What The Warriors Need to Do to Win A Championship
After a two-year hiatus, the Golden State Warriors are back in the playoffs and all seems right in the world again. After a season that saw the Warriors go through their ups and downs, the team won five in a row to close out the regular season and seems poised to make a run towards another NBA championship. The path to accomplishing that goal will certainly be difficult, but if the Warriors want to add another Larry O’Brien to the trophy case, there are several key points they will need to focus on to win a championship.
The Warriors had their core of Steph Curry, Draymond Green, and Klay Thompson play only 11 minutes together this season. Klay missed the first half or so of the year recovering from a torn ACL and a torn Achilles that kept him out the past two seasons. The day that Klay returned, Draymond went down with a back injury and missed the next 30 games or so. As luck would have it, the game after Draymond returned from injury, Steph suffered a sprained foot and missed the last 12 games of the season. We have not seen the Warriors at full strength this year. The Curry injury is the one to monitor the closest and the one that brings some level of concern. Curry is expected to be available for game one of the first round, but with some potential restrictions. How restricted Curry is will be an obvious X-factor in the first-round matchup against the Nuggets. If Curry’s injury lingers throughout the playoffs the Warriors might be in trouble. The West, and really the entire playoff field, is extremely tough this year and the Warriors will need Curry to perform like the All-NBA player he is if they hope to win the Finals. If the Warriors can stay healthy, they are as tough a team as anyone. When Draymond and Steph play this year, the Warriors are 29–7 which is a win percentage of roughly 80%. Extrapolate that out over the course of a whole season, and that record would have ranked 1st in the NBA. The Warriors are a dangerous team when fully healthy, and every other team in the league should be worried about them.
2: Two Way Wiggins Returns
It’s been a tale of two halves for Warriors wing Andrew Wiggins this season. Prior to February, Wiggins was averaging 18.3 points per game and shot 41.6% from three. However, since February 1st, Wiggins is scoring 15.2 points per game and shot 35.2% from three. While the offensive struggles are concerning, scoring is not really what the Warriors need from Wiggins at this point. With Steph, Klay, and the emergence of Jordan Poole, Wiggins is really more of the 4th option on offense. Where the Warriors really need Wiggins to thrive is on the defensive end of the ball. Wiggins is going to be the guy that they will call on to guard the other team’s number 1 option. Whether that be Devin Booker or Ja Morant or whoever, the brunt of the one-on-one perimeter defense is going to fall on Wiggins’ shoulders. Klay Thompson is not the same defender that he was pre-injury, Steph has never been a great on-ball defender, Jordan Poole has some deficiencies on that side of the ball, and Draymond will be tasked with manning the interior defense. That leaves Wiggins with a big role on defense. Obviously, the Warriors would love to get something out of Wiggins offensively, but at this point, I think they’re more looking for efficiency from him as opposed to volume. If he’s scoring 15 to 17 points a game but shooting 40% or higher from three they’ll be thrilled. But in order to win a championship, they’ll need him to shine defensively.
3: Jordan Poole Continues to Shine
The emergence of Jordan Poole as an elite offensive player has been one of the biggest and most pivotal developments for the Warriors this season. Since March 1st, Poole is averaging 24.7 points. 4,1 rebounds, and 5.4 assists per game on 47.3% shooting and 41.9% from three. Those are All-Star type of numbers. Poole has taken over with Curry out and now gives the Warriors another player who can create their own shot from the perimeter. There are going to be times when the Warriors need someone other than Steph to take over. We know Klay is capable of doing it, but now it seems as if Jordan Poole is just as capable of getting hot and potentially carrying the Warriors at any given moment. Poole possesses a special combination of elite shot creation and deadly three-point shooting. This is a big opportunity for Poole to prove that he is one of the brightest young stars in the game and a pivotal piece of the Warriors’ future.
4: Klay Keeps Rolling
After missing the previous two seasons with injuries, Klay Thompson seems to be back into form providing the Warriors with a lethal weapon on offense. Klay closed out the season scoring 30 or more points in three straight games, the first time in his career he’s accomplished such an accomplishment. Over his last six games, Klay is averaging 30.8 points on 45% three-point shooting. It appears as if Klay has shaken off the rust and is ready to provide the team with some vintage playoff performances.
5: Kerr Finds Right Rotations on the Fly
Dealing with injuries all year long, the Warriors have really not had the opportunity to figure out what their playoff rotation will look like. The good news for coach Steve Kerr is that he has a buffet of players he could turn to. Be it defensive specialists like Garry Payton II, shooters like Damian Lee, veterans like Andre Iguodala or young spark plugs like Johnathan Kuminga, there is no shortage of options for Kerr to pair with his star players. The problem will be figuring out which combination of players to use and when to use them. The most intriguing guy to me, and the one who may ultimately dictate how far the Warriors go in the playoffs, is rookie Johnathan Kuminga. Kuminga has been electric for the Warriors this season. I think you could easily argue that he is one of the five most talented players on the team and deserves to see big minutes in the playoffs. The question is going to be how much does Kerr trust the rookie on the big stage. At times this season, Kuminga has had some issues with fouling, committing untimely fouls on both sides of the ball that hurt the team. Can Kerr trust the rookie to stay disciplined and not put the team into foul trouble? If Kerr decides to play Kuminga in the playoffs, it could pay big dividends for the Warriors, but that will only happen if Kerr trusts Kuminga’s development enough to throw him out there on the big stage.