A couple of days ago, the Warriors recalled Stephen Curry from their G League affiliate in Santa Cruz, which cued loads of jokes from NBA Twitter. Needless to say, the sport is better when it has one of its biggest icons back and healthy following a prolonged stint on the sideline. The Warriors may have lost in his return, but Curry was up to his old tricks again even with such a depleted roster.
It doesn’t even matter either as the Warriors’ season had been decided months ago — but everyone was just glad to see Curry back. Come to think of it, the NBA needs the Warriors back, period. We need the band back together. We don’t need The Hamptons 5 together again necessarily – and thankfully, we won’t – but let’s remember that it was the pre-Kevin Durant roster that revolutionized the NBA with their emphasis on both spacing and positionless basketball.
Sadly, we’re not going to be able to watch those guys because of all the bad breaks they’ve had dating back to last June. Durant is gone. Klay Thompson is on the shelf until next year. Curry’s played four games total. Since Draymond Green’s specialty is holding it all together, he’s done less than ever this season because there was nothing to hold together.
Losing all those guys, even with D’Angelo Russell as suitable consolation prize, set the Warriors so far back that, even with Green, the only tasks they could do this season was develop former lottery picks like Marquese Chriss and Dragan Bender, cash in on players who had no future there like Alec Burks and Glenn Robinson III and deal with players that fell into a little bit of both – hi, Willie Cauley-Stein — all while being one of the worst teams in the league.
Basically, the Warriors have been going through exactly what the 1998-99 Chicago Bulls went through. The only differences being that the Bulls’ first season post-Michael Jordan was shortened by a lockout, the Warriors kept the Dennis Rodman of the group – so to speak – and, of course, their best players will all be back next year and are still very much in their prime.
We know how good the Warriors will be when they have everyone back on their squad. In fact, don’t be shocked if they win more games than they lose now that they have Curry back along with Draymond Green and Andrew Wiggins from here on out. Golden State as the favorite night-in and night-out made things a little predictable over the last few years. For the first time since 2014, we’re going to see someone else represent the Western Conference in the NBA Finals.
Although no one wants injuries, parity is a welcome change of pace on that side.
But the Warriors will return to full strength when next season starts, and they’re going to have more at their disposal than just the Splash Brothers and Draymond Green. Indeed, while Kevin Durant is no longer there to form the atomic bomb that was the Warriors from 2016-2019, Golden State is going to have plenty of reinforcements that should put them back at the top as they had been for half a decade.
First is the inclusion of Andrew Wiggins. So far, Wiggins has been fine since coming over to the Bay Area. Averaging 20 points on 46/33/70 splits, as well as 5.1 rebounds and 3.7 assists, is nothing to sneeze at. It hasn’t led to many wins, but just about everyone knows that’s not his fault.
Everyone also knows that when Curry and Thompson are re-integrated, Wiggins’ numbers will fall when he takes a backseat to them, but that might just be perfect for him. We’ve seen what happens when you count on Wiggins to be the No. 1 guy. Maybe he was never slated to be the man to lead your team to success. Instead, a supporting role might be more ideal
So far, the sample size is admittingly small to pass any sort of judgment, however, there are some encouraging signs that should make them optimistic about Wiggins turning into the perfect complementary piece. Not from Wiggins, but from the other young pieces they’ve developed.
That starts with Chriss, who had one foot out of the league when Golden State picked him up. Draymond Green, among others, vowed that Chriss had what it took to be in the league at the beginning of the season. The early returns weren’t great, and Chriss is averaging merely average numbers – 9.2 points and 6.1 rebounds – but anyone who’s watched him knows that it isn’t that simple. In fact, he’s come along quite nicely since mid-January.
Since Jan. 20, Chriss is averaging 13.6 points and 7.5 rebounds on 61 percent shooting from the field. What makes those numbers look promising is that while any skeptic would say that it’s a classic case of good stats/bad team numbers, Chriss wasn’t doing that for the first month or so. Because Golden State was afforded the time to focus on his development, he’s getting them results now. If they are molding Chriss into the big scouts thought he could be back in 2016, the Warriors have to believe they can do the same with Wiggins.
Again, Golden State should not expect to develop Wiggins into being a star. If they do, then they got a massive steal. They don’t need that from him though. They just need him to be the third option behind Curry and Thompson. With a lesser role, he may be able to exert more energy on the defensive end. With their opponent’s attention focused more on stopping Golden State’s backcourt, Wiggins should expect more open shots. His 33 percent shooting from distance this season isn’t too encouraging — but his near 40 percent mark from distance the shot is wide open most certainly is.
Golden State broke the regular-season record when they had Harrison Barnes as their primary wing. If Wiggins thrives in that role, then the Warriors shouldn’t see too much of a dropoff from the days of Kevin Durant.
It’s not just the young guys that they are developing already… but the young talent they’ll be sure to get over the next few years.
Like everyone else that has tread through a season of losses, the Warriors should be getting a shiny lottery prospect to develop for the next few years on a cheap rookie contract. This year’s draft is going to have some high-potential guys coming out. Whether it’s James Wiseman, Anthony Edwards, Lamelo Ball or Cole Anthony, we’re most likely going to see one of those guys be put next to the likes of Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson and Draymond Green.
And they’re likely going to get another high lottery pick thanks to the D’Angelo Russell trade, too. The pick that Minnesota gave up to get Russell is only top-three protected next year and, if it doesn’t convey, it’s completely unprotected. The Timberwolves have shown some progress since the deals they’ve made at the deadline, but they’re going up against a Western Conference with very few teams aiming to tank.
The Warriors already had the pieces in place to form a contender last season. Now, they have the pieces to turn their reign into an era of triumphant basketball only comparable to the San Antonio Spurs.
When the Splash Brothers are at full strength next season, their opponents in the Western Conference will be even stronger than they were before. This time, LeBron James could see them in a round that’s not the NBA Finals. The same goes for Kawhi Leonard, too. Even James Harden and his team have doubled down on building a team designed to stop them. It may be the toughest all-around challenge they’ve had to face since they exploded onto the scene.
We all know how good these guys are when they take the court. For now, we just have to bear the current roster while the world’s greatest show remains on intermission. Once it’s over, the Golden State Warriors will be back.
And they’ll be hungry too.
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