The Golden State Warriors will not be making their sixth straight NBA Finals. What was always going to be an off season for the West Coast dynasty was officially over just four games in as two-time MVP Stephen Curry broke his hand in a loss to the Phoenix Suns.
They’ve won 12 games, and 54-year-old head coach Steve Kerr would probably be better than half their active roster on any given night. They’re just plain bad.
Yet hope is not lost for the Warriors. With Curry and fellow All-Star Klay Thompson on the road to health, and thanks to some smart moves by management, the Warriors have set themselves up with a chance to be bathing in champagne again next June.
The Big Three
Curry and Thompson reforming the Warriors “Big Three” with Draymond Green would already make them borderline contenders in 2021. No one should need reminding how talented and dominant this trio is, individually and especially as a unit. But that’s not all the team will have going for it.
- No. 1 Overall: In a huge pre-deadline move, the Warriors acquired former first overall selection Andrew Wiggins and two future draft picks from the Minnesota Timberwolves, in exchange for D’Angelo Russell, Jacob Evans, and Omari Spellman.
- Digging Deep: Picking up Wiggins is the flashiest part of the move. If you aren’t paying close attention you likely just heard that the Warriors traded “Russell and some guys for Wiggins and some picks.”
- Draft Capital: The picks are not to be scoffed at, and perhaps even more importantly, the salaries line up to get the Warriors out from the dreaded repeater tax. This adds flexibility for more moves to pry the Warriors’ championship window back all the way open, starting with next season.
In a vacuum, Wiggins is not a better player than Russell right now. But he is already a better fit next to Thompson and Curry, and he has room to grow with the Warriors. He’s still young, only 24, and his skillset should fit right in with what the Warriors are missing.
- Flaws: Wiggins isn’t perfect. He has faced criticism for a lack of effort, and is seen as a one-dimensional scorer. But playing for a winning team with established culture for the first time in his career can only help.
- Fast learner: Wiggins already looked like a new player in his first few games with the Warriors. He hustled on defense and flashed the athleticism that made him a first-overall pick. Perhaps more importantly, he avoided the inefficient shots that have plagued him, taking the looks provided by the Warriors motion offense.
- Spot up sniper: Wiggins’ will only see more open looks when the Splash Bros return, and he should keep converting. He already sinks corner threes at an elite 40% rate, a key skill for his new role.
- Harrison Barnes 2.0: As Kerr has stated, they don’t need Wiggins to be a superstar. He doesn’t have to be Kevin Durant, just Harrison Barnes. An athletic wing who will cut through the lane, hit open threes, and play defense.
Wiggins is a risk, but championship teams take risks. His skillset and ceiling could be key in a Warriors return to the Finals if he can maintain consistency. And he should be motivated to do just that. Within a season Wiggins could shift his narrative from “draft bust” to “NBA champion.”
Until now, I have assumed Wiggins stays with the team for the foreseeable future. This is not guaranteed. Things change fast in the NBA, and the Warriors front office is clearly not afraid to make moves.
Wiggins’ massive contract makes his value as a trade piece…questionable. But that could change if he continues to shine with the Warriors. A swap of Wiggins for Philadelphia Sixers’ star Ben Simmons has even been suggested.
Even if they stick with Wiggins, the Warriors have other assets, and with assets come options.
- Banking on Wolves’ woes: If the Timberwolves’ new star-pairing isn’t enough to keep them out of their traditional home near the bottom of the West, the pick that came with Wiggins (which is top-3 protected, but becomes unprotected in 2022) would be invaluable to a rebuilding team. The Warriors would be wise to flip it for a player ready to contribute to a playoff run next season—Curry isn’t getting any younger.
- World’s fastest tank: Thanks to the absence of the Splash Bros and a depth-starved roster, the Warriors are going to be in a rare position come the 2020 draft. They will approach the season with both championship aspirations and a high lottery pick. They could use the pick themselves. Curry, Thompson, Wiggins, Green, and James Wiseman is a drool-worthy starting five. Or they could select a more NBA-ready player, like Israel’s Deni Avdija, who is already getting minutes in the Euroleague. And just like the Wolves’ pick, the Warriors would have plenty of callers for their own pick if they choose to swap it for established NBA talent.
- Round 2 studs: The Wiggins move wasn’t the only move the Warriors made at the deadline. In total they gained four second-round picks over the next two years. The front office’s track record with these picks has been excellent. In last year’s second round they selected Eric Paschall and Alen Smailagić. These two have been bright spots for the depleted Warriors, with Paschall even generating some Rookie of the Year discussion. Prior to 2019 the Warriors last had a second round pick in 2012. They picked three-time All-Star and the defensive heart of their championship teams, Draymond Green—not bad. And again, these picks could just as easily be moved, in packages or alone.
The Warriors front office has proven throughout its dynasty that it can and will make moves to put the team in the best place to contend. Heading into next year, they have the pieces to do it again.
Kerr’s secret sauce
When people talk about the Warriors dynasty, they always talk about the players: the three-sinking Splash Bros, Green the glue guy, KD the snake. But just as integral as the players are Steve Kerr and the system he has in place in the Bay Area.
- Constant motion: Off the ball and of the ball, movement is key to the Warriors dynasty and its offensive success. More than that, their “winning culture,” cliche as it is, certainly impacts the effort found on the court.
- 110%: Even through this wasted season, Kerr and his staff have kept a team of mostly G-leaguers and fringe roster guys competitive and playing hard. They’re still terrible, and wins are few and far between. But they’ve stayed in games they wouldn’t have for a different team with a different system.
- Selfless superstars: The system will only get better as the stars return. Everyone, up to Curry and Thompson, buys in. Perhaps the two greatest shooters the game has ever seen are willing to play selflessly to keep teammates involved and energized, and the offense running efficiently as possible.
- Steph Curry: It’s Curry’s system as much as Kerr’s. The league’s first unanimous MVP’s legendary gravity, his impact on the Warrior’s spacing and efficiency on offense simply cannot be understated. He’s a black hole on offense, but for defenders, not the ball.
The Warriors’ system has allowed the franchise to get key contributions to Finals runs from players like JaVale McGee and Patrick McCaw. Whoever else is on the roster next year, you can bet Curry and Kerr will be using them to their utmost.
KD is gone. He’s not coming back. But the Warriors can still be contenders.
Their Big 3 will be back, healthy, and ready to show everyone why even Giannis is glad they’re out this year.
They’ll be joined by Wiggins, who should fit right in and could finally rise to his potential. And likely more solid players, picked up using the array of assets the Warriors have at their disposal.
Plug that all into Kerr and Curry’s system that has produced so well in the past, and the Warriors could be back in the Finals for the sixth time in seven years.