Warriors season preview: A return to the playoffs for Steph Curry and Co.?

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The Warriors have not played a postseason game since losing Game 6 of the 2019 Finals and that is somewhat understandable considering the injuries they’ve suffered since that happened.

Obviously, that means for Golden State, 2021-22 will be about getting back to the playoffs in the loaded Western Conference, something that should be feasible considering Stephen Curry‘s MVP-level play, Draymond Green’s still-outstanding defense and the eventual return of Klay Thompson, as well as the growth from multiple young pieces.

Below, check out our preview for the 2021-22 Warriors campaign.

Roster changes

Returning: Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson, Draymond Green, Andrew Wiggins, James Wiseman, Jordan Poole, Kevon Looney, Juan Toscano-Anderson, Mychal Mulder, Damion Lee, Gary Payton II and Jordan Bell

Additions: Andre Iguodala (Miami), Avery Bradley (Houston), Otto Porter (Orlando), Langston Galloway (Phoenix), Nemanja Bjelica (Miami), Chris Chiozza (Brooklyn), Jonathan Kuminga (G League Ignite) and Moses Moody (Arkansas)

Subtractions: Kelly Oubre (Charlotte), Kent Bazemore (LA Lakers), Eric Paschall (Utah), Alen Smailagic (Partizan) and Nico Mannion (Virtus Bologna)

Strengths

* They have an MVP-caliber leader… Any concerns about how Curry would look without Thompson or Kevin Durant around now that he’s in his 30s were quickly quelled last year, as the two-time league MVP put up an outstanding campaign, leading the league in scoring at 32.0 points per game to go with 5.5 rebounds and 5.8 assists while shooting 42.1 percent from three, nearly carrying a top-end-talent-deprived Warriors team to the playoffs on his back. Curry rightfully finished third in MVP voting for his contributions. With him performing at this level, Golden State can beat anybody, especially when he goes supernova, which seems to occur at least once a week, if not more.

* Green remains hugely impactful… His raw averages may not bear that out, but Green proved to still be extremely effective in his role last season, as Golden State was 9.6 points per 100 possessions better with the former Michigan State standout on the floor. What’s more, despite averaging just 7.0 points and shooting 27.0 percent from three in 2020-21, Green still ranked Top 55 in both Value Over Replacement Player and Box Plus/Minus. Green’s defense and playmaking were so impactful that despite struggling to score himself, he was still hugely a positive player when on the court.

* Their bench should be improved… Bob Myers and Co. did a great job in addressing concerns surrounding depth this offseason, picking up a slew of experienced veterans with something left in the tank, like Otto Porter, Nemanja Bjelica, Langston Galloway, Avery Bradley and, most notably, 2015 NBA Finals MVP Andre Iguodala. Porter and Iguodala especially should have big roles off the bench for Golden State as two-way swingmen who can hit threes and create for others.

* Contributions from young players could be huge… With more than a season of experience now under their belts, players like James Wisesman, the vastly promising big man, and Jordan Poole, the confident, bucket-getting 2-guard, could be in line for breakout campaigns. Also, first-year players Jonathan Kuminga and Moses Moody will have roles to play themselves, and considering where they were drafted, it’s not unreasonable to expect stretches of impactful play from at least one of them as rookies.

Weaknesses

* They still lack elite talent outside of Curry… Green in his role is a star, but his lack of scoring makes it so the Warriors remain lacking as far as top-end talent is concerned. Andrew Wiggins is also coming off arguably the top season of his career and was a very positive presence thanks to his scoring and defense, but ditto Green, he’s not an All-Star-level player at this point. And the only other elite player at his position Golden State hasn’t played one minute in either of the past two seasons, which brings us to our next point.

* Concerns about Thompson… Even non-Warriors fans will be hoping to see the ultra-likable Thompson return in elite form, knocking down threes at a ridiculous level and providing tight perimeter defense, but after blowing out his ACL followed by his Achilles, it’s hard to expect the 31-year-old to come back as the same player. At least not right away. And that leaves Curry as Golden State’s only truly elite player as things stand. That should be enough for a return trip to the playoffs, but to be a championship contender, that leaves the Warriors missing another piece.

* Wiggins and the issue of availability… If Wiggins continues to refuse vaccination, he’ll miss 41 games this season, all of the ones taking place in Golden State, and likely more depending on COVID-19 protocols in New York. Wiggins had a very solid campaign last season and losing him from the lineup for that long of a period is going to put a ton of pressure on Thompson as Golden State’s No. 2 scoring option.

* Questions about durability… Curry turns 34 in March, Green is 31, Iguodala is 37 and will be 38 soon and Thompson is returning from two of the worst injuries an athlete can suffer. Durability will be a concern for this Golden State team as some of its top players are in their early- to mid-30s, and if Curry is forced to miss any long stretch of time, that could knock the Warriors from comfortably in the postseason picture to on the outside looking in.

Depth chart

Possible moves

* The Warriors are heading into the season hoping to contend for the first time in years. Provided they are healthy, they should be a playoff team but how far they go could depend on the development of their young players. The Warriors are trying to be competitive while in development mode, which, historically, is very difficult to achieve and both pursuits often disrupt the other. If none of their recent lottery picks are ready to play at the highest levels, they’ll be relying on their newly added role players on minimum contracts to provide adequate depth.

* The Warriors are logical trade destinations for the next available star. They could offer a combination of their recent lottery picks as well as multiple future first-round picks. While such a player hasn’t become available yet, they will likely be in the mix. The organization may want to keep these players and develop them for the next era of Warriors basketball, but that could change if the current team isn’t good enough and pressure comes from newly extended Curry, the window of contention for himself, Thompson and Green.

* The Warriors currently have $362.0 million in combined payroll and luxury tax payments, but that figure will decrease by around $10.0 million assuming they get down to 15 players by waiving a non-guaranteed player. Their historically high roster expenses could put a pause on moves that increase the payroll significantly. They still have their $5.9 million taxpayer mid-level exception but at this point, they may let it go unused unless a really good player becomes available in the buyout market. It will be interesting to see if teams get any luxury tax savings if players remain unvaccinated and miss games. If they do get relief, Wiggins missing 41 home games would reduce the Warriors luxury tax bill by almost $30 million.

– Yossi Gozlan

Salaries

Prediction

3rd in the Pacific Division, 6th in the Western Conference

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