The tip of the 2019-20 NBA season represents a new era for the Golden State Warriors. As they Christen the brand new Chase Arena, the Dubs find themselves in a position they haven’t been familiar with in half a decade – as underdogs and expected also-rans.
Having risen to the pinnacle of the NBA in 2015, the Warriors befell the cliché of a public building them up, only to bay for them to be torn down. In just two short years they traversed from the position of the league’s darlings to supervillains, via a couple of crotch-shots and an(other) MVP joining the team in free agency.
Critics have already audaciously suggested that this roster may not make the playoffs. That the golden days of this era are now firmly behind them. But a wounded animal is a dangerous animal, and these Warriors have plenty to fight with.
After a nonchalant breeze through the regular season to finish with 57 wins, the Warriors were almost a certainty to retain their crown. Dispatching the Clippers in the first round, they faced their frequent postseason foes, the Houston Rockets in the next series.
With the series tied at 2-2, Kevin Durant suffered a right calf strain. While certainly worrying, and a massive chink in the Dubs’ armor, his teammates held it together winning Games 5 and 6 versus Houston, before sweeping the Portland Trail Blazers in the Western Conference Finals. So far, so good.
Destiny led us to believe that golden and blue confetti would rain from the rafters following a third successive title (and a fourth in five years). Alas, the franchise’s final season in the legendary (R)Oracle Arena did not end the way it was meant. Fate is a cruel mistress and the twists (of body parts?… too soon?) she threw at the Warriors in the last games of the Finals proved too devastating to overcome.
Game four: Kevin Durant, ruptured Achilles tendon. Game five: Klay Thompson, torn ACL. Season. Over.
If you think this Warriors team won’t be good, you’re tripping. Remember the last time they (only) had three All-Stars in the starting line-up? 73 wins. Now, I’m not saying this iteration of the team will come anywhere close to that, but to suggest that they aren’t a dangerous foe is; best case disrespectful, worst case idiotic.
While Durant’s presence was a huge plus, it did disrupt the beautiful flowing style of play the Dubs previously embodied. We saw flashes of it returning when KD was out during the playoffs, expect to see more of it again this time around.
Curry, a two-time MVP (one of them unanimous, in case you forgot), should see his numbers jump back up as he has to fill the void of the departed Durant and the injured Thompson. His efficiency should experience an uptick too, back to pre-Durant levels, especially with new-teammate D’Angelo Russell being a better passer than KD. Could he average 12 three point attempts per game?
Draymond Green will benefit from significantly increased opportunities this year, having dipped to his lowest usage rate since breaking out as a full time starter in 2014-15. An in shape and focused Draymond will be a huge asset, but there is a distinct need for his shooting touch to return to 2015-16 levels for the Dubs to succeed. Just last season, his points per shot attempt ranked in the 15th percentile for bigs last season. In other words, not good enough. With an expanded role, Draymond should flirt with a real (hey, Russell Westbrook) triple double each night.
The addition of D’Angelo Russell, while intriguing, was an absolute no-brainer. Lose KD for nothing and be restricted by the salary cap, or sign and trade for another All-Star? His assimilation into the Warriors will be interesting, as it will require significant adjustment from the role he’s become accustomed to so far in his career.
It turns out that being “light years ahead” of your competition doesn’t last long. This Warriors team is easily capable of making the playoffs in a Western Conference that has somehow got even more competitive. They’ll probably struggle to get close to a seed that gets them home court advantage, but if/when Klay comes back, things could get really interesting.
1.Testing Steve Kerr
It would be unfair to suggest that Kerr has had an easy run as Warriors head coach. Yes, he inherited an extremely talented team, but getting egos to gel, adding an MVP in his prime and continuing to motivate a team at the apex of a sport is extremely difficult. Not to mention the medical issues he suffered along the way.
However, this season will be the biggest test of his coaching tenure, with limited resources and significant roster overturn. Despite lowered expectations, we get to see how versatile a coach Kerr is.
The Warriors suffered with more than enough significant injuries last year. In addition to KD (which led to public questioning of the medical staff) and Klay in the Finals, Kevon Looney fractured his costal cartilage (the bit between your ribs), limiting him in the Playoffs and, following a very promising start to the season Damian Jones tore his pectoral muscle in December. Oh, and DeMarcus Cousins tore his quad… having only just recovered from a torn Achilles tendon… did I miss anything?
With limited depth to fall back on, the new look Warriors will rely heavily on their three healthy All-Stars. This will likely mean increased minutes and, therefore, increased miles on the figurative tires. Curry and Russell have a history of ankle and knee issues, respectively, and this season could be a true test of their durability.
Once again, the Warriors lack a definitive (literal) centerpiece. Willie Cauley-Stein is another, in a list of projects the franchise have taken on, that represent low risk assets with potentially high rewards. Marquese Chriss also fits this mold. Kevon Looney, having played valiantly through injury in the 2019 Playoffs, has a real chance to establish himself as a key player on this team and the franchises go to center going forwards.
Looney, entering his fifth season, has yet to showcase his full arsenal of talent in the NBA. In 2013, Ball is Life posted a video entitled “Is Kevon Looney the next Kevin Durant?” (not a joke). Yes, he was playing against high schoolers at the time, but the range of skills on display suggest he could be significantly more than his Warriors role to date has allowed.
Stephen Curry | 27.3 ppg, 5.3 rpg, 5.2 apg
The greatest shooter in NBA history is going to be asked to shoot more… as long as his body holds up, we could see a number of (his own) records shattered. Total threes made, taken, averaged per game. Expect a strong MVP case and reminder as to why Bleacher Report ranked Curry above Kobe Bryant in their recent top 100 all time list.
Draymond Green | 7.4 ppg, 7.3 rpg, 6.9 apg
How long will Draymond Green maintain his responsible, no complaining stance? Will he be in shape? If it’s a yes to both, then the Warriors will have one of the most dynamic two-way players in league pushing them as their beating heart. His form could be the difference maker in how far this team could go.
D’Angelo Russell | 21.1 ppg, 3.9 rpg, 7 apg
He’s capable of playing off the ball and shoots a good 37 percent from three. Whether he’s happy to do this in a reduced role after 30 games or so remains to be seen. Fortunately, there are several options for Russell and Curry coexisting, such as staggering minutes so Russell gets to feast on secondary units as well as sharing the ball handling with Curry (imagining the prospect of Curry, regularly off-ball, running floppy action makes me salivate).
Kevon Looney | 6.3 ppg, 5.2 rpg, 1.5 apg
Entering the season with a hamstring issue isn’t a great start. This year is a huge opportunity for Looney to build on last season’s momentum. His new three-year, $15m contract, if he makes the necessary leap, could become a great deal for the franchise. A potential long shot candidate for Most Improved Player…?