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RECONSTRUCTED: A Preview of the 2020-21 Golden State Warriors

Just as the motto of the Houston Rockets used to be live by the three, die by the three, the Golden State Warriors have had to adopt a similar mantra as of late: live by the basketball gods, die by the basketball gods. Judging off that dichotomy, the last few seasons have been complete karmic wrath. Kevin Durant’s achilles, Stephen Curry’s hand, both of Klay Thompson’s legs, Oracle arena–nothing was spared from the might of the sport’s deities.Yet, through all the loss there’s plenty of cause for optimism in the coming season.

HEAD COACHSteve Kerr
2019-20 RECORD15-50  (.300)
5th in the Pacific Division
15th in the Western Conference
DRAFT PICKSJames Wiseman (2) – Nico Mannion (48) – Justanian Jessup (51)
FREE AGENCY GAINSKelly Oubre, Kent Bazemore, Brad Wanamaker

KEY TAKEAWAYS FROM 2019-20: Don’t look now, but the Warriors have gotten a lot younger over the past year. It was only two years ago when Golden State was running a three-headed monster at the center spot, consisting of David West (37 years old), Zaza Pachulia (34), and Javale McGee (30). Fast forward to today’s roster, and the Dubs have managed to split their center minutes between a 22 year-old (Marquese Chriss) and a player born in the 2000’s (James Wiseman). Gone are the trudged veterans of old–the Warriors are officially back as young guns. Sure, not all of the Warriors’ experiments were as much of a success as Chriss (trust me, I was sick of watching Willie Cauley-Stein about four games into the season), but overall the front office has done wonders in finding young talent to surround the Big Three.  

GRADING THE COACH: What’s there to say about Steve Kerr that hasn’t already been said? Well, here’s an offering: Kerr is out for redemption this year. After years of being discredited due to the excess of talent on his roster, don’t be surprised to see the eight-time NBA champion reach deep in his bag to remind basketball fans why he was awarded the Coach of the Year award in 2016. This year’s team won’t be the same offensively as it was during the glory days, but it also has different strengths. Expect an offense predicated around the pick-and-roll, offball movement, and seeking out mismatches: a new twist on the classic Warriors formula. 

GRADING THE DRAFT:  The Dubs clearly got the player they wanted at number two. Though Wiseman is a natural fit on the Dubs’ roster, the fit is a little questionable from an identity perspective. This is the team that’s made its name on the back of small ball lineups brimming with switchability, spacing, and playmaking. Wiseman may be able to develop into a capable perimeter defender, but I’m less optimistic on his ability to grow into a smooth shooter or passer. That’s not a knock on Wiseman in itself–there are plenty of great players with a similar talent profile (think Joel Embiid)–but it does mean that the Warriors will have to drastically reconsider the way they attack their opposition. Don’t expect great things from the get-go either–Wiseman played a grand total of three collegiate games, and even the most seasoned college bigs don’t play truly impactful basketball until year two or three.

As for the later draft picks, both Nico Mannion and Justanian Jessup are intriguing as prospects. I don’t mind Mannion on a two-way contract–he was one of this draft’s most heralded prospects coming out of high school and could’ve been a lottery pick if he was eligible a year earlier. Especially since his father Pace was drafted by the Dubs back in 1980, testing whether Blue and Gold runs in Mannion’s blood will be a worthwhile exercise. The Dubs hope that Jessup can be their Duncan Robinson in a few years–he’ll stay the next few years playing in Australia, but his shooting prowess could end up a useful weapon in a league where teams hoard shooters like my dad hoarded canned tuna at the start of the pandemic.

GRADING FREE AGENCY:  Though not technically a free agent signing, acquiring Kelly Oubre Jr. is the undeniable highlight of the Warriors’ offseason. Though not a huge-name acquisition, Oubre averaged over 18 points a night last season, and has steadily improved his game every year. See his most recent season for an example, as he set career-highs in three point shooting, rebounds, and minutes played. With one year more of work under his belt, Tsunami Papi may very well put his name into consideration for the year’s Most Improved Player.

As for the ancillary pieces, a good place to start would be a piece I wrote earlier this month on what Kent Bazmore means to Dubs fans. Long story short, Baze has already built up love in the Bay with his endlessly entertaining bench antics, and the fact that he’s rounded out into a dangerous 3-and-D weapon will have Warrior fans fawning over him even more. Brad Wanamaker is also intriguing as a next-gen Shaun Livingston. Though shorter and far worse in the post than the man I affectionately nicknamed ‘clanky’, Wanamaker brings a similar level of ball handling and basketball IQ along with the ability to consistently knock down shots from distance.

STRENGTHS:  Make no mistake, the Warriors are about to create a historic transition offense. Curry and Green already allowed the Dubs to thrive in transition, and they’ll have several new toys to work with due to the additions of talented dunkers like Oubre and Wiggins and mobile bigs like Wiseman and Chriss. With the amount of posters they’ll be producing, Joe Lacob and Peter Guber might need to invest in a printing press or ten. 

OPPORTUNITIES:  The Dubs are in a unique position to simultaneously push towards an upper seed in the playoffs while developing their young talent–with the amount of space on their roster that youth takes up, they’ll almost be forced to. Though Jordan Poole and Eric Paschall failed from a team perspective to pass last year’s trial by fire, the outlook on both of them heading into this year is notably positive. Paschall is fresh off being named to the All-Rookie First Team, and Poole showed significant improvement down last year’s home stretch. Throw them in with Wiseman, Chriss, and Oubre, and you’re looking at a formidable assembly of young talent. 

PREDICTED FINISH (DIVISION/CONFERENCE): You may have noticed that so far I haven’t brought up lofty words like championships or postseason. Guilty as charged, but given the state of….well, everything, I’m not sure how much that matters. Are the Warriors going to win the title this year? Probably not. Will they make the postseason? I’m not 100% sure, but if you put a gun to my head, I’d tell you they would. But you know what?

What matters most to me is that even if this season won’t be a repeat of the glory days, it certainly won’t be a retread of last season either. On a good night, this team will be able to match up with the best the league has to offer. From a fan’s perspective, that’s all I can ask for. Official prediction: the Warriors finish the season 42-30, good for sixth in the west.

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