The fall of an NBA dynasty is never pretty and the Golden State Warriors of the past two years have been no exception.
The Warriors have been trending downwards since winning three of four championships between 2015 and 2018. They were hit hard by injuries in the 2019 postseason where they lost in the NBA Finals to the Toronto Raptors before Kevin Durant bolted for the Brooklyn Nets in the months after.
Golden State has missed the playoffs in the two seasons since Durant’s departure and Klay Thompson has not suited up for them since tearing his ACL in Game 6 of the 2019 NBA Finals. Once again, the lone bright spot for this franchise has been the same man who started their turnaround from the league’s cellar a decade ago, the now 33-year-old Stephen Curry.
Curry missed most of the ‘19-’20 campaign following a hand injury and Golden State stumbled into the lottery. Their consolation prize for that season was the second pick in the 2020 NBA Draft that they used to select the 7’0 James Wiseman and Curry, already a two-time NBA Most Valuable Player, returned this past year looking better than ever. He led the league in scoring for the second time, averaging a personal-best 32 points and 5.3 threes while his rebound and free throw attempt averages were also career-highs.
Despite Curry’s brilliance, the Warriors still missed the playoffs in ‘20-’21 after losing two consecutive games to the Los Angeles Lakers and Memphis Grizzlies in the newly-implemented play-in tournament.
By missing the postseason, Golden State ended up with the 14th pick in this past NBA Draft and they also had the seventh pick, acquired from the Minnesota Timberwolves in the trade that brought over Andrew Wiggins.
It was widely expected that the Warriors were going to use the picks to bring in veteran help, but no trade materialized and they instead selected Jonathan Kuminga and Moses Moody. The pair of rookies have the luxury of patience from their front office and will not be expected to play major roles for them immediately. They will only benefit from being around this accomplished Golden State core, just like Wiseman did last season.
Draymond Green will be the perfect mentor for Kuminga and he also proved at the Tokyo Olympics that he still has gas left in the tank. Green had another solid all-around season (seven points, 7.1 rebounds, 8.9 assists, 1.7 steals, and 0.8 blocks a game), yet his ever-growing reluctance to shoot the ball hurt the Warriors this past year as they sorely lacked reliable scoring beyond Curry. This has not always been the case for Green who has had some big games of his own in the past.
Now more than ever, Green is best suited around multiple scoring threats, something that Golden State had in abundance during their championship runs. The expected return of the five-time All-Star Thompson this coming season should help fill that need and provide Green with another outlet for his playmaking, putting him back in his comfort zone as a complementary piece.
A trio of Curry, Green, and Thompson, who are now all in their 30s, should still allow the Warriors to compete for a playoff berth, but it may not be enough to contend for one last championship. Their biggest offseason acquisitions, Otto Porter Jr. and Nemanja Bjelica, are both excellent three-point shooters and role players yet neither are expected to be major difference-makers for this team.
The biggest name that they signed was Andre Iguodala, the 2015 NBA Finals Most Valuable Player, who will return to the team following one and a half seasons with the Miami Heat. He remains an effective defender and secondary playmaker, though at age 37, he will be more valuable to the team as a locker room presence and mentor.
The player who can benefit the most from Iguodala’s influence is the former number one overall pick Wiggins. Still just 26 years old, Wiggins is by no means a complete bust, averaging 19.5 points per game in his first seven seasons, but it feels like there’s still untapped potential in him. The presence of Iguodala will provide him with a player to mold his game after and a blueprint for maximizing his athletic ability.
Wiggins was a one-dimensional scorer with an erratic perimeter shot with the Timberwolves before being traded to the Warriors who have tried deploying him in different roles. He has had to learn how to play off the ball at Golden State, even slotting in as the roll man in the pick-and-roll on occasion, and he has also improved on his three-point shooting, averaging a career-best 38% last season.
It is on the defensive end though where he has the tools to become a game changer for the Warriors. He is an athletic, 6’7 wing player with the ability to defend multiple positions and disrupt opponents with his length. If Wiggins can take a page from Iguodala’s playbook, Golden State may have stronger odds in the Western Conference than what most expect.
The return of Wiseman, whose rookie campaign was derailed by an injury, will also be a much-needed boost for their frontcourt. He has a tantalizing upside as a mobile and athletic seven-footer and he showed flashes of his capabilities during his rookie campaign.
There is still much improvement needed from Wiseman before he can become a reliable option for them and his progress will be something to monitor closely this year. They do not need him to turn into a star immediately and what will be more important for the Warriors this year is his continued development as a shotblocker and threat around the basket.
This Golden State team is one in flux that is neither here nor there. They still have the remnants of their championship-winning teams while they also have their prospects for the next few years on board. With an aging core, it was expected that they would retool their roster this past summer to try to squeeze out one more title run.
Instead, they have an influx of youth on their roster and if this is the team that they will begin the season with, their best hope is for their championship culture to accelerate their development with the hope that they can contribute, even in smaller roles, immediately.
The flames of their dynasty are slowly dying out as their new generation of players is ushered in, but as long as they still have the hot-shooting Curry–a generational talent and still one of the best players in the league today–they will always have a puncher’s chance and these Warriors can never truly be counted out.