By Pete Baxter
My sports pundit fueled headache of the week has been the repetitive talking points around the Golden State Warriors, specifically after the news of Klay Thompson’s freak tear of his Achilles Tendon in a pick-up game. Talking heads like Max Kellerman and Damon Jones are writing the Warriors off as no longer contenders, and their dynasty officially being over. Some are saying they may not even make the playoffs.
Yes, Klay Thompson is an incredible player, and he will be missed. He put up 52 points with 14 three pointers in 26 minutes in a game against the Bulls. He dropped 37 friggin points in a quarter against the Kings (taking down Wilt Chamberlain’s franchise record). He is also a top-notch defender. The guy is arguably the second greatest shooter in NBA history. Oh, by the way, he is second to his teammate, Steph f*****g Curry.
I know we are an entire season removed from the Warrior’s last trip to the NBA finals after an injury-riddled tank-fest last year. However, even with that the case, how fast have we forgotten how great Steph Curry is?
Steph is just 4 years removed from back to back MVP’s, including leading a pre-Kevin Durant Warriors squad to a title and a 73-win season. The guy is a top 5 NBA player, maybe top 3. He literally changed the NBA game as we know it, creating the template for the three point shoot out that the modern league has become. He set the rookie record for threes when he came into the league and was the first to hit 300 threes in a season. He should honestly be the next NBA logo when we are ready to retire Mr. West. And guess what mother f*****s, the senior Splash Bro is back for revenge.
So, why are the Warriors being written off by so many? First, this will be their first serious foray into the basketball world since the departure of Kevin Durant (let’s consider last year’s injury ridden debacle a mulligan). But lest we forget, two of the Warriors great seasons came before KD’s arrival. Second, they will be doing it without Steph’s partner in crime and fellow splash sibling, Klay Thompson.
These are completely legitimate concerns to voice. However, I am not stressing it, and I am certainly not sleeping on the Warriors. I see the Warriors as the third best team in the West after the dynamic duo of LA squads. They may even be able to challenge the Clippers with their built-in chemistry advantage, as the culture Kawhi and company have created in the Staples Center clearly needs to be complete reset. While I won’t pick them over the Lakers, as I believe Lebron is poised for one more title this year, nothing will surprise me when it comes to Steph and company.
For proof, let’s compare this year’s starting line-up with the one rolled out in Golden State’s historic 73-win squad four years ago, and sort out the advantages and disadvantages for both:
Point Guard: Steph Curry (2016) vs Steph Curry (2021): The verdict: no advantage either way. Yes, Steph is four years older, but I am not going to split hairs here and choose one Steph over another. A Curry is a Curry, and the still have the best shooter and overall point guard in the world.
Shooting Guard: Klay Thompson (2016) vs Kelly Oubre (2021): The verdict: advantage 2016 squad and Klay. As noted, Klay Thompson is the second-best shooter of all time, and probably an even more dangerous scorer than Steph when he really heats up. Kelly Oubre is a solid player, a borderline All Star, and as good a replacement for Klay as they get on short notice this year. He should be a solid third scoring option, but he is not the shooter, scorer, or defender that Klay is. He is a solid rebounder (6.4 per game last season), is good for a steal and a half, and did improve his three-point shooting last year (to a mediocre 35%).
Small Forward: Harrison Barnes (2016) vs Andrew Wiggins (2021): The verdict: advantage 2021 squad and Andrew Wiggins. This will be the most controversial point in this article, but it is clear to me that Andrew Wiggins has a far higher ceiling than Harrison Barnes and is, overall, the better player. Wiggins is improving as a defender, and with his elite athleticism should continue that improvement. Offensively, he can easily drop 20 a game, and will likely be the number two scoring option on this team. His three-point shooting does leave some to be desired (less than 34% last year), and he has been known for his lack of consistency. However, now in his second year in Steve Kerr’s system, and with a full season with Steph and Draymond, I have high hopes for his continued development.
Power Forward: Draymond Green (2016) vs Draymond Green (2021): The verdict: 26-year old Draymond vs. 30-year old Draymond, we’ll call it even. Yes, Draymond is 30 now, but I’m not going to consider him a lesser player than his younger self just yet. He is still gritty, crafty, and a great passer and defender. A lot of “experts” consider Draymond the second most important member of the Warriors dynasty, and he should still be able to contribute at the same high level.
Center: Andrew Bogut (2016) vs. James Wiseman (2021): The verdict: James Wiseman. Another controversial call, Bogut was still a solid rim defender and strong passer for a big man in 2016, but he was far past his prime and averaging just 5.4 points and 7.0 boards per game at this point. I believe Wiseman with his enormous upside will have an even bigger impact, despite being just a rookie. Wiseman averaged 3.0 blocks per game, 10.7 boards, and 19.7 points (on 77% shooting from the field!) in his lone season at Memphis, and at 7’1”, 240 lbs is an athletic giant. Yes, there will be an adjustment period, but I believe Wiseman will make an instant impact, and could quickly become a top option for this team.
Sixth Man: Andre Iguodala (2016) vs. anyone off the current Warriors bench: The verdict: huge advantage to Iguodala 2016. Coming off a finals MVP for his outstanding defense on Lebron, there is no one on the current Warriors bench who can compete in this category. Hopefully, the Warriors can add some depth over the coming weeks.
The verdict: We break even at two advantages for each team, with two other positions breaking even. I’m going to go ahead and give the 2016 squad a slight advantage because Klay Thompson’s advantage over Kelly Oubre considerable, and Andre Iguodala is a huge bonus for the 2016 squad.
So if the 2016 squad was good for 73 wins, I am going to set the bar a bit lower for this year’s squad. Let’s go conservative and say this team is good for 58 wins and a trip to at least the second round of the playoffs, possibly the Western Conference finals. I believe Steph will regain his MVP form, his chemistry with Draymond will be as strong as ever, and Oubre and Wiggins will pick up the scoring slack in Thompson’s absence. Wiseman will bring a huge increase in productivity at the five.
So, in short, stop worrying about the Warriors. They will make some noise this year and will put up a fight in the playoffs. By the time Klay returns in 2021/22, they will be ready to contend for a title again.
Agree? Disagree? Couldn’t care less? Let me know! And as always, thanks for reading!