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The Warriors gains could be greater than their losses

Much has been made of the players that Golden State lost in free agency, but what about their improvements?

Klay Thompson shooting over Donte DiVincenzo Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

On the surface, it’s easy to be down on the Golden State Warriors offseason. Just 24 hours into the start of free agency, the team had already lost bench stars Gary Payton II and Otto Porter Jr., as well as key veteran Nemanja Bjelica.They replaced those three with Donte DiVincenzo and JaMychal Green — good players, but clear downgrades.

Back of the bench/beloved locker room figures Damion Lee and Juan Toscano-Anderson also departed; rookies Patrick Baldwin Jr. and Ryan Rollins arrived to take their place.

And that’s been the offseason.

For a pure asset transaction standpoint, it’s a net loss for the Dubs, at least in the short term. There are, however, long term wins to be made in how much money the team is saving.

Now I am emphatically on team it’s not my money. I find exactly zero joy (negative joy, actually) in watching billionaire Joe Lacob save money.

But we can’t avoid the reality, and the reality is that saving $60 million this year greatly increases the chances that Lacob and Co. are willing to hand out contracts to keep both Andrew Wiggins and Jordan Poole next offseason.

So that’s a win.

Yet even beyond that, it’s easy to find areas where the Warriors got better, even if, on paper, the roster is worse. Let’s take a look.

The return of Klay

Yes, I know Klay Thompson returned last year. But he was justifiably rusty after missing two and a half years. And he was also justifiably trigger-happy as he tried to shoot the rust away.

He’s re-acclimated to the speed and physicality of the game now. His nerves about returning are gone, and he’s probably much more comfortable and at ease playing than he was before. Much of the rust has been cleaned away, and he has a full offseason and training camp to prepare for the upcoming season.

The Dubs should get more than 32 games from Thompson this year. They should get better than 38.5% shooting from distance, the first time in his career he dipped below the 40.0% mark. The can anticipate a better offensive season than 54.7% true shooting, his lowest mark since his second NBA season. And the defense should take a step forward.

Improved chemistry

The Warriors won a championship in part because of their outstanding chemistry. Thompson, Steph Curry, and Draymond Green simply know how to play together.

Yet even though that was on display, it was also on display that they shared the court for a grand total of 11 minutes last regular season — and zero minutes in each of the two prior years.

Their chemistry and familiarity was good in 2021-22. It can be even better with a full offseason, training camp, and regular season.

Another Poole leap

Jordan Poole was significantly better in his second season than in his first season. And then he was significantly better in his third season than in his second season.

At some point that trend will fade, but history tells us that Poole — who didn’t turn 23 until the offseason, is younger than Luka Dončić and Trae Young, and only two months older than Ja Morant — is still in the process of making gains.

He’ll go into the season confident after performing like an All-Star for the second half of last year. He’ll go in inspired, with free agency and a healthy-sized paycheck waiting for him at year’s end. And he’ll likely emerge an even better player than he was this year.

Consistency from Wiggs

I’m known around these parts as being highly critical of Andrew Wiggins, and for that I apologize. Well, no, I don’t really. I call it as I see it, and it’s perfectly fine if we don’t all see eye to eye.

Yet despite being lower on Wiggins than most, there’s no denying that his 2021-22 was awesome, especially if you factor in his playoff performance.

I think his 2022-23 will be better.

For all the praise Wiggins got, he had an absolutely brutal two-month stretch. From February 3 through March 30, Wiggins averaged just 14.6 points, 5.0 rebounds, and 2.5 assists per game, while shooting 41.0% from the field, 31.9% on threes, and 55.0% on free throws. He scored 20 or more points just three times during that stretch (in which he played in 22 of the team’s 25 games), and his defense faltered — with Green mostly sidelined, the Warriors defensive rating was 17th in the league.

There are a lot of potential reasons for the slump. Wiggins was playing on a great team for the first time in his career, and in the spotlight, on national TV, much more than he’s used to. He was named an All-Star for the first time in his career, and suddenly had the type of attention and expectations that he hadn’t seen since his rookie year. The structure of his offensive game took a hit as he helped welcome Thompson back into the fold.

Whatever the reason, Wiggins had two bad months in an otherwise strong year. I expect him to repeat the latter part of that, and not former.

JK and Moody 2.0

Jonathan Kuminga and Moses Moody weren’t ready to be regular contributors as rookies, and that shouldn’t be surprising. But they did flash enough last year to make you think that they could be solid players this season.

Moody plays with control beyond his years, is a solid defensive player, and can make it rain from distance. Kuminga has the kind of must-see athleticism that, when harnessed, unlocks an entirely new dimension for the Dubs.

Both will be better this year. And likely one — or both — will good enough to make a serious impact.

Wiseman!

In case you missed it, James Wiseman has already played four Summer League games this year, which is four more than he played last Summer League and last season ... combined.

It’s not clear what role he’ll play on the Warriors, or how good he’ll be. But with Steve Kerr firmly chasing wins now, Wiseman will only play when it benefits the team, so his addition to the roster can only be a positive.

This is all the rosy outlook, of course. The Warriors lost more than just Payton, Porter, Bjelica, Lee, and Toscano-Anderson. Mike Brown has departed. Curry, Thompson, and Green are all a year older. There’s a chance that Wiggins or Poole regress instead of moving in a forward direction. Kevon Looney, plagued by injuries earlier in his career, probably won’t play 104 games again.

And of course, the West looks harder this year, with the returns of Kawhi Leonard and Jamal Murray.

Still, for the losses the Warriors endured, they very well might have made more steps forwards than backwards.