You know what is boring?
Those years when the Alabama Crimson Tide were favored to win the title every single season. Nobody likes a dynasty, unless of course, you’re a fan of said dynasty. The only intrigue is the annual musing will this be the year when someone else takes the throne? Translated into NBA terms, when will the Golden State Warriors ever stop being favored?
Well, here we are.
As of five days ago, the Warriors were not the first, second or third team listed as a title contender. Last I checked, they were the seventh. These lists fluctuate some, but I have yet to see the Warriors listed in the top three. So, what changed?
There’s the obvious. Kevin Durant is no longer a Warrior. He’s a Net – a Brooklyn Nets player hoping to prove he can catch a few more titles without living in the popularity shadow of Steph Curry and without the background chatter of “had to leave and join champions to win a championship.” No matter where you land on the true value of Kevin Durant, his absence from the Warriors will certainly be felt. If there were no injuries plaguing the Warriors’ roster, it would be interesting to compare seasons and ascertain just how much or how little they were helped by Durant.
But alas, the Warriors are plagued by injury. Klay Thompson suffered an ACL tear in the playoffs last season. By all accounts, that recovery is conservatively nine-to-twelve months. Suffice to say, the Warriors will be playing most of their season – if not all of it – without Klay Thompson. Fans cannot discount the value-add of having Klay on the floor. Just last season, Klay played 78 games and averaged 34 minutes per game. Klay’s talents were certainly meaningful on the roster, but what did he accomplish?
He averaged 21 points per game, and shot approximately 47% from the field and 40% from three. In October of last season, Klay broke the three-point record, landing 14 in a single game, and ending the game with 52 points in 27 minutes. Even still, Klay Thompson is not viewed as the star of the team, so what will his absence mean?
Landing D’Angelo Russell is not an insignificant consolation prize. He is an asset in his own right. Russell is only 23 years old. Last season, he averaged 7 assists per game and shot a higher three-point percentage than Kevin Durant. There is an excellent chance that we have yet to see the pinnacle of Russell’s talent, and Steve Kerr should feel very optimistic about having him on his roster. Is he a one-for-one replacement for Kevin Durant? By no means. He isn’t intended to be. He’s threatening enough just being D’Angelo Russell.
No Klay. No Kevin. Also, no Andre Iguodala. Iggy is currently occupying a roster spot with the Memphis Grizzlies, and the Grizzlies will likely only give him up for real value, value as determined by the Memphis Grizzlies. No matter what happens, Iggy is not a Warrior. What that means for Golden State is that they are willing to maximize their existing veteran talent in Klay, Steph, and Draymond while quietly planning for the future. At the end of the 2017-2018 season, the following as already being said about Andre Igoudala per the Ringer -
He’s no longer quite as fast as he was in his prime, but he makes up for it with an astounding basketball IQ. Iguodala is almost always in the right position. He anticipates what the offense will do, directs traffic, and covers for his teammate’s mistakes. After 14 years in the NBA, he’s just no longer capable of giving that much effort over the course of an entire season.
Iggy is 35. His upside may no longer be valuable to this Warriors team, but his upside could be pivotal for a team like the Memphis Grizzlies. He brings experience, mentorship and leadership to a team that is full of new, young faces...if he sticks around.
Draymond Green will also be back, which means that the Warriors will have their hype man to keep the energy when they are feeling the Durant-and-Klay-shaped voids in their roster. While energy is not something that necessarily translates to statistics, it is a valuable intangible. It is far easier to rein in passion than it is to create it, and Draymond has no shortage of passion. The Warriors will need to him to create plays and provide consistent defensive pressure.
Draymond signed a new contract with the Warriors this off-season likely based on the following logic chronicled in this article -- “Why would Green, who could have doubled that total with a five-year max next summer, offer himself at such a discount? Because he knows the clock is ticking. His body reminds him after every game, and it clobbers him with that reality after every season.” Time will tell if Draymond can continue to provide a spark when his team needs it more than any time in recent memory.
In this summer’s NBA Draft, the Warriors took Jordan Poole of Michigan at #28. Poole self-identifies as an underdog, and he is joining a team that has known nothing about being an underdog for some time. Perhaps the timing is perfect. The spotlight will have to be shared with the Los Angeles Clippers, the Los Angeles Lakers, and the Houston Rockets at minimum. It would be wise never to underestimate Steph Curry’s ability to turn a game in his favor; however, we finally saw weakness in the Warriors armor last season.
Steph Curry may be a superhero of sorts, but he is not immune from injury. In November of 2018, Curry missed eleven games due to a groin injury. He missed his final game of the regular season against Memphis with a sprained ankle. He also dislocated his finger in the playoffs. On one hand, being a dynamic sharp shooter who makes every opponent mold its defense around you is a tremendous asset. On the other hand, injuries can happen and his absence would most certainly be felt should he take any significant time off due any injury.
In Curry’s 13 total games missed last season, the team went 5-8. Almost one-third of the Warriors twenty-five losses were with Curry off the floor. In the coming season, there would be no Thompson or Durant to substitute as a profound threat from behind the arc. Nonetheless, it should surprise no one if the Golden State Warriors outperform expectations in the 2019-2020 season.
It will certainly be fun to watch them try.