Golden State Warriors draft-day decision will determine championship path

The Golden State Warriors’ draft-day decision will determine their path to another NBA championship.

They just needed a year off. A chance to rest and re-focus, but, perhaps, more importantly, to tank.

Since the Golden State Warriors opted to represent the whole of California by changing their name from the San Francisco Warriors in 1971, the franchise has never had the second pick in the NBA Draft.

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They have selected first in the draft twice – Joe Smith in 1995 and Joe Barry Carroll in 1980. While those players might not have lived up to some of the talent selected after them – Kevin Garnett and Kevin McHale, respectively – they both proved to have long, successful careers and provide serviceable production to multiple teams.

The Warriors had the third pick in the 2002 Draft, but even then, Mike Dunleavy Jr did not become a star on any of the six teams he played with, even if his 15 years in the NBA were useful and productive.

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Winning three championships in five years raises expectations, but you got the impression that everyone in Golden State was happy to take a year off in 2019-20. They lost the services of Kevin Durant, who was injured in the 2019 Finals and then signed with the Brooklyn Nets.

They were also without Klay Thompson, who was also injured in the penultimate game of last season. Stephen Curry missed most of the season after picking up an injury just four games into the year. And Draymond Green only played 43 games.

This meant that the team – largely made up of talent more suited to the G League – managed a record of 15-50, the worst in the NBA. There were some bright sparks: Marquese Chriss proved himself to be a serviceable forward, Damion Lee surprised a few with his creative scoring, even if his efficiency could have improved, Eric Paschall did enough to earn a return trip to the team, Jordan Poole continued to work hard and the Andrew Wiggins reclamation project began.

But it was clearly time to re-boot.

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The 2020 NBA Draft will take place virtually on November 18. What the Warriors choose to do with their No 2 overall pick will determine their path back to championship contention.

Could small ball go big?

Something that was seriously missing from the Warriors’ roster was height. The 6ft 9in Kevon Looney filled the center position at times during their 2018-19 Finals run, but the team brought back Andrew Bogut to make up for losing DeMarcus Cousins and not having enough firepower from a young Jordan Bell.

Things got so desperate after Looney broke his collar bone in Game 2 of the Finals that Steve Kerr put him back out there for Games 4, 5 and 6 to keep the team’s title hopes alive.

The oft-injured big man appeared sporadically throughout 2019-20, but played in 10 of the last 16 games before coronavirus shut down the Warriors’ season. Even if he returns fully healthy next season, they still need help protecting the rim. Durant and Green also spent a lot of time at the five (center) position, but that was when they were at the peak of their talent and their health. Going forward, it will be difficult to rely solely on a 31-year-old Green and an injury-prone Looney.

The good news is that there are a handful of bigs in the 2020 Draft that could be a useful addition to a team that will want to contend for a championship.

James Wiseman is arguably the most talented center this year. At 7ft 1in, he has size and athleticism, and whatever team selects him will make use of his leaping abilities around the rim for alley-oops. He is not dissimilar to Dwight Howard, who enjoyed being a lob threat early in his career, but Wiseman has better shooting and possibly worse defensive instincts. That’s not to say Wiseman isn’t an authoritative shot-blocker, but his eagerness to go after every shot that goes up won’t be appreciated in a typically disciplined defensive team like the Warriors.

Some other potential bigs in the Draft include Onyeka Okongwu, who previously played alongside the Ball brothers in Chino Hills, and Obi Toppin, who could be a good small-ball five. The problem the Warriors face is that there are no obvious stars this year in the same way Zion Williamson was projected to be before he went No 1 in the 2019 Draft.

This leaves the Warriors a choice of drafting the best player at their biggest position of need or trading for a proven NBA player.

Finding the right fit

When there are few game-changers available in the draft, you can’t expect a rival NBA team to just hand you a star in return. This makes some fans’ dreams of pairing Stephen Curry with Giannis Antetokounmpo basically impossible unless you are planning to trade the farm to the Milwaukee Bucks.

Antetokounmpo and Curry would make a beautiful pairing: they have complementary skills, but also boast an ability to handle the ball and pass out of double-teams in different ways.

But balancing the contracts is head-spinningly difficult in fantasy basketball, let alone with human beings and egos to contend with, and would require a number of players and picks moving, potentially including Draymond Green, Andrew Wiggins, Ersan Ilyasova, DJ Wilson and Antetokounmpo’s brother Thanasis.

Elsewhere in the league, It has long been rumoured that Kevin Love of the Cleveland Cavaliers will be moved. He was also formerly a target of a trade for the Warriors before they started winning championships. Swapping Love for Wiggins and the second pick could be the core of a trade that makes sense and fills a hole for the Warriors, while giving extra assets to a Cavaliers team in the midst of a youth movement.

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One of the main trade rumours doing the rounds would see Bradley Beal of the Washington Wizards move to Golden State in exchange for the second pick, Wiggins and probably several more assets to make it more appealing for the Wizards. It would give the Warriors another shooter to put with Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson, but it doesn’t necessarily guarantee them contention for another title.

For now? Or the future?

It has been 16 months since the Warriors were last in the NBA Finals, and plenty has changed. While they ruled the league with small ball, this year’s champions the Los Angeles Lakers started most of their games in the Finals without anyone shorter than 6ft 5in.

That’s not to say Golden State’s brand of basketball won’t work, it just might need tweaking, and looking to go big is definitely an option.

If the NBA returns to a non-bubble season and has games in home arenas, it will be the first season Golden State play in Chase Center.

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The team owners would love to celebrate a title in its opening season in a new building, so trading for a championship-ready star makes sense, especially with the franchise’s history of picking serviceable, but not league-changing, players at the top of the draft.

But this team also claimed to be light years ahead of the competition, and to remain so it must also think of the future, which means looking for a player that might not be a star straight away, but can blossom into one when Curry, Thompson and Green move beyond the primes of their careers.

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