Players like Otto Porter Jr. and Nemanja Bjelica make the Warriors better … when healthy.
The Golden State Warriors have higher hopes for the upcoming season than they had a year ago, and for a valid reason: they’re in a substantially better position that they were heading into last season.
Andre Iguodala, Nemanja Bjelica, and Otto Porter Jr. are better than Kent Bazemore, Eric Paschall, and Brad Wanamaker. Klay Thompson is better than Kelly Oubre Jr. Jordan Poole is substantially better entering 2021-22 than he was entering 2020-21, and so is Juan Toscano-Anderson. James Wiseman is a year older and more experienced (is he James Wiserman?), and Andrew Wiggins has greater familiarity with the system.
On paper, this year’s Dubs squad squashes last year’s, which is good, since last year’s fell short of not just the championship, but the playoffs altogether.
But “on paper” always comes with a few caveats, and one of those caveats is this: are the Warriors a little bit too reliant on players that are injury prone?
For a team that was confined to minimum contracts and the mid-level exception (which they haven’t yet used), the Warriors didn’t exactly have full flexibility, and that means accepting some red flags. You have to live with that, and they did.
Porter is a prime example of this. Over the last three seasons, the 28 year old has played a total of 98 games, a result of back and foot injuries.
For the player, this is a curse. For the team, it’s both a curse and a blessing. Had Porter played 75 games a year for the last three seasons, he likely would have cashed in on a multi-year contract somewhere in the $15-20 million per year range. Instead, the Warriors signed him for the minimum.
Iguodala has stayed mostly healthy, but that’s been in part due to playing a small role with the Miami Heat, and sitting out most of the 2019-20 season while waiting for the Memphis Grizzlies to trade him.
Bjelica played only 37 games a season ago, and while some of that was due to an undisclosed personal issue, much of it was the result of a back injury.
And that’s just the incoming players. Steph Curry and Draymond Green both missed chunks of time last season, and are a year older. Thompson will miss the start of the season, and potentially be load managed after returning. Kevon Looney has played in just 81 games over the last two seasons, and if he goes down the Warriors will be reliant on an inexperienced Wiseman who has his own complex injury history.
Golden State’s lineup looks strong and deep now, but most teams are only a few injuries from having their depth tested in uncomfortable ways, and the Warriors are perhaps playing with a little bit more fire there than the average contender. Talent and heart these dudes have in spades; sterling injury histories, not so much.
We know, after last season, that the one thing the Dubs want to avoid is running into a stretch of schedule where they’re reliant on Wiseman, Jonathan Kuminga, Moses Moody, whoever earns the 15th roster spot, and the two-way contract guys. Yet it doesn’t take that much creativity and imagination to see them in that position.
But there’s good news. Winning a championship — and for most teams, just getting close — requires a lot of luck and good breaks. The Dubs might just be asking for a little bit more than other teams are, but everyone’s lined up at the same building.