There are only 27 games until the Golden State Warriors season ends.
Make of that what you will. You have two options:
Option A: Woe is me, only 27 more games of my favorite team, then back to the dismal doldrums of the offseason!
Option B: Oh thank god it’s almost over!
Take your pick. There’s no wrong option. These things are subjective.
But the 27 remaining games are objective, and they’re not easy. The Warriors, already sporting the worst record in the league, have one of the most difficult post-All-Star break slates in the league. True, 15 of their 27 games are at home, but 15 are also against teams currently in the playoff spots, with 13 of them coming against teams with a winning percentage exceeding .600.
Whether you’re excited or terrified for those remaining games, this is the NBA, and they will be played, with meaningful impact. Here are the five things that matter most for the Warriors over their remaining slate.
1. The growth of Andrew Wiggins
Andrew Wiggins has looked like a different player in a Golden State Warriors jersey.
As evidence, I present the following extremely scientific table, which has the per 100 possessions stats for Wiggins in his career, in this season with the Minnesota Timberwolves, and during his stint with Golden State.
Oh hell yes. That’s what you love to see.
Except, uhh . . . Wiggins has played 445 games in his career, including 42 with the Wolves this season. He’s played 3 games with the Warriors.
Now I’m not going to take the time to go through old game logs, but it’s probably safe to say that the former first overall pick has put together a few three-game stretches similar to the one he’s had with the Warriors.
Three games is a hilariously tiny sample size. And yet, if you’ve been watching the games, there’s probably a sliver of you that believes his Warriors results to be indicative of real improvement. It’s certainly matched the eye test, though the eye test is just as susceptible to small samples.
Now, there are obvious areas for statistical regression. Wiggins won’t keep shooting north of 50.0% from deep, nor will he lead the league in steals or blocks. That doesn’t mean he can’t settle into a player somewhere between what he’s been with the Warriors and what he was with the Wolves.
Golden State offers a fresh start, a new opportunity, a clean slate, brand new coaches and teammates, and an entirely different offensive and defensive playbook. We’ve seen crazier things that that being the difference between a player underwhelming, and making the leap.
He certainly seems to have believers in the locker room.
Draymond Green on Andrew Wiggins: “I think he can be an All-Defensive player.” pic.twitter.com/ixDvdH5kE9— Anthony Slater (@anthonyVslater) February 19, 2020
2. Is Steph Curry still Steph Curry?
The good news of Steph Curry’s injury is that it’s on his non-shooting hand. In the realm of serious basketball injuries, that’s as good as you can ask for. You don’t expect that to impact his ability, alter his athleticism, or become a recurring issue.
The bad news of Steph Curry’s injury is that it might keep him out until after his 32nd birthday.
Father Time comes for all NBA players, except apparently LeBron James. Is it likely to come for Curry at age 32? I wouldn’t count on it, but it’s certainly at the point where it wouldn’t be shocking. 32-years old was, after all, the last clearly productive year of Carmelo Anthony’s career.
I don’t mean this to sound like a doomsday segment; it’s just that the Warriors are planning on contending for the 2021 championship, and they probably can’t do that unless Curry is still an MVP-level player. Whenever he returns, he’ll have a handful of games to prove he’s still that player.
3. What does the Curry and Wiggins duo look like?
We’ve never seen Wiggins play with a player of Curry’s caliber. We’ve never seen him play with a player that spaces the floor half as well as Curry.
Sure, Karl-Anthony Towns is an elite offensive force, but we’ve never seen Wiggins paired with so much as a decent perimeter scorer, let alone a historically great one.
How Wiggins fares in the second perimeter fiddle role will go a long way towards determining whether his time in the Bay Area will be classified as an “experiment” or not. Furthermore, the more chemistry Curry and Wiggins develop together, the easier it will be to work Klay Thompson back into the fold next season.
4. March Madness
Even with Curry likely returning for 10-20 games, the Warriors will finish with one of the worst records in the league, and, subsequently one of the top selections in the 2020 NBA Draft.
The upcoming draft is currently considered to be extremely weak, but it only takes one player for it to be a strong draft for a specific team. Remember 2015? Look at selections 2-10 (D’Angelo Russell, Jahlil Okafor, Kristaps Porzingis, Mario Hezonja, Willie Cauley-Stein, Emmanuel Mudiay, Stanley Johnson, Frank Kaminsky, and Justise Winslow), and you’d be right to surmise that it was a mostly forgettable crop of prospects.
But the Timberwolves, who took Towns with the first pick, probably view things a little bit differently.
No player has established themselves as a clear top player for 2020, and it’s quite possible that no one will. After all, a number of potential lottery picks aren’t playing college basketball.
March Madness, however, has a habit of crowning royalty. The Warriors will surely be keeping a close eye to see if any prospects prove themselves worthy of becoming a franchise cornerstone - or perhaps more likely, being the key cog in a big trade.
5. Marquese Chriss? Marquese Chriss!
When the Warriors added Marquese Chriss to the training camp roster on a non-guaranteed contract, it felt like his only role was to provide preseason center depth for a team dealing with injuries.
Then he played well, Alfonzo McKinnie didn’t, and Chriss made the team.
Skeptics (myself included) looked decently intelligent when Chriss was mediocre during the first few months of the season, and ultimately waived in order to allow the team to guarantee Damion Lee’s contract.
Then he came back, and the skeptics (myself included) suddenly have egg on their face (happily, I might add, and not just because I like eggs). With Cauley-Stein and Omari Spellman gone, and Kevon Looney perpetually injured, Chriss has taken over as the team’s starting center.
He’s started nine straight games, and in that time is averaging 13.9 points, 6.7 rebounds, 1.3 assists, and 2.0 blocks per game, while shooting 62.7% from the field. He’s been even better during Wiggins’ short stint - in those three games, Chriss is averaging 20.3 points, 10.0 rebounds, 1.3 assists, and 2.0 blocks per game, and shooting 66.7%.
He’s doing all of that without Curry or Thompson. If he can keep playing anywhere near that well, and develop some chemistry with Curry, Chriss will establish himself as something I honestly never thought he could be: a critical part of the Warriors.