Just as quickly as they rose to dominance in the NBA, the Golden State Warriors have found themselves at the bottom of the heap after a dismal start to the season, with three-quarters of their superstar core either hurt or gone.
In the span of just 11 games, Steph Curry broke his hand, Klay Thompson tore his ACL, and Kevin Durant tore his Achilles tendon (then left for Brooklyn). This leaves just Draymond Green, Damion Lee, Kevon Looney, and Jacob Evans as the only active players from the Warriors’ Finals run last season.
Even with the addition of D’Angelo Russell, it’s clearly a step down from the dynasty Golden State built over the past five years.
Now, you might be saying to yourself: “Johnny, relax. It’s not even 20 games into the season and you’re already writing off the Warriors? Arguably one of the best teams to ever play in the history of the league??”
Well, yeah when you look at it this way. But there could be light at the end of this injury-ridden tunnel. Let’s look at what the Warriors have lost and what Steve Kerr has to work with going forward.
Dealing With Crushing Losses
Kevin Durant is on the Nets. But, even if he stayed, an Achilles tear is essentially a death sentence for NBA players. Although we have made huge strides with advances in sports medicine and technology, a busted wheel is a busted wheel. Regardless: that’s 26 PPG, a two-time Finals MVP, and one of the greatest scorers ever that you won’t get back.
Klay Thompson is all but ruled out for the year. And while an ACL is not as nasty an injury as the Achilles; it’s still normally a full calendar-year before players are able to return to the court at full strength. The Warriors lose 20 PPG, their best on-ball defender, and one of the most feared shooters in the NBA.
It’s not out of the realm of possibility that Klay and Steph could make a return for the playoffs, but after the Warriors saw what happens when a player tries to come back too early… Well, we all know what that looks like…
Finally, Steph, also likely to be ruled out for the year, suffers a freak bone-break in his hand, sidelining him for at least three months with an injury that directly affects his most powerful asset on the court: his shooting.
This injury means that, at best, Curry misses half of the season and returns at full strength sometime in February after the All-Star break. The Warriors lose the face of their franchise, 24 PPG, and the best shooter in the history of basketball who single-handedly (pun not intended) changed the landscape of the game in just over a decade.
The D-Lo Factor
So, where do the Warriors go from here?
Luckily, they’ve found some pieces that they can either run with until the Splash Brothers are back on the court or deal before the trade deadline and try to sneak into the playoffs with the return of a peak-level Steph Curry. However, this seems unlikely with the recent news that Curry will sit out the year if Golden State continues to struggle.
D’Angelo Russell is an offensive machine. After a breakout year last season in Brooklyn averaging 21 PPG, 7 assists, and an All-star appearance, he’s poised to make another jump as the go-to guy at the new Chase Center in San Francisco. He proved this with his enormous 52-point outburst against Minnesota.
Unfortunately, we weren’t able to see what a Steph-DLo duo would look like just yet. Luckily for the Warriors, either avenue could have pay dividends for them in both the short and long-term.
Plan A: Play it out with D’Angelo & Co. and they’re able to turn the season around to a point where a healthy Steph agrees to return at full-force to get them into the playoffs. And pray that the chemistry works well enough to make a run in the West.
Plan B: Let D’Angelo do his thing early on while the Warriors recover, and package him in a trade deal before the deadline that brings in solid pieces to build around the Splash Brothers and Draymond next year. Ideally, the Warriors should look to get two or three players in return that give them a more proven bench and defensive prowess.
Now I am going to make a seriously early prediction here, but I think the Warriors struck gold again in the draft with two players who can either develop into the bench that Golden State has notoriously lacked or be attractive when paired with D’Angelo in a trade.
Jordan Poole (the former Wolverine who doubled his scoring over the course of his time in college and hit this INSANE game-winner) is a proven shot-maker with NBA range and the ability to get really hot, really fast.
He could definitely thrive under Steve Kerr and Golden State’s high clip offensive strategy and either become a great back-up to Klay Thompson when he improves defensively or be packaged with Russell in a trade.
Eric Paschall (NCAA champion at Villanova) had three years under one of the greatest coaches in college basketball. He’s already proving to be a steal at the 41st pick after scoring 34 points and pulling in 13 rebounds on his birthday to give the Warriors their first win in their new arena.
He’s another proven shooter who also has the ability to get to the rim and finish with athletic dunks. Once again, this is another offensive talent who can thrive in Kerr’s system and be a great second-unit contributor or be an attractive piece in a trade package.
The Warriors are definitely down. But only time will tell if the Splash Bros-Lite (DLo, Poole, and Paschall) and Draymond will be able to battle and hold their position in a seriously-loaded West until Curry and Thompson can return.
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