The Golden State Warriors, who had the NBA’s worst record, are in prime position to get back into postseason contention as early as next season.
It feels like a lifetime ago that the Golden State Warriors were the undisputed kings of the NBA: seven consecutive postseason appearances, five straight NBA Finals and three championships in four years. But then disastrous injuries struck, piling up in a domino effect.
It all started in Game 5 of the 2019 Western Conference Semifinals when Kevin Durant suffered a mysterious lower leg injury. Although it didn’t seem that way at the time, this was the beginning of the end of the Warriors’ dynasty (or at least the beginning of the interruption). Durant tearing his Achilles in Game 2 of the Finals was the next link in the chain. The next domino fell during Game 6 when Klay Thompson tore his ACL. This automatically ruled him out for the majority of the 2019-20 season.
Despite this, most basketball analysts predicted the Warriors would still be a middle-of-the-pack playoff team. Stephen Curry (30.5 points per game) and Draymond Green (12.5 points, 10.8 rebounds and 9.3 assists) were coming off impressive Finals performances and expected to lead a young group along with newly acquired D’Angelo Russell.
But bad injury luck struck again: Curry was limited to five games because of a broken hand. Green battled a slew of minor injuries and only made 43 appearances. Russell was ultimately traded to the Minnesota Timberwolves for an overpaid Andrew Wiggins, who made for a productive tank commander.
The result was a 15-50 record, the Warriors’ worst mark since the lockout season when they won 23 games. On the bright side, they finished with the worst record in the NBA and were rewarded with the second overall pick in the 2020 draft.
What have these NBA playoffs told us about next year’s challenges for the Warriors?
Now, the primary question for the Warriors is where they fit in next season’s playoff landscape. The bubble has left us with many more questions than answers, especially in the West. The only team that will most likely drop out of the 2021 postseason picture is the Oklahoma City Thunder. Otherwise, a definitive case can be made for basically any team in the conference.
In terms of the Warriors themselves, they’re in extremely good shape despite being committed to $148 million for next year. All of their top players (Curry, Green, Damion Lee, Eric Paschall, Thompson and Wiggins) are under contract through 2022. Curry, Green and Thompson will be fully healthy and motivated to remind everyone the greatness of their trio.
Lee (12.7 points, 4.9 rebounds and one steal) and Paschall (14 points per game, 49.7 field goal percentage, 77.4 free throw percentage and 4.6 rebounds) established themselves as full-time rotation guys for next year. Wiggins will have an entire season to prove his doubters wrong in what will be a fresh start with a contending ball club. The remainder of the roster is filled with question marks, especially after the losses of Alec Burks, Glenn Robinson and Russell. But nailing their draft pick and developing the younger players can more than account for the lack of depth.
It’s no secret the Warriors highly covet James Wiseman. The 7-foot-1 center scored 19.7 points on 76.9 percent shooting and corralled 10.7 rebounds in three games at the University of Memphis. In his first-ever college game against South Carolina State, Wiseman netted 28 points on 11-of-14 shooting, including 6-of-7 from the foul line, snatched 11 boards and swatted three shots.
The freshman had an outstanding start to his college career derailed by a seven-game suspension due to an NCAA violation, resulting in his departure of the program to focus on the draft. He could be the best player available for a Warriors squad whose consistent weakness throughout their dynasty run was the center position. Although they countered this with their infamous “Death” lineup, Andrew Bogut and JaVale McGee aren’t ideal centers for championship contenders.
If everything goes right for the Warriors next season, expect them to be back in the thick of the playoff race next season. Where they finish depends on other teams’ offseason moves (or lack of).
It’s hard to bet against both Los Angeles squads. The Denver Nuggets are a consistent third option away from being serious title contenders (and maybe that’s Michael Porter Jr.?). The Dallas Mavericks, Memphis Grizzlies and Phoenix Suns are expected to take another step forward. Finally, the usual suspects such as the Houston Rockets and Utah Jazz will stick around.
Really, anything feels in play for the Warriors, from a top seed to just missing the playoffs again if injuries continue to mount. They’ll have extra time to decide what exactly to do as the draft has been pushed back to November and next season might not start until next year. A lot of things are stacking up in the Warriors’ favor but nothing is guaranteed.