2018 Preview — Golden State Warriors

2018-19 Golden State Warriors


Projected Record: 64-18 (1st in West)

Over/Under: 62.5

2016: 58-24 (2nd in West)


Key Additions:

  • DeMarcus Cousins (Free Agency)
  • Jonas Jerebko (Free Agency)
  • Damion Lee (Free Agency)
  • Jacob Evans (Pick #28)

Key Subtractions:

  • JaVale McGee
  • Zaza Pachulia

Summary

Strengths:

  • They’re the Warriors
  • I mean, look at them
  • They have Curry and Durant

Weaknesses:

  • Cousins is far from a sure thing post-Achilles
  • Bench depth could be a question mark, I guess

Listen, I’m not going to bury the lede for you here: the Golden State Warriors will win the NBA Finals this season.

It almost, almost feels like this season isn’t even the most important thing on this franchise’s mind. With Kevin Durant and Klay Thompson likely to hit free agency this summer and Draymond Green a year behind them, you could hardly even blame them. They’ve waltzed to consecutive dominant Finals wins over the greatest player of the generation without even seeming to struggle. A three-peat feels nearly inevitable. Durant’s free agency? That could be unpredictable.

In the Western Conference Finals last spring, the Warriors faced their greatest test since Durant signed on. Houston built an entire roster around defeating them, pairing two of the greatest passers in the league together alongside an insanely versatile lineup of two-way wings. If Chris Paul’s hamstring had held up, they honestly might have pulled it off. If they had hit any open threes in Game 7, they honestly might have pulled it off.

If, if, if.

The Rockets have now taken an obvious step back after their puzzling summer, and the Warriors are still here. Assuming health — and it would be hard for the Warriors to be less healthy than they were last year — the Warriors will reclaim the West’s top seed this season, and the gap between first and second will be a big as it’s ever been.

I’m not going to go deep into the Warriors here like I have with the league’s other teams. You already know the score: this league still belongs to Golden State, until someone proves otherwise.


Most Valuable Player: Stephen Curry

In some ways, it’s fitting that the NBA Finals MVP trophy has eluded Curry how it has. It’s the most first-world NBA problem I can imagine — “Gosh, I wish I had that Finals MVP,” he says, as he struggles to find a place on his shelf for his latest All-NBA First Team.

This isn’t to mock Curry for lacking that particular hardware. Not by a long shot. Instead, it’s almost a case study — what drives a player forward when he’s accomplished nearly everything else?

“When Wardell Stephen Curry saw the breadth of his domain, he wept, for there were no more worlds to conquer.”

The Warriors aren’t the Warriors without Stephen Curry. This has always been the case. Kevin Durant is an incredible talent, an all-time freak of nature and one of the ten greatest players in NBA history. Steph Curry made him a luxury. Acquiring him felt like excess because they were already so good. That’s Curry.

I can’t sit here and tell you anything about Steph Curry that you don’t already know. What I can say is that he has continued to lift the bar for himself in almost unfathomable ways his entire career. Whether Durant and Thompson stick around or not, the coming seasons will just be another era for Warriors basketball, just another summit for them to climb. So long as Steph Curry is on the court, the Warriors will keep on rolling.

X Factor: DeMarcus Cousins

It’s honestly quite fitting that, in an offseason that saw LeBron James sign with the Lakers and Paul George spurn the Lakers, the Warriors stole the most stunning moment of the summer. Jimmy Butler demanding a trade from the Timberwolves? Nah. Gordon Hayward’s return to the Celtics? Boring.

The Warriors got Boogie.

The initial reaction to Cousins inking his one-year, $5 million contract with the Warriors was incredulity mixed with a little bit of nihilism. After looking virtually untouchable for two straight seasons after adding Kevin Durant, Golden State went out and completed a literal All-NBA First Team in their starting lineup for the mere price of the Mid-Level Exception. For a few moments, the NBA Finals had seemingly never felt so predetermined.

However, for me, reality set in shortly thereafter. There’s a reason Cousins was even available for just the Mid-Level Exception, after all. Achilles injuries are particularly brutal on NBA players, considering how important the tendon is to the very simple acts of running and jumping. As much as sports medicine has improved with injuries to, say, elbow or knee ligaments, the track record for the Achilles still seems rough where the NBA is concerned.

For a player Cousins’ size, there is almost no track record at all. The closest comparison we have is Elton Brand all the way back in 2007, and Brand never returned to his pre-injury stardom when he finally made it back. Rudy Gay is playing productive basketball for the Spurs these days, but Gay has always been an exceptional athlete — not exactly what Cousins is known for. Gay also doesn’t way 275 pounds.

How Cousins returns from this injury isn’t exactly something the Warriors’ season hinges on — they were going to be title favorites anyways —  but Cousins’ long-term future does. This signing is Cousins placing a colossal bet on himself. How it pays off remains to be seen.

Don’t Forget About: Jonas Jerebko

Shifting from writing about Steph Curry and DeMarcus Cousins to writing about Jonas Jerebko gives a sense of whiplash like you wouldn’t believe, but I’m gonna do my best.

I’ve liked Jerebko since before he even came to the Boston Celtics, and the 6’10” Swede only endeared himself to me more while he was there. There’s nothing particularly mind-blowing about Jerebko — he’s just a really good role player. He knows where to be, he plays with energy, and he knocks down his shots. Per 36 minutes with Utah last season, he averaged 14 points and eight rebounds per game, with a 57% true shooting percentage. That’ll do it. This is an annoyingly good fit for the Warriors.

Mainly, I just want you to remember this section when you’re wondering about the random blonde guy who just dropped 22 points in 20 minutes of a 30-point Warriors’ playoff win over your favorite team.


Second Opinion

Andy Liu, Light Years Podcast (@AndyKHLiu)

Everything about the Golden State Warriors from a normal sports perspective has been written, spoken, and tweeted in the last 4 years. Between them winning back-to-back titles, choking a 3-1 Finals lead to the Cleveland Cavaliers, and the shocking rise of Stephen Curry, we’re reaching somewhat of a zenith for this dynasty. Not only did this team become great almost overnight in front of a national audience, they’ve accomplished the unthinkable and added ammunition to a collection of talent never before seen in NBA history. So what happens now?

This is where history is re-written in a way that may never be duplicated again. Winning three titles in four years is cute. Matching what Michael Jordan’s Chicago Bulls did in the ’90s with the salary cap rules and amount of talent in the league today is undeniably breathtaking. Gunning for their first three-peat, Steve Kerr’s collection of All-Stars is gearing up to match the first Bulls title run. They add DeMarcus Cousins, an all-world center coming off a significant Achilles injury, and turn around to stare down at a league that has regressed instead of retooled. They’re even larger favorites than ever before. And yet this season almost feels more like a stepping stone to this team’s legacy.

They’re not looking at this season anymore. It’s about the future. Will Kevin Durant re-sign? What will it take for the Warriors to get him to put pen to paper on that long-term deal? Because for the Golden State Warriors to become The Golden State Warriors, they’ll need to keep this thing rolling into next decade. The Warriors may be more concerned this season keeping the Finals MVP than winning the championship itself — now that’s a team disrespectfully greater than anyone else in the world.


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