We here at Deadspin sometimes have differing opinions. That might be hard to believe, but it’s true, and as we get closer to the start of the NBA season, many of us have conflicting ideas on how the season will play out. For example, my co-worker Criss Partee believes that with a healthy Klay Thompson, the Warriors will be one of the toughest teams to beat in the West. To that I say… the man hasn’t played in two years.
Theoretically, if Klay Thompson returns to his pre-injury form, the Warriors would boast a fearsome starting lineup. Obviously, Curry’s at the 1, Klay 2, Andrew Wiggins can play either the 3 or 4 depending on who Draymond Green needs to stick to defensively, and James Wiseman can play the 5. If Wiseman takes a leap forward in his second season, we could absolutely see the Warriors contend for one of the top-four seeds in the Western Conference. However, that’s asking for a multitude of fortunate turns of events with nothing breaking poorly for Golden State, and I don’t see that happening.
For one, the re-emergence of Thompson isn’t just great because he’s a phenomenal shooter. Of course, that’s a huge reason the Warriors wanted him back, but Klay’s greatness prior to his injuries was due to his ability to play two ways. Not only could Klay knock shots like nobody else (yes, I think he’s a better spot-up shooter than Curry) and orchestrate the Warriors’ offense through incredible off-ball maneuvers, he also played phenomenal defense. While Thompson’s injuries don’t seem to have affected his ability to shoot, his off-ball and defensive capabilities are still a huge question mark. His explosiveness on the court and the ability to turn over his heels to follow defenders or shuffle alongside them during a drive, that’s what worries me.
Of course the Warriors are going to have to wait at least a few weeks before Thompson rejoins the team. Elsewhere, the team doesn’t look much improved from last season either. Most of the potential people seem to see in the Warriors is hopefulness. Fans hope James Wiseman developed a consistent post move this offseason. Fans hope Green can repeat his defensive success from last season despite the fact that Green was declining in that department for years prior to 2021. Fans hope Curry can once again average 30 points per game while shooting .482/.421/.916 despite Curry moving into his age-33 season. The only player that isn’t a question mark in that starting lineup is Andrew Wiggins, and we all know from his days on the Timberwolves that he isn’t enough to lead a team to the playoffs in the Western Conference.
I do like the Warriors bench. Kevon Looney is a capable rim protector. Juan Toscano-Anderson is a solid role player on the perimeter and newly-acquired Otto Porter Jr. could be a fantastic fit in the Warriors’ system with how efficient he’s been as a three-point shooter. Perhaps Porter could fill the role that Kent Bazemore had last season. They’ve both spent considerable time at the 3 in their careers. That seems like the logical thing to do. Of course, there’s also the rookies: Jonathan Kuminga, whom I loved as a prospect, and Moses Moody. They’ll likely have key rotational roles as well. Having a good bench is vital for a team with three starters over the age of 30. Luckily, the Warriors have enough depth and youth at key positions to compete when the starters need rest.
I like the Warriors and fully expect them to make the playoffs, but of any team in the Pacific Division, the Warriors seem most likely to disappoint. Sure, you can make the argument that the Lakers’ addition of Russell Westbrook was a desperation move that will destroy the locker room culture and tear the Lakers apart. But LeBron James kept Kyrie Irving in check for several years in Cleveland. As soon as he exited James’s shadow, Irving became a problem. King James creates a good basketball culture around him (at least when his team is winning), so as long as the Lakers aren’t a travesty next year, they should be fine.
The Clippers will be fine as long as either Kawhi Leonard or Paul George stays healthy. The Suns might regress, but they’ll still be contenders. And nobody really expects anything from the Kings in the first place, so the Warriors win by default.
Frankly, there are just too many ifs, maybes, and “I hope’s to inspire confidence in the Warriors’ chances of finishing the regular season ahead of the Lakers, Clippers, and Suns.” Will the Warriors make the playoffs? Probably. They would’ve last season if not for the play-in tournament, but a division title isn’t in the cards for 2021.