For a fanbase that enjoyed winning three of five straight NBA Finals in the 2010s, the last two years will have been a shock to Golden State Warriors fans. That fatal string of injuries in the 2019 Finals loss to the Toronto Raptors sent Steve Kerr's team into a downward spiral that they're only just beginning to recover from.
With Kevin Durant forming a new superteam out East with the Brooklyn Nets in 2019, two season-ending injuries for Klay Thompson completely changed the dynamic for Golden State. The Warriors went from title favorites to basement-dwellers in a matter of months, finishing bottom of the Western Conference with a 15-50 record with even Steph Curry missing time. This year in 2020, with Curry fit enough to play 63 games, the Warriors were knocking on the door of the playoffs until a dramatic play-in defeat to the Memphis Grizzlies.
Curry's star power is the axis on which this Warriors organization revolves. When Curry was fit in 2020, the Warriors went 37-26. In the nine games he missed, they were 2-7. He came back from an injury-hit season in 2019 to lead the league in scoring this year, seeing off Bradley Beal late into the campaign by posting an outstanding 32.0 points per game. Winner of two consecutive MVP awards in 2015 and 2016, Curry was once again among the finalists for the league's biggest honor in 2021. Without the ethereal sharpshooting point guard, the Warriors stood no chance of making the playoffs.
So much of the Warriors' future depends on the discussions that will occur behind closed doors between Curry and general manager Bob Myers. Recently Myers has described himself as "pretty confident" the Warriors can convince Curry to sign a contract extension, which would make him the first player in NBA history to sign two extensions worth over $200 million apiece. In the past, Curry has spoken about his desire to finish his career in the Bay, and his offensive skill set lends itself to many more years of dominance. But Curry's focus is ultimately on his legacy, and if he wants to add to his three Finals rings, he will need to be assured that the Warriors can contend again in the near future.
When is the Splash Bros Reunion?
Whether that timeline suits Curry may depend on the fate of his biggest ally in his time as a Warrior. As the other half of the Splash Bros, Klay Thompson and Curry practically changed the way modern basketball is played with their pull-up shooting and limitless range. They combined for the most three-pointers by a duo in a single campaign with 678 in 2015-16, while their 52.2 points per game also led the league. As we've listed here on nbahoopsonline.com the Warriors finished that year with an NBA record 73-9 season.
With Thompson out with a torn ACL in 2019 and a damaged Achilles tendon in 2020, it remains to be seen if Thompson can still play his best basketball in his age-31 season. Now that reports suggest Thompson won't be fit to start the 2021 season, it's unclear when the Warriors will be able to field a full-strength squad again. Sportsbooks at asiabet.org have been cautious on Golden State's chances in the West the past few years - until Thompson returns, they will continue to have a hard ceiling in the eyes of betting analysts.
What is the Warriors' Starting Five in 2021?
How the Warriors will line up in 2021 is still a subject for debate. Second overall pick James Wiseman is a raw talent who could yet improve in Year 2, but as a rookie the Warriors were a much better team when Wiseman sat (21-12, 117.1 PPG) than when he played (18-21, 110.8 PPG). Despite their improved performance, Myers could yet be picking near the top of the draft again, with the Minnesota Timberwolves owing them a top-3 protected pick from the D'Angelo Russell trade. The 23-49 Timberwolves have only a 27.6% chance of picking in the top three, meaning the Warriors could find a bright young piece - perhaps the likes of Jalen Suggs - falling into their lap.
Regardless of who fills that gap, the Warriors have shown that they can be successful with Curry, Thompson, and Draymond Green in the lineup. But as those three stars age, it will become increasingly important to draft well. Wiseman is still a work in progress who could still morph into the kind of rim-protecting center the Warriors have always needed to guard the inside. But if the Warriors are to make it back to the playoffs next season after two years away, they will need Curry happy, healthy, and re-signed… and they will need young players who can learn from him to build for the future.