For the first time in five years, the Golden State Warriors will enter an NBA season through uncharted waters, unable to decipher their immediate course with a wildly different Western Conference and plenty of change within their own organization. Besides the grand opening of the state-of-the-art Chase Center and coming off yet another run to the NBA Finals, the Warriors will have to tread water for the vast part of the regular season until their team is finally at full strength.
Among the several questions they face upon losing Kevin Durant in free agency, the Warriors will see these three storylines constantly pop up through the 2019-20 season.
D’Angelo Russell’s fit within a championship system
Many have questioned is D’Angelo Russell was the right choice to fill in for a departing Kevin Durant. The short answer: no one is a good-enough replacement for Durant, his skill set is simply unmatched at this level. Yet Russell’s acquisition was a smart way to yield something back for Durant instead of losing him for nothing.
D-Lo is a newly-minted All-Star, a feat that helped him net a four-year, $117 million deal with the Warriors — yet that All-Star talent will be used in a vastly different way during this 2019-20 season. While Russell will have his moments handling the ball and spearheading the offense, the ball will primarily run through Stephen Curry and Draymond Green, similar to those early 2014-15 and 2015-16 teams without Durant.
Russell will have to play off the ball for the majority of six minutes in each half once he starts in the backcourt along with Curry, getting the most of the ballhandling duties with the second unit as the featured scorer. While this role resembles that of Klay Thompson’s the last few years, Russell is by no means “replacing” Thompson’s role at shooting guard, but rather adding a different dynamic as an offense creator and a somewhat less-potent 3-point shooter.
His biggest test however will come at the defensive end, forced to step up that side of his game and render at least some of the defense Thompson brought to the court in a nightly basis.
Make no mistake, the Warriors will have to outscore teams to make it out of the West, but Russell can’t be a non-factor on defense if that is to happen.
Klay Thompson’s recovery and consequent return to the floor
Thompson’s impending return will prove key on the Warriors’ playoff chances and their positioning heading into the postseason. Golden State’s offense will not only get a massive jolt from a player that’s put up 20 points or better for the past five seasons, but also an elite deadeye shooter who has converted 40% or better from beyond the arc each of his eight seasons in the league.
The perennial perimeter sniper said he doesn’t have a target date, but that he doubted a return before the All-Star break — which means the Warriors will have to navigate more than half of the season without his services.
Upon returning though, it shouldn’t take much to get him to start knocking down shots, though his minutes will likely be monitored at first before he’s fully integrated into the fold. The real test will come on defense, as keeping up with smaller guards will surely test his mobility and the amount of torque he can put on his recently-operated ACL, which he tore in Game 6 of the NBA Finals.
Thompson has been known as the iron man of this franchise, but he will have to approach his return with utmost care and vigilance if he is to help the franchise reach the postseason for an eighth straight season.
Golden State’s playoff chances
This is perhaps the most talked about caveat, considering plenty of analysts and pundits had the Warriors missing the postseason entirely. While that is a certain possibility, it will largely depend on two important factors: how the team navigates the regular season without Thompson and how they finish with him on the court.
The West is filled with potential playoff candidates, including the revamped Los Angeles Lakers, a bolstered Utah Jazz, a resurgent Utah Jazz, and a desperate Houston Rockets team that acquired Russell Westbrook in the wake of an opening to take over the conference.
Golden State can no longer cruise through the regular season, nor mess around with results before they’re fully equipped. A lot of that performance will hinge on Stephen Curry’s gravity and his handling of double teams and physical play along with the defensive brilliance of Draymond Green.
Luckily for the latter, he is not expected to log that many minutes at center besides closing lineups, and he’s admitted he now has his diet and workout regimen under control to start the season strong. With a new cast of players, the newcomers must also need to prove the part during the season, as Alfonzo McKinnie likely moves onto taking Durant’s position as a starting small forward and Willie Cauley-Stein mans the center spot after signing as a free agent.
If the Warriors can hover around 30-35 wins by the All-Star break, they should be able to muster a playoff spot once they’re at full power with Thompson returning to the lineup.