kevin Durant is now a member of the Brooklyn Nets, Klay Thompson is still a Warrior but will be rehabbing well into the season and Golden State is now led by just Stephen Curry and Draymond Green. Any team would be thrilled to have Curry and Green leading the team, but these are the Warriors, who have been historically dominant and talented over the last few seasons. Despite having very little depth on the roster, I do believe that Curry, Green and new addition D’Angelo Russell could lead the Warriors into the playoffs. However, I also will not be surprised if this team underperforms or is edged out of the postseason by a dangerous, fringe playoff team like the Sacramento Kings. The first six spots in the Western Conference place are, as of now, seemingly locked in by the top teams in the West. There are two spots open for a few teams to fight over and I’m just not sure where Golden State will end up. A lot will depend on how quickly Klay Thompson can return to action and play at his usual levels.
3rd Place – Pacific Division
– Jesse Blancarte
FROM THE CAP GUY
The Warriors responded quickly to Kevin Durant’s intention to leave for the Brooklyn Nets, orchestrating a dual sign and trade that brought in All-Star D’Angelo Russell on a five-year $117.3 million max contract. The goal is to integrate Russell into the team’s core, but if he doesn’t fit their style of play, he can be traded after December 15. The Russell deal also triggered a hard cap for the Warriors at $138.9 million, which is why the team felt compelled first to deal Andre Iguodala to the Memphis Grizzlies.
Golden State will pay the repeater tax after this season, should they remain over the $132.6 million threshold. Currently, the team has roughly $138.6 million in guaranteed salary in just 13 players. Should they finish the year at $138.9 million in payroll, they’ll pay $16 million in tax. Given the team had initially prepared to pay Durant the maximum (while retaining Iguodala), the tax bill is probably a relief to what the team had originally expected.
– Eric Pincus
TOP OF THE LIST
Top Offensive Player: Stephen Curry
Curry remains a top 5-6 player in the league and one of the most explosive offensive threats. He is a threat to score from literally anywhere on the court. He is the motor that has kept the Warriors running the past few seasons and the driving force behind their championship teams. He obviously hasn’t had to shoulder the offensive load as much when Durant was on the team, but this season is going to be different.
This past season, at the age of 30, he continued his efficient scoring, He averaged 27.3 points per game while shooting 47.2 percent from the field, 43.7 percent from the three-point line, and 91.6 percent from the free-throw line. During the 2015-16 season, the season before Durant arrived, Curry vaulted himself into the vaunted 50/40/90 club while averaging a career-high 30.1 points per game. Now with Durant gone, and Thompson out to start the season, don’t be shocked to see Curry return to those levels of scoring. Sure he has a little more wear and tear on his body, but he’s still in the prime of his career. Look for some big offensive performances from him this season.
Top Defensive Player: Draymond Green
There’s no question about it, Green is the heart and soul of the Warriors defense. He’s been the catalyst that’s made the Warriors one of the best defensive teams in the league. He’s arguably the most versatile defensive player in the league right now, capable of bodying up big men in the post, being an interior shot blocker, and able to cover guard and wings on the perimeter.
Green will also have some help behind him with Kevon Looney expected to be the full-time starter at center. Together the duo will be one of the best defensive frontcourts in the league. Green will have a legit shot blocker behind him, so he can afford to be a little bit more aggressive on the perimeter. Green has never been one to shy away from a challenge, and with many predicting the Warriors demise, it’s just the sort of thing to light another fire under him and see his name mentioned again in the Defensive Player of the Year race.
Top Playmaker: D’Angelo Russell
Yes, I know Curry is still on the team and is one of the best in the league with ball in his hands. But things are different in the Bay this season. Adjustments are going to have to be made and Steve Kerr is going to have to put his players in the best possible situations to succeed. Curry is also one of, if not the best off-ball player in the NBA. It’s a nightmare for defenders to chase him around multiple screens as he looks to get open. Russell has emerged as one of the better playmakers in the league. It’s not at all farfetched to imagine Russell being the primary ball-handler.
Russell thrives with the ball in his hands and he averaged 7.0 assists last season; more than Curry. He also isn’t as good a catch and shoot player as Curry is, nor is he as efficient moving without the ball. It might be in Golden State’s best interest to shake things up a little bit and allow Russell to facilitate the offense while Curry plays more off-ball. If that happens, look for Russell’s assist numbers to shoot up.
Top Clutch Player: Klay Thompson
Sure he’s going to be out for the first half of the season, but Thompson is arguably the most clutch player on the team, and certainly one of the best in the league. His 41 points in Game 6 of the 2016 Western Conference Finals, with the Warriors facing elimination, is legendary. Last season, before he got hurt in Game 5 of the Finals, he was well on his way to another amazing elimination game performance.
Clutch doesn’t just mean hitting big shots in the fourth quarter — clutch is also measured by a player’s overall performance in big games. Thompson is certainly capable of hitting big shots down the stretch, he’s done it multiple times. But he seemingly rises to the occasion in the playoff when the Warriors have needed a huge game. He’s going to have that extra motivation when he returns to the court, and the Warriors will be well off for it.
The Unheralded Player: Jacob Evans III
Evans rarely saw the court last season as a rookie and he spent most of his time in the G League with the Santa Cruz Warriors. But with the overhaul of the Warriors bench, Evans is going to be called upon to give the team some quality production. He’s primarily a wing player who can split time at both shooting guard and small forward, but he’s going to be leaned upon to provide minutes at point guard this season.
During Summer League, he was given an opportunity to ease into his new position. He did a solid job, showing off nice court vision and awareness with the ball in his hands as the primary facilitator. It’s going to be his job to step into the role Livingston has played for the past several seasons. That also includes being a good defender. He had a good summer league, now it’s time for that to translate to the regular season.
Best New Addition: Alec Burks
It wasn’t too long ago that Burks was seemingly a rising star in the NBA with the Utah Jazz. A few injuries later, however, and now he’s simply trying to show he can still be an effective NBA player. The Warriors bench is the biggest question mark heading into the season and Burks has a chance to solidify the second unit.
Coming to the Warriors was a great situation for him. He’s going to get the minutes to contribute right away and prove himself while also being on a winning team. He did average 11.6 points per game while shooting 37.8 percent from three last season in 34 games with the Cleveland Cavaliers. He’s always been a decent three-point shooter, and that’s what the Warriors are going to need from him, instant offense off the bench. He’s the best scorer in the second unit as of this moment.
– David Yapkowitz
WHO WE LIKE
1. Kevon Looney
Looney had a case for being listed as the team’s unheralded player. Last season, he was suffering from injuries too, but he toughed it out and gave the Warriors all he had in the Finals despite clearly being in pain. He’s been a part-time starter, and there isn’t any compelling reason why he shouldn’t be in the starting lineup. He’s a good rim protector and interior defender, and he can switch out on the perimeter like Green can. He’s an improving offensive player and is solid in the pick and roll. He should be able to have a career-year and really establish himself as a true difference-maker.
2. Willie Cauley-Stein
Cauley-Stein is somewhat of an enigma. In his four years with the Sacramento Kings, he’s shown flashes of potential followed by inconsistency. He was a good defensive player in college, but that hasn’t always translated to the NBA for him. He is a mobile big though who has a decent offensive touch, and that’s what the Warriors will need from him. He can run the floor well in transition and finish plays as well as being the roller in the pick and roll. This is perhaps his last chance to prove he’s a consistent NBA player.
3. Omari Spellman
Spellman wasn’t exactly the model of consistency during his rookie season, and the Atlanta Hawks gave up on him after just one year in the NBA. On a Warriors team whose bench is full of question marks, he’s got the opportunity to show Atlanta that they gave up on him too early. He brings a different skill set to the team than the other bigs on the roster. He has the ability to stretch the floor and shoot from distance. He’s primarily a power forward, but he can shift over to center in small-ball lineups.
4. Alen Smailagic
Smailagic made a little bit of history this past season when he opted to play in the G League in anticipation of the NBA Draft. He was then drafted this past summer by the New Orleans Pelicans before they traded his rights to the Warriors. Watching him in person with Santa Cruz last season, he’s got all the tools to be a successful big man in today’s game. He is very athletic and can finish well in the paint, but he also stretches the floor and can shoot from three. He’s not bad defensively either. The Warriors won’t need contributions from him immediately and they can afford to be patient with him as he develops.
The Warriors are going to have to rely on the leadership of their key guys more than ever this season. Thankfully for them, they’ve got some of the best leaders in the league. Sure Iguodala and Livingston were highly respected players in the locker room, and they will certainly be missed, but they still have Curry, Thompson, and Green. With the core three still intact, there shouldn’t be any locker room issues or whatnot creeping up this season, those players will see to it. Along with Kerr, the trio will keep this team in line. While they are not the Warriors of seasons past, their key vets will ensure that this team doesn’t suffer much of a drop-off.
Although the Warriors have been top-heavy, one of their strengths during their title years has been the depth of their bench. Last season, their second unit was already starting to show some cracks, and now the armor has completely fallen off. If Kerr decides to start Cauley-Stein and bring Looney off the bench, then they’ll have some dependable play with the second unit. But everyone else remains a question mark. Can Evans adapt to point guard and take a big leap despite not playing much as a rookie? Can Spellman keep his weight down and be a consistent outside threat? Can Burks regain his prior form and be a legit wing scorer? What are they going to get from Glenn Robinson III? This is going to be an issue for the Warriors and whatever playoff success they hope to have, depends on it.
THE BURNING QUESTION
How far will the Warriors drop?
Golden State clearly isn’t going to be running roughshod through the NBA like they have in the past. Other teams in the West are feeling great about their chances of making it to the NBA Finals. But how much of a drop-off will the Warriors actually have? Of course, they’re going to miss the offensive dynamic that Durant brought to the team, but his departure might allow Curry to get back to his former level of scoring. Thompson’s presence will be missed while he recovers, but his absence is why Russell is now on the roster. There is enough on this team to keep them afloat until Thompson gets back. And once playoffs begin, anything can happen. The Warriors will be a team nobody wants to see in the postseason. They’re still good enough for a top 4-5 finish in the West. The rumors of their demise have been greatly exaggerated.
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