The Golden State Warriors find themselves in a rather unfamiliar position: the role of the underdog.
After a dominant five-year stretch in which the Warriors made five NBA Finals appearances and won three championships, Golden State is entering the 2019-20 campaign as a virtual afterthought.
Gone is Kevin Durant, who departed via free agency. Bench mainstays Andre Iguodala and Shaun Livingston are no longer with the club. Klay Thompson will miss most of the season while recovering from a torn ACL.
Yes, the Warriors were able to bring in D’Angelo Russell, but this is not a team that is expected to contend for a title this year.
So, here are four burning questions for Golden State entering the 2019-20 season:
5. Is Alfonzo McKinnie Ready to Start?
The Warriors like Alfonzo McKinnie, but I’m not sure they like him enough to have him as a starter.
Nevertheless, with Thompson out and Durant and Iguodala gone, that is where they find themselves at the moment, as it’s not like they have many other viable options.
To be fair, McKinnie isn’t bad. He averaged 4.7 points and 3.4 rebounds over 13.9 minutes per game during his rookie year, shooting 48.7 percent from the floor and 35.6 percent from three-point range.
He is a solid defender and he is relentless on the boards, so there is no question he can at least be a solid role player.
But is he ready to start? It remains to be seen.
4. Is there Enough Depth?
The Dubs won all three of their titles largely because of their depth, but now, their famed bench has basically disintegrated.
It should be noted that Golden State made some interesting additions this summer, bringing in players such as Willie Cauley-Stein, Alec Burks, Glenn Robinson III and Omari Spellman, but they are experimental pieces, at most.
Cauley-Stein might be able to fill a JaVale McGee type of role for the Warriors, but he is a strangely poor shot blocker, and there has to be a reason why there was virtually no interest in him on the free-agent market this summer.
Robinson is an athletic specimen, but beyond that, he is only a borderline rotation player. Spellman is an okay piece as a floor spacer, but his rapid weight gain during his rookie campaign is obviously concerning.
Finally, Burks has proven himself as a decent bench scorer, and that’s fine, but Golden State needs more reliable reserves than just Burks.
Both Stephen Curry and Draymond Green missed extensive time with injuries this past season, but due to the fact that the Warriors had Durant, Thompson and experienced role players, they were able to get away with it.
But if that happens this year? It’s going to be a problem.
Golden State just does not have enough top-end talent (or experience) outside of Curry and Green to compensate for any injury issues those two may face. Losing Thompson was already enough.
If either one of Curry or Green is out for a duration of time, the Warriors might actually find themselves in danger of missing the playoffs entirely, which is something we never thought we would find ourselves saying for the next several years.
2. When will Klay Thompson Return, and how Effective will He be when He does?
The general consensus is that Thompson will return sometime in February, at best, with the possibility that his recovery period could extend into March.
By that time, the playoffs will be right around the corner, so Thompson won’t exactly have much time to get back into game shape.
A torn ACL is not a minor injury; it’s a potentially career-altering one, so we have no clue how Thompson will even fare when he returns. For that reason, we can’t just say the Warriors will go back to being title contenders once Thompson is back in the lineup.
Thompson will probably end up being just fine the following year, but for the 2019-20 campaign? He is going to have a rough time getting his sea legs and finding a rhythm, especially if he returns just a month before the postseason begins.
1. How will D’Angelo Russell Fit?
The Warriors cushioned the blow of losing Durant ever so slightly this offseason by bringing in Russell, who is coming off of the best season of his career with the Brooklyn Nets…but it still wasn’t all that great.
Sure, Russell averaged 21.1 points per game, but he posted a true-shooting percentage of just 53.3 percent, and we know that he is not a good defender.
Basically, Russell’s bump in counting numbers can be attributed to more opportunity, so it’s debatable how much he has actually improved as a player.
But if any team can take Russell and turn him into a valuable asset on a contending team, it’s the Warriors.
One thing about Russell is that he can catch fire from the perimeter, so he can Curry could end up being a very difficult duo to stop on certain nights. He will also help fill some of the scoring gap left by Durant and Thompson.
Still, fit will be the main factor here. Russell has never been on a truly good team (sorry, Brooklyn) in his NBA career, so it will be interesting to see how he handles playing in a championship environment.