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Eight questions that will define the Warriors season

The Warriors can be good this year, but how good depends on a few questions.

Golden State Warriors v Phoenix Suns Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images

The NBA’s 2020-21 season-opener is right around the corner, and it’s a tremendous one: Steph Curry and the Golden State Warriors vs. Kevin Durant and the Brooklyn Nets on Dec. 22.

Of all the teams in the NBA, the Warriors have the widest range of opinions regarding their outcome. That’s bound to happen when you follow up five straight trips to the NBA Finals with the worst record in basketball. I’ve seen pundits say the Warriors are a clear playoff team, a fringe playoff team, a team on the outside, and a team destined to once again look up at the rest of the league from the bottom of the standings.

They’re all realistic outcomes. I can easily see the Dubs competing for home court advantage, or for the right to draft Cade Cunningham.

It obviously depends on a few factors. As I see it, these are the eight questions that will define the Warriors season.

Can Steph Curry stay healthy?

For many people, the biggest question facing the Warriors is, “can Steph Curry still play at an MVP level?” Perhaps I’m being overly optimistic, but I haven’t found myself wondering that. Health permitting, I envision Curry being one of the five best players in the league, and I don’t see any reason to think that’s in doubt.

Instead, I’m curious about Curry’s health. I don’t think the injury he sustained last season points to anything other than bad luck, but he missed 44 games combined in the two prior seasons, plus another six in the playoffs.

With Durant gone and Klay Thompson injured, Curry will have to carry a heavy load. We saw last year what happens when he’s not on the court, and it’s ugly.

But if he’s on the court? I don’t see a team with that good of a player missing the playoffs, or even coming close.

Can Draymond Green still play at an All-Star level?

Green is a player who will perpetually be underrated due to his low scoring totals. As such, everyone cried about his awful 2019-20, even though he still played strong defense and graded out as a good player by advanced metrics.

But he still took the bulk of the season off, either resting small injuries or just putting himself on autopilot in the midst of meaningless games.

I doubt he’ll ever get voted to another All-Star Game because of the aforementioned scoring, but I’m holding out hope that he can still be a player who should make the All-Star team, if we awarded defense as much as offense and intangibles as much as highlights.

Does Andrew Wiggins have another level?

At this point it seems likely that what you see is what you get with Andrew Wiggins. He’s six seasons and 454 games into his career, and expecting him to develop a lot further is a tall task.

But it’s not impossible. Wiggins has never played for a functional organization, or for a good coaching staff, or alongside a star of Curry’s caliber. He’s never been in a situation where his team didn’t need him to be a superstar.

If Wiggins can just be a solid role player, that’s a win for the Dubs. But if he can be more...

Will James Wiseman or Marquese Chriss prove to be a consistent lob threat?

Without Thompson spacing the floor, the Warriors are in dire need of some efficient shots at the bucket, which means they need a consistent rim runner to pair with Curry and Green in the pick and roll.

James Wiseman projects to be that player at some point. And Marquese Chriss looked like that player a year ago, but it could be an outlier.

Golden State needs at least one of those two to be a reliable lob threat who can consistently get behind the defense, soar to the rim, and finish with authority.

Can Kevon Looney hold up?

Even if Wiseman or Chriss proves to be a great offensive option, the Warriors need a solid defensive center, and that’s where Kevon Looney comes in. The coaching staff has raved about Looney’s health — as has he — but that’s to be expected.

If Looney can make it through a season healthy, the Dubs will have a strong interior defender who can switch onto the perimeter. If he can’t, then even a vintage Green season won’t be enough to keep Golden State’s defensive rating from being hard to look at.

Will anyone on the bench step up?

The Warriors have some good bench players. Kent Bazemore, Damion Lee, Brad Wanamaker, and Eric Paschall are quality role players. Chriss and Wiseman (assuming Looney gets the bulk of the center minutes) can play.

But the Warriors need more than that. The Warriors need difference makers off the bench if they want to make a lot of noise. Can anyone provide that?

Can the defense buy in?

The Warriors finished 26th a year ago in defensive efficiency, which ... honestly is quite a testament to Green’s season. Look at last year’s roster and it’s hard to find a way that Golden State isn’t 30th in defense.

This year should be better. Green has more to play for. Looney will hopefully be healthy. Curry is back. Free agent additions like Bazemore and Wanamaker help a lot.

But the Warriors still need players to buy in. That means Wiggins and Kelly Oubre Jr. It means Chriss, Wiseman, Paschall, and Jordan Poole.

The Warriors have some great defensive players, leaders, and coaches. Everyone else needs to buy in.

Does a DPE candidate materialize?

Because of Thompson’s injury, the Warriors have the Disabled Player Exception, which allows them to spend about $9.3 million more on an unsigned player, or about $9.4 million to acquire an expiring contract.

Golden State didn’t use the exception during the offseason, in large part because there wasn’t a great candidate. But as the season goes on, such a player could become available. High-quality role players like Lou Williams and P.J. Tucker have been rumored to be on the trade block, and every year features a decent number of quality buyout candidates.

The Warriors will have to wait if they’re to use the DPE, but if the right player materializes, it could be a difference maker.

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