The Golden State Warriors fell short of winning their fourth title in five years in June, with injuries to Kevin Durant and Klay Thompson acting as a decisive Gotterdammerung at the hands of the Toronto Raptors.
This year…hoo boy. Some prognosticators have suggested they won’t even make the playoffs, as Durant is gone to Brooklyn, Thompson will miss a substantial portion of the 2019-20 season, and Stephen Curry isn’t getting any younger and has had his own battles with injuries throughout his career since getting hurt in the 2016 playoffs.
Vegas, for its part, remains optimistic, pegging Golden State for 47 wins, which in their estimate would make them the 2 seed and set up an intriguing first-round matchup with the Utah Jazz.
But six wins below the Warriors’ projected total lie the would-be 41-win Mavericks, and it’s not out of the question that if the Dubs slip, San Antonio is better than anyone thinks (the way they are every year), and Dallas overachieves, it’s goodnight sweetheart and the first time in NBA history that both NBA Finals participants miss the playoffs the year after their matchup.
Only two champions in the last 50 years have failed to reach the playoffs the following year (the 1970 Celtics and the 1999 Bulls), but if Toronto slips…
Anyway, this is about Golden State. Are they any good?
2018-19 record: 57-25
2019-20 over/under: 47
Welcome to the Dumpster Fire
Count me among those completely not sold on D’Angelo Russell. Dude’s got a bad habit of putting up games where he has more shot attempts than points. He’s a mediocre (36.9 percent last year; 35.3 career) 3-point shooter on a team that relies heavily on the perimeter game.
And he’s questionable at best as a teammate, one of those guys who might get into a fistfight with Draymond Green in the locker room.
Plus, once Thompson comes back (if he comes back; more on that in a minute), how are he and Russell supposed to share minutes? Is the idea that Steph will be hurt too and all three guys won’t be healthy at the same time?
Because if not, Russell projects as either part of a three-guard lineup or else as the sixth man, and if that’s not awkward waiting to happen, I don’t know what is.
Sure, he was a 3.3-VORP player last year. But that was last year, when he was “The Man” on the Nets.
The Klay Problem
Warriors coach Steve Kerr has said he’s not optimistic about Thompson coming back from his injury to play this season.
If that’s true, the Warriors lose a guy who overcame one of the worst shooting slumps in the history of money shooters from long range and somehow still managed to break 40 percent from 3-point range (he ended up at 40.2.)
If you give him the benefit of the doubt and say his true value is more like the roughly 42 percent he’s shot throughout his career, Golden State just downgraded from 42 to 36. That doesn’t sound like much, but it’s the difference in close games.
I rag on Klay for his undeserved defensive reputation (he’s a great on-ball defender but his Defensive BPM is a dumpster fire for a reason; he falls asleep on screens, helps poorly, and gives up a ton of backdoor cuts off the ball). But he is 10 times the player D’Angelo Russell is offensively, one of those guys for whom the advanced stats (.095 WS/48 and 0.8 VORP) just tend to make certain analytics-minded national writers grossly undervalue the guy.
(there, Klay stans, don’t say I never say anything nice about your guy.)
Draymond Green: 4-on-5 Offensively
Green’s offensive stats fell off a cliff last year, creating a scenario where the Dubs are relying on a guy who is outright afraid to take even an uncontested 3-pointer, who hesitated where even Boban Marjanovic or Ben Simmons would let fly.
Green shot 28.5 percent from three last year, but held his eFG% above .500 thanks to all but abandoning the long shot in favor of the two-pointer closer to the basket on his way to just 7.4 points per game (his first time not in double figures since his second year in the league.)
He’s still a transcendent defender…but with the Dubs in serious need of offense any way they can get it with Durant gone, Thompson hurt, and Russell likely to Josh Smith them out of a few games, they need more than that from Green.
But They’re Still Well-Coached
There’s no two ways around it. Steve Kerr is one of the great coaches of our time, piloting a roster through the pitfalls of the Western Conference, often through injury, to 5 straight NBA Finals appearances, most by a franchise that isn’t the Boston Celtics in league history.
Every other would-be dynasty—the Lakers and Celtics in the ’80s, the Bulls in the ’90s, the Lakers and Spurs in the aughts, and LeBron James‘ traveling roadshow, never got to more than four straight.
To the King’s credit, he made 8 straight Finals appearances, but they were 4 each with two different franchises, still a record streak for any player who never had Bill Russell as a teammate or wasn’t Russell himself—between 1957 and 1966, the Celtics went to 10 in a row and won 9 of them, then came back in 1968 and ’69 for two more.
Kerr is a big reason the Warriors have sole possession of second place in that most-Finals-appearances streak, and the Warriors did it when were as many teams just in the Western Conference playoffs (8) as there were in the entire NBA in the early 1960s.
If anyone can make this depleted squad better than it once was, it’s Kerr.
With What Army?
Do I believe the Warriors are going to fall off a cliff compared to the lofty heights they reached from 2015 through last season? Of course.
Do I think they’ll win 47 games? No. I think it’ll be between 42 and 45.
But if Steph gets hurt, this is a G-League team that might not even win 30.
Are they good? It’s Plausible—any team with Steph Curry on it is at least that good.
But this is an easy Under bet.
The season tips off just 3 hours after this goes live, and you know what that means…we’ve got actual games to talk about!
Due to circumstances WAY beyond my control (office job paying the bills to keep Pace and Space online), the Breakfast Special is, like an injured player, going to miss a few weeks at the start of the season. But I’ll have something every weekday throughout the season and plenty of weekend features, so stay tuned and thanks for reading!