Welcome to Achtung Panzer, a series that will take a look at the teams buying a few extra tickets for the 2020 NBA Draft lottery. We begin with an unlikely entrant, the Golden State Warriors.
For each of the past five seasons, the Golden State Warriors have represented the Western Conference in the NBA Finals, the longest streak for one franchise in either half of the NBA since the Boston Celtics went to eight straight championship rounds between 1957 and 1966 (winning seven!)
This year, the Warriors, down Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson to extended injuries and down Kevin Durant due to the mercenary decamping to Brooklyn, are 2-11 after losing to the Boston Celtics Friday night.
If the season ended today, that would be the worst record in the entire Association, and 2-11 over 13 games translates to a projected 13-69, which would be the worst record since the 2016 Sixers and tied with the 2005 Hawks for the fourth-worst winning percentage of the 21st century (the 2012 Bobcats, 2016 Sixers, and 2010 Nets are the bottom three, in order.)
Needless to say, any thought of the playoffs for Golden State is over, kaput, fired out the turret like an 88mm shell at the rest of the NBA.
So what went wrong?
Injuries Gone Wild
Injuries do not, by themselves, tank the fortunes of an NBA franchise purely by themselves (says the Pacers fan whose team is 7-5 despite having approximately five guys left on the roster who can even suit up.)
But when those injuries are to the stars on a team where the combination of injuries and the departure of just about all of the key bench pieces in the offseason means their depth evaporated faster than a spilled glass of water in Vegas in July?
Andre Iguodala is gone. Shaun Livingston retired. Durant is gone, Steph and Klay are hurt, Draymond Green is only as good as his teammates and his teammates are awful, and even new addition D’Angelo Russell can’t stay healthy.
Which is great for Eric Paschall‘s Rookie of the Year case…and very bad for the Dubs’ hope of finishing anywhere other than dead last in games that actually count.
The Guys They Do Have Are Atrocious
How bad are the Warriors’ actual healthy players?
Willie Cauley-Stein leads the team in WS/48 with .118, proof of nothing so much as the maxim that WS/48 tends to overrate big men.
Nobody on this team can guard my dead grandmother, as the squad’s 116.3 Defensive Rating is historically awful, fully 8.3 percent worse than league average.
How bad is that? The 2003-04 Spurs, the greatest defensive team in NBA history relative to league average, posted a DRtg that was 8.55 percent better than league average. No other team besides the 2007-08 Celtics has even matched 8 percent (and the C’s were exactly that much better than the league that year.)
In other words, if a defense were as good as this year’s Warriors are bad, they’d be the second-best defense of all time.
A House of Statistical Horrors
And it’s not like the Warriors can score without anyone from those title teams.
They are 27th in 3-point percentage on offense. Their lack of shooters means they can’t get as many long bombs up to score points in bunches (they’re 24th in 3PAR, and that’s not a knock on Steve Kerr the way it would be on a coach of a team that could actually shoot.)
They’re 27th in eFG%, and since they’re still playing at around an average pace (102.2, 14th in the breakneck-paced NBA this year), that just means they suck faster, as their blown lead against Boston demonstrated clearly Friday night.
And that defense. Besides the dead-last defensive rating, they’re giving up the second-highest opponents’ eFG%, 4th-most offensive rebounds, and second-most pace-unadjusted points (119.3 a game, behind only the Brooklyn Nets’ 119.5, and the Nets are 5th in pace and just eighth-worst in points given up per 100 possessions) in the league.
Is There Any Hope Of Fixing This?
The Warriors are horrendously capped out. They have Steph on a supermax deal he’s going to mainly miss with injury. They grotesquely overpaid Thompson even by a standard where Klay is healthy.
They still have a protected top-20 pick in the 2020 draft (it will convey to Brooklyn in 2021), but they have pick-swap rights in the second round traded to Houston and Sacramento, rights those teams are likely to exercise if the Warriors’ second-round pick is 31st overall.
So they’ll get a good first-rounder next year, but after that, it’ll be hard to get talent without dumping salary for it.
Put another way, they’re in cap hell and will need to go full Process to get out of the dumpster before Steph and Klay’s contracts expire in 2022 and 2024, respectively.
So no, there is no hope of fixing this. The Warriors, unless they’re willing to trade guys who can’t stay healthy and will make over $40 million by the last years of their contracts for more or less nothing, are going to be in the kind of cap hell that only today’s Wizards and the mid-aughts Knicks have faced before.
This was supposed to be a slow slide into mediocrity as old heroes, overpaid and untradeable, aged out of NBA relevance.
Instead, the Warriors just took a flying leap off a cliff in the Marin Headlands and broke their necks.
Tanking won’t even help. This franchise has no reasonable road map that would make them good before the 2022-23 season at the absolute earliest and realistically before 2025.
But at least you’ve got those three titles and five Finals appearances in a row. There are worse “we’ll always have that” situations for splattered franchises.
NEXT WEEK: Portland Trail Blazers (sorry, Rip City, but it’s true. I’ll explain next Saturday.)