FOX Sports NBA Analyst
It was hard to tell what the Golden State Warriors enjoyed last summer — raising the Larry O’Brien Trophy or waving it in the faces of the many pundits who declared their championship-winning days over.
Whatever the case, they will get a chance to do it again.
While the doubts weren’t as strong as they led to the Warriors’ defeat of the Boston Celtics last June for their fifth title in the past nine years – and the first after a two-year absence from the post-season altogether – healthy sampling of the NBA scouts, coaches and coaches who have not faced They polled FOX Sports No Problem providing a range of reasons why the Warriors won’t be in this year’s finals. And that’s not just because of their slow start, at 3-4 ahead of Tuesday’s game in Miami.
Most common reason: The Los Angeles Clippers, the team that has never won a conference title in its 53-year history. The Clippers have surely undergone a massive transformation since it was acquired by billionaire Steve Ballmer eight years ago. They now have star power in Kawhi Leonard and Paul George, Tyronn Lue’s championship-caliber head coach and a sharp, physical and versatile shooting roster. They are already ahead of the Warriors this season in one respect: player salaries. The Clippers have the most players with a few hundred thousand over the Warriors, thanks to a staggering nine players making $10 million or more, led by George and Leonard, who raised over $42 million each.
However, it’s hard for the average fan to wrap their head around seeing “Clippers” and “Champions” in the same sentence, even with Palmer’s generosity. There is, after all, the checkered injury history of George and Leonard. George has played no more than 54 games in any of the past three seasons, and Leonard has played no more than 57 and missed the entirety of last season due to a ruptured AFC Champions League. The Clippers’ belief about the league speaks volumes for how deep they are. They nearly went to the Finals two years ago after Leonard lost to an AFC Champions League rupture, ultimately falling in six games to the Phoenix Suns – an ill-timed injury that the normally booked Leonard recently described to FOX Sports as “devastating”. They have since added Norm Powell, Robert Covington, and John Wall. Some injuries may actually help Lue to everyone’s delight.
Although the Clippers have also opened the season modestly 2-4, no one seems to be rocking.
“I don’t think they care about the regular season,” said one Eastern Scout. “I don’t expect them to have a great record in the regular season. It’s all about getting all of their players ready for the playoffs.”
Obviously, Lue is still experimenting with his menu. The average age of 11 players is 15 minutes or more per game and Leonard is a part-time player at the moment. He has appeared in two matches, both off the bench, and has played a total of 42 minutes.
“The Clippers are the team to beat,” GM told the Western Conference. “I don’t even think the Golden State is in its class. Clippers have a lot of depth. I admire the behavior of warriors he can do. But they sat everyone down for two years and then won the battle of attrition. I don’t. I know they will be able to continue this time.” .
“Sat everybody” is kind of an exaggeration, but the franchise had two years to rearrange and regroup. The core of the Warriors Championship – Steve Curry, Klay Thompson, Draymond Green – was essentially missing in the 2019-20 season after five straight rounds to the Finals. Thompson missed two seasons recovering from an ACL rupture followed by an Achilles tendon rupture. Green and Curry are back to play the bulk of the 2020-21 season, giving them a chance to line up with new additions Jordan Paul and Andrew Wiggins, but a rebound in the championship still means a long run into season two. Playing less than 70 games and taking a lot of days off should have been refreshing compared to the previous five seasons, when they played over 100 games and had 10 total weeks off work.
Those anticipating a stumble for the Warriors are also anticipating a dip because the team that won last June has been disbanded. A handful of key players on the bench – Otto Porter Jr., Gary Payton II and Nemanja Bielica – are elsewhere. The Warriors hope that a group of young talents – Jonathan Kominga, Moses Moody and James Wiseman – can fill the void. The talent that showed flashes in the regular season but was limited to waving towels off the bench in the playoffs. Opposition scouts do not share the warriors’ optimism.
“I understand why they let their veteran players off the bench go and made a big bet on Kominga and Moody Wiseman,” said one of the scouts at the Eastern Conference. “Maybe Moody is good and can pick up some minutes that the equivalent players played last year. Kuminga is not good and can only be used for situations, and based on matches, going back from Otto Porter or Gary Payton to him could be a problem. Wiseman is not good at all and to the point where he won’t They play it in any really important game, it could impair their ability to win.”
Another Eastern Conference scout shared a similar suspicion.
“For the Warriors to return to the Finals, either Wiseman or Cominga must have a Jordan Ball,” Scout said. “Neither of them played basketball in college and they were thrown into the best team in the NBA. A group of guys who all know how to play and cut and are smart.”
So far, results have been mixed. Kerr was in beta mode as well, averaging at least 10 minutes, and Curry and Wiggins being the only players averaging over 30. The defending champions are 13th in offensive efficiency and 20th in defense.
Kuminga struggled, scoring the team’s worst offensive rating (70) and is at the end of that 12-man rotation. A slow start by Thompson resulted in Moody getting roughly the same playing time as Wiseman, but no better than Thompson. Wiseman was surprisingly effective as an off-the-bench variable-velocity offensive weapon, diving to the edge on pickup and rolling to an average of 11 points in 16 minutes when shooting 67 percent. The problem is, what the Warriors needed most from him was to protect the tire and he didn’t hand it over; His impact on defense hasn’t been noticeable as he scores less than one opposing shot per game. Wiggins and Moody mediate more.
Wiseman showed promising dives to the edge in pickup groups during pre-season; The problem is that the Warriors, unlike any other team in the NBA, attack the big guys as a beer and the guards check each other away from the ball to open it.
The other issue is that the attacking warriors require their top men to be adept passersby; Wiseman is not. In five matches, he has four assists. (And five swings).
“They run the fewest rolls in the pick and roll league,” said the Western Conference executive. “That’s always an advantage. They did a great job programming the greatest of them all for Steve. Will they change the way they play with Weizmann? Because it’s different from the adults they have.”
Even if they did come back unscathed, no one looked at the Warriors last year in the same dominant light as they did during their previous two title careers with Kevin Durant.
“Two years ago, it was Golden State and then the rest of us,” said an assistant Eastern Conference coach. “I would say now that there is a group of teams that have a chance to win it.”
More than one competitor indicated that the Warriors weren’t even the most talented team last year, but simply the healthiest at the right time. While Curry, Greene and Thompson missed significant time last season – again – it was mostly before the playoffs. Thompson returned in early January. Green missed 36 games, including 28 from January to March with a back issue. Curry had a sprained ligament in his left foot that forced him to miss the last 12 games of the regular season, but he was back in time for the playoffs, albeit off the bench for the first three games.
Their opponents weren’t entirely fortunate. Their first-round opponent, the Denver Nuggets, were without their second-best player of the season, Jamal Murray, and another player, Michael Porter Jr., most of the time. The Memphis Grizzlies lost All-Star guard Ja Morant to a knee injury midway through the second round of six games. Dallas Mavericks home guard Tim Hardaway Jr. was injured until the end of the season in January.
“It was a good fit for them last year,” a Western Conference executive said of the Warriors. “When everyone was losing players to injury, they were recovering.”
The doubt they will be lucky this year depends on Curry and Green’s age, combined with a short recovery period thanks to their championships. Curry will turn 35 in March. It will turn green for 33 a few days ago.
“The top players, Steve and Draymond, are in their mid-30s and could easily get injured or suffer age-related decline,” said one scout at the Eastern Conference. “It’s very common. Although I would say Steve is probably a better bet than anyone at this age to stay well. It’s just a bit more risky for him than guys in their mid-twenties.”
There is also the unknown regarding Thomson. Estimates vary on what percentage of his previous ability he showed after these two major injuries, but no one had seen anything close to his full strength.
“We saw 50 percent of the clay last year and I think a better clay comes back this year,” the second scout told the Eastern Conference. “I thought there were times last year when he was bad and they won in spite of him. I think there will be more for him this year. How much more is the question.”
Finally, there’s this little problem of Green-Poole beef in group training two weeks before the season that ended with Green punching Poole, all captured surreptitiously on video and leaked to the public. Green was fined an undisclosed amount but was not suspended. Paul said Green apologized to him but was terse about their relationship.
“We’re here to play basketball and everyone on our team and in the locker room knows what it takes to win the championship, and we’re going to do it on the court,” he said.
“That’s really all I have to say on the matter. We are here to win the championship and keep hanging the banners.”
There is no way to know if there are lingering effects on team chemistry. There were no subsequent incidents, and Wiggins told FOX Sports it was up to Paul and Greene to put it behind them. Green hasn’t been candid with his teammates this season, but it’s not clear if that’s related to the incident with Paul. In any case, the rapid spread of the video made it undoubtedly more difficult to bypass.
“Rare is a leak like this,” an assistant coach for the Eastern Conference said. “Men practically practice this all the time, but it’s not captured in the video and shown in public. Healing will be like Jordan Paul and Draymond. The franchises have always had this golden aura around them, like nothing bad happens there like it does in other places, and it happens that A hole in that.”
A hole that causes a ship to sink or just a shot through the bow causing the crew to get close to each other? This is to be determined. If there’s any consolation for the Warriors and their fans, it’s history — the history of the Clippers, as well as the history of league personnel speculation.
In last year’s annual NBA.com GM Poll, the Warriors were selected for fifth place. in the conference. this year? secondly.
Not almost dismissive, but for warriors it is enough to prove the exact opposite.
Rick Bucher is an NBA writer for FOX Sports. He has previously written for Bleacher Report, ESPN The Magazine, and The Washington Post and has authored two books, “Rebound,” about NBA forward Brian Grant’s battle with the onset of Parkinson’s disease, and “Yaw: A Life in Two Worlds.” He also has a daily podcast, “On The Ball with Ric Bucher”. Follow him on Twitter @Rick Boucher.
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