It’s finally here. The offseason and the preseason have come and gone, and on Tuesday the Golden State Warriors will suit up for their first regular season game against the San Antonio Spurs. In light of the new season ahead, I offer you seven bold predictions for the Warriors’ 2016-2017 regular season. At the end of the regular season, we can see what I got right and, more amusingly, what I got wrong.
Got your own bold predictions? Share them! I’ll make sure to include any particularly clairvoyant forecasts you come up with — as well as any horribly incorrect ones — when we recap at the end of the regular season.
1. The Warriors will win 62 or fewer games.
I’m jumping right in! But I must admit, this prediction comes with a big caveat: the Warriors must first lock up the top seed for the playoffs relatively early.
The acquisition of Kevin Durant has come with some amazing discussions about the Warriors’ record and it's safe to say there are lofty expectations for this team. But not all projections have the Warriors wins in the high-60s.
And remember, last year the Warriors were going for the wins record and they were being chased by an amazing Spurs team that somehow flew under the radar with 67 wins. The next best record in the Western Conference was held by the Oklahoma City Thunder with 55 wins, and the best record in the Eastern Conference was held by the Cleveland Cavaliers with 57 wins.
While we have been spoiled by the Warriors these past two seasons with their soaring win-loss records, usually only a couple teams crack the 60-win mark each season and sometimes just barely.
As an example, the Spurs’ finished their championship 2013-2014 regular season with a league-leading record of 62-20 — they were the only team to win more than 59 games that season. They lost four of their last seven games and for the most part their starters either played sparingly or didn’t play in those games. Spurs coach Gregg Popovich is notorious for resting his key players, and he was even fined the season prior for flying his stars back home early on a road trip to save them the trouble of having to sit on the bench.
This year, it’s championship or bust for the Warriors and their regular season goal will be locking up the top seed for home court advantage through the playoffs. If they can do that sooner than later, I wouldn’t be surprised if Steve Kerr takes a page out of Popovich’s playbook and rests his starters — and key bench players — towards the end of the regular season. He might even do it sporadically throughout the season. Giving up just a handful of meaningless games makes a 62-win season plausible.
2. Durant and Stephen Curry will cannibalize each other.
But not when it comes to scoring. I’ve maintained that Durant and Curry, not to mention Draymond Green and Klay Thompson, are efficient scorers and teaming up only makes them more efficient. But in terms of MVP votes and jersey sales, Durant and Curry are going to cannibalize each other’s numbers.
I myself have no idea which jersey to buy and, alas, I don’t have the funds for both. So I’m going to have to choose one and undoubtedly some other fan is going to choose the other.
Same goes for MVP votes. Voters will be torn between the two and Durant and Curry will end up splitting those votes. Then there are those voters who have already decided that they won’t vote for either because of, well, bitterness.
3. The Warriors won’t blowout teams like last year.
The addition of Durant promises some spectacular offensive play, as well more than a few blowouts. However, the Warriors are bound to lose a few more games this year, and given that they won’t be record chasing, there will be a few more games where they’ll eke by. So their point differential will drop from the amazing 10.8 from last season to a pedestrian 9-something.
4. Kevon Looney will get more playing time than Patrick McCaw.
Is it weird that I fear the flak from this prediction the most? If you’ve been paying any attention during the preseason, you know the hype for McCaw is real. It’s amazing how quickly he has garnered disciples.
Rest easy, acolytes. This prediction is not a slight against McCaw. I think he’s got some real promise and should be a key part of the team’s future.
But when it comes down to it, he’s not that pivotal for the team this season. McCaw offers backcourt depth as a ball-handler with a decent shot and a lot of defensive potential. But the Warriors aren’t exactly aching for backcourt depth, ball-handlers or shooters.
Curry and Thompson are amazing starters and Shaun Livingston and Ian Clark should serve as reliable backups at the guard position. Plus, Durant, Green and Andre Iguodala are forwards that are capable of handling the ball and running the offense when necessary.
Beyond those players, what the Warriors need are size and rebounding. Looney has shown that he’s a ball-hawk, and he could easily become their best offensive rebounder. Barring injury, Looney is going to play a more pivotal role for the Warriors this year while McCaw waits his turn and develops his promising game.
5. Livingston will attempt more than 45 three-pointers.
Rumor has it (for years) that Livingston is developing a three-point shot. Last season he went a measly 2-for-12 from beyond the arc. I think this season he’ll have an astronomical 300% increase in attempts, for a grand total of 48. My guess is his three-point shooting percentage will hover around 33% and if you don’t believe me, check this out.
6. Clark will average the most points-per-game for the bench unit.
Last season, only four players (all starters) averaged over 11 points-per-game (PPG). The next highest was Marreese Speights with 7.1 PPG followed by Andre Iguodala and Festus Ezeli who tied at 7.0 PPG.
I don’t expect much of a difference in Iguodala’s production and Ezeli is no longer on the team. David West is filling in for Speights, but West is a much more willing passer than Speights (not a difficult task).
Clark wasn’t able to crack the rotation last year, averaging significantly fewer minutes than Ezeli, Speights, Leandro Barbosa and Brandon Rush. But with all four of those players gone, Clark is in line to gobble up some of their minutes.
Clark averaged 3.6 PPG and 8.8 minutes-played (MP) last season. If he could get around the same playing time that Barbosa or Ezeli got — 15.9 and 16.7 MP, respectively — he could definitely up his PPG average. Given his offensive capabilities, he just might be the Barbosa / Speights offensive spark off the bench this season.
Then again, McCaw could outplay Clark, steal his minutes and knock down two of my predictions in one long-armed swoop.
7. Who will be the team’s leading scorer?
Honestly, I’m so tempted to put Thompson down here. He has improved his game every single year and if the preseason is any indication, he’s going to be off to a hot start. There’s going to be a cold streak for him somewhere in the season (see Olympics, 2016), but he’ll shoot himself out of it, and he’s showing more offensive range when it comes to penetrating and scoring inside the arc.
Plus, he’s great at playing off-the-ball and he’s on a team that relentlessly searches for the open man. As for offensive explosions, he may have the most potential out of not only his teammates, but also the entire league.
However, he’s on a team with Durant and Curry who have won the league scoring title five of the last seven seasons. Durant won four times (2009-2010, 2010-2011, 2011-2012, 2013-2014) and Curry once (2015-2016). That’s tough competition when it comes to winning your team’s scoring title.
Then again, these are supposed to be bold predictions... I pick Thompson!