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Reasonable expectations for the Golden State Warriors in 2021: Will they make the NBA Playoffs?

Jarrod Castillo
Warriors Stephen Curry goes up against Lakers' LeBron James
December 25, 2018; Oakland, CA, USA; Golden State Warriors guard Stephen Curry (30) dribbles the basketball against Los Angeles Lakers forward LeBron James (23) during the third quarter at Oracle Arena. Mandatory Credit: Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

The Golden State Warriors dynasty was one of the most impressive in recent history: the franchise won three championships in five years. Now after 2019, the Warriors are left to pick up the pieces.

The big picture: After having a disastrous 2019-2020 NBA season, here is what to expect from the Golden State Warriors in the 2020-2021 season.

Who will be the Warriors’ starting lineup?

To put it simply, 2020 was just not the Warriors’ year. After losing Klay Thompson to a torn ACL, Kevin Durant to free agency and trading away Andre Iguodala, this years’ squad was the weakest version of the Warriors. That’s before Stephen Curry broke his hand and Draymond Green was sidelined with a myriad of injuries.

But with a longer-than-usual break because of COVID-19 and having the worst record in the NBA, the Warriors can fully recover. With a full offseason and training camp, expect the starting lineup to look something like this:

  • PG: Stephen Curry: A no-brainer, there is no one on the Warriors that could feasibly take the two-time MVP’s starting spot.
  • SG: Damion Lee: With Thompson recovering from his ACL injury, Lee is the new addition to the starting lineup. As a starter, Lee averaged 13.4 points, 5.3 rebounds and 3.1 assists in 31.7 minutes a game in 2020.
  • SF: Andrew Wiggins: Coming over from the Minnesota Timberwolves, Wiggins is one of few options the Warriors have at small forward. Like Curry, Wiggins doesn’t have much competition, at least for the time being.
  • PF: Draymond Green: Although Eric Paschall played well, Green is still the starter. Though his offensive struggles are well-documented, his defense and IQ is unmatched at the four.
  • C: Kevon Looney: At center, the Warriors don’t have much depth. Apart from the oft-injured Looney, the Warriors have journeyman Marquese Chriss slated at center. Because of Looney’s familiarity with the Warriors’ system, it makes sense to slot him as the starter.

Lee and Wiggins are interchangeable at the shooting guard and small forward position. Whichever direction the Warriors go, they should get solid contribution for either player.

What will the Warriors do with Klay Thompson?

One fundamental piece to the puzzle is Thompson. As he works his way back from an 18-month hiatus, it’s easy to see Thompson coming off the bench exclusively in 2021 as the Sixth Man. That said, if he performs well and above expectations, we could see Warriors head coach Steve Kerr slide Thompson back in the starting lineup.

That would move Lee back to the bench as the Sixth Man and potentially Wiggins’ back-up. Rounding up the rest of the bench are guards Ky Bowman and Jordan Poole as well as the aforementioned Paschall and Chriss at the frontcourt.

Will Golden State be competing for a playoff position in 2021?

With all the talk of the players returning from injury, something to consider is the Warriors adding a top draft pick to the fold. Because of how bad the Warriors were, they have the best chance of getting a top-3 pick in 2020. They could choose Anthony Edwards, LaMelo Ball, James Wiseman, Onyeka Okongwu or Isaac Okoro.

Regardless, the player picked should help the Warriors compete for a playoff spot in 2021. A healthy Warriors lineup should overtake any team playoff-contending team.

NBA teams the Warriors can beat

  • San Antonio Spurs: An aging roster led by arguably the greatest coach in NBA history, the Spurs are regressing. Shooting mid-range jumpers in a three-point heavy league can only go so far.
  • New Orleans Pelicans: The Pelicans have an extremely young core led by Zion Williamson. The Pelicans will be competitive, but it’s unknown if that’s enough to compete for a playoff spot.
  • Portland Trailblazers: Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum are a fantastic offensive duo. The two struggle on the defensive end, however, which is a cause for concern. Plus, with an ever-rotating cast of players, chemistry might be an issue.
  • Memphis Grizzlies: Ja Morant is a star and Jaren Jackson Jr. is a great front court piece. But apart from that, Taylor Jenkins’ squad is young and unproven.
  • Dallas Mavericks: With Kristaps Porzingis joining Luka Doncic, the Mavericks are on the rise. As long as Rick Carlisle is coaching, the Mavs are always a tough out.
  • Oklahoma City Thunder: Surprisingly, the three-guard setup is working for the Thunder. As Chris Paul shares his knowledge with Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and Dennis Schroder, expect them to be even better.

Of the teams listed, the Mavericks and the Thunder are the most likely to give the Warriors trouble. With the Warriors’ experience, it’s possible for them to easily beat the aforementioned teams on their way back to the playoffs.

The bottom line: Expect the Warriors to be back in the playoffs

By all accounts, the Warriors 2019-2020 season was an aberration; it is not a sign the Warriors dynasty is over. If anything, the 2020 season allowed the Warriors to retool instead of rebuilding.

The return of a healthy core of Curry, Thompson and Green is going to cause problems. Add an aggressive Wiggins, a strong bench and a high draft pick and the Warriors could challenge for a top-four seed.

At worst, the Warriors could be anywhere between the fifth and eighth seed. Nevertheless, the Warriors will be back in the playoffs in 2021.