SAN FRANCISCO, Calif. — The Warriors’ season may be over, but the fact is that Golden State had already accomplished everything it needed to in the 2021 season before Friday’s game against the Memphis Grizzlies.
So it wouldn’t have made a difference whether the Warriors played a true seven-game playoff series — or two — heading into next season.
This mid-pandemic 2021 season was a bridge campaign, an opportunity to re-establish the Warriors as a winning squad after a terrible 2019-2020 season.
It was close for a while, but they managed to pull it off.
So, while the outcome was undoubtedly sad, there is no indictment to be drawn from Friday’s defeat. Nothing the Warriors accomplished this season was tainted by their losses in the play-in tournament.
Let us not forget what they demonstrated.
Steph Curry, at the age of 33, proved to the NBA that he is still one of the top players in the league. He had his best offensive season of his Hall of Fame career, won the scoring title, and was a nominee for the MVP award while playing alongside a squad of cast-offs and unprovens.
And he closed the season on a high note, despite suffering a “hairline fracture” on his tailbone as a result of a bad tumble in Houston, according to Kent Bazemore.
The Warriors always have a shot with him leading the way, and he appears to have years of gasp-inducing, great performance left in him.
Draymond Green, Curry’s tag-team partner, also made an impression this season.
Green’s offensive game is undeniably restricted in the most essential area — shooting — but no one who has watched the Warriors this season can argue that he is anything less than one of the league’s top operators.
Green was once again one of the league’s greatest defenders after a losing season in 2019-2020. (He’s a Defensive Player of the Year finalist.) He was also one of the top point guards in the NBA, averaging the same number of assists per game as Chris Paul, the Point God, of the Phoenix Suns.
Green may have run out of steam on Friday, but he was unstoppable in the final stretch. There’s a bad his season will be known for his game-winning bunt that he missed, but it was so much more.
Those two, as a duo, demonstrated that they are still a powerful force in a league where duos are the norm.
Green stated, “We’ve got a lot more hell to cause.” “It’s something I’m looking forward to.”
Give them a little more support than they had this year, and put them in the mix in what could be a flat Western Conference next year, and they could go on another run.
In terms of that assistance, the Warriors may be closer than outside onlookers believe.
After a whole season with Andrew Wiggins, the Warriors have fully committed to him. I’m not saying it’s impossible that he’ll play for another team next season — anything can happen in the NBA — but it’ll take a no-brainer deal for the Warriors to let him go.
Is he paid too much? Most likely. Was he too sluggish on offence this year? Yes, far too frequently. But he was a coachable and reliable two-way wing for the Dubs this season, and he’s a natural fit as a third option behind Curry and Klay Thompson. An offer would have to blow the Warriors away once more.
In addition to Curry, Green, Wiggins, and Thompson, the Warriors have found a few of viable rotation pieces. Thompson is looking to reclaim the form he had before two leg injuries cost him the last two seasons.
While Wiggins and Green struggled in a must-win game on Friday, second-year combo guard Jordan Poole was outstanding. He was a revelation for the Warriors in the final weeks of the season and again on Friday, scoring 19 points — including some big-time baskets down the stretch of the final game. He’s either preternaturally confident or too young to know he should be afraid of the moment, but whatever the reason, he was a revelation for the Warriors in the final weeks of the season and again on Friday, scoring 19 points — including some big-time baskets down the stretch of the final contest.
He’s going to be a keeper.
So is Juan Toscano-Anderson, who gives the Dubs a little bit of everything and has the grit and wisdom to lead them to victory. JTA, like Green, isn’t the type of player who can be fairly evaluated by box score, but as the season progressed and he was finally given a chance to play, he began to fill up the stat sheet as well.
Add in Kevon Looney, who has been so consistent this season that it’s easy to overlook him (as I did in this column by not mentioning him until now), and the Warriors have a solid foundation.
Bring back Bazemore for another year — you won’t get that kind of corner 3-point shooting and defence for the league minimum anywhere else — and maybe Damion Lee (who missed the final month of the season with COVID), and you’ve got yourself some excellent assets.
Add another professional (or two) to the mix, as well as a ready-to-contribute (but not insane) young player via the draught, and you’ve got a team that shouldn’t be taken lightly.
Isn’t that doable?
It’s also worth noting that the Warriors have rediscovered their identity this season. The Dubs’ season was made fascinating by smallball, and they should remember that heading into the summer.
What this means for rookie centre James Wiseman, the No. 2 overall pick in last year’s draught whose season-ending knee injury marked the start of the Warriors’ late-season run, will be determined in the months ahead.
The Warriors’ ceiling is even higher if they can achieve with Wiseman what they did with Poole, who returned from a stint in the G-League as a more-than-viable off-the-bench microwave. The Warriors will have the same result if they move on from him and bring back a quality experienced depth piece.
The Warriors will spend the next three weeks watching the playoffs on TV, but during that time, they can plan how to take advantage of a summer that promises to be even more chaotic than last year’s.
The Dubs have a crucial summer ahead of them, one that may either put them in title contention or put them back in this play-in event next year. However, just because the break begins in the spring does not imply that the season was a flop.
Green explained, “We’re not in the playoffs, so we’re a long way away.” “However, we aren’t that far away.”