An Immaculately Researched and Measured Take on the Future of the Golden State Warriors
I watched most of the Golden State Warriors games this season. I think, in the grand tradition of Internet commentary on sporting events, this gives me unmitigated license to assert that my opinions on player evaluation are correct, and that Bob Myers will — any day now — show up at the door of my modest San Francisco apartment, bow down to my superior intellect, and present me with a gift-wrapped box that — upon opening — is revealed to contain his job (I vaguely imagine this glowing, like the inside of the briefcase from Pulp Fiction).
Definitely-not-ridiculous fantasies aside — I’ve been meaning to write up an analysis of the current roster composition for a while, mostly as an exploratory exercise, but also as a matter of historical record (trying to get my low-traffic blog post on Old Takes Exposed). The Warriors are currently on the brink of championship contention, and the next year or two are a huge turning point of sorts — will the team try to go all in around their current core for a couple proverbial last rides, or strip everything down and rebuild? The most recent season itself struck this balance — at any given time, our active roster could have been summarized as “roughly 10 dudes and Steph Curry”, which normally is a situation where you start thinking about ripping some Band-Aids, except Curry is a human supernova of a basketball player who singlehandedly willed the 10ish other dudes to playoff contention. This was a marked contrast not only from the planet-killer Doomsday Machine Warriors of several years prior — the first-breath favorites for title contention, who had a bigger proverbial flashing “PRIME” indicator than an Amazon banner ad — but also from the ragtag band-of-misfits Curry-less Warriors of the year prior, who gave a sneak preview of what the roster might look like sans Band-Aids. (It’s not pretty; we’re in Process territory at that point. I did enjoy watching that team, because they had the same energy as a sports anime — castoffs discovering their hidden talents and magically transforming into legit competitors against much more skilled/established opponents — but unlike the sports anime team, there was no “breakthrough victory” story arc, and they basically lost every game by like 20.) There were a couple points this season where I thought the Warriors would veer hard into a tank, the most significant probably being the game where they got laughed off the court by the otherwise-slumping Raptors by nearly 60 points. I thought that would catalyze the team (and its attitude) in the same way the Dolphins game did with the 2020–2021 49ers season — a case study in which a depleted team with a fringe playoff record got absolutely destroyed by a mediocre opponent, causing the team and its fans to collectively gut-check themselves and eviscerate the last vestige of hope: “uhhhh, okay, guess this isn’t our year.” (Jets fans: I’m sorry in advance re: Robert Saleh. He seems like a good guy, but I don’t have a lot of hope for someone who sees the other team clearly target a practice squad DB several times in a row for big gains and not only refuses to adjust his defensive scheme at all, but instead leaves said DB in 1-on-1 coverage with the other team’s best receiver, which predictably results in a touchdown. I won’t miss having a living embodiment of the shocked Pikachu face as our DC.) Instead, Steph Curry happened, and we settled for making history (as the first 8th seed to be knocked out of the playoffs before they even started).
In a segue to the actual “questionable basketball analysis” portion of this post, I present to you my qualifications for player evaluation:
- I’ve played basketball for 20+ years of my life, and therefore am a real hooper, complete with (definitely not janky) hesi pull-up jimbo
- I have read about and understand advanced analytics, although I likely won’t be citing any of them here
- I’ve played fantasy basketball for one season in the last decade and won my league
- My fantasy team name (in 2017) was “LaMelo 2020 MVP”, which ended up only being slightly premature
- I’ve read a bunch of stuff on how NBA salary cap/roster construction works, but the pertinent parts have mostly failed to stick, so I’m just gonna pretend like I understand contracts and stuff and mostly just not talk about how any of that plays into anything
With this convincing resume out of the way — let’s get started, and take a look at each of the players on the Warriors’ current roster, roughly grouped into buckets of “how much I think we should keep this guy”:
HEART AND SOUL OF THE ROSTER
I don’t need to say a lot here. Multiple times per game, Steph does stuff that makes me audibly comment about how good he is at basketball. I’ll probably tell my grandkids about watching Steph, at which point they’ll be like “yeah okay old man, there wasn’t any real competition in the NBA back before they let extraterrestrial teams play” and talk about how Beeblemax-4’s eFG% vastly outstrips that of any necessarily imperfect human. The only worry with Steph is that he will eventually get old, at which point he probably becomes “merely above average and able to space the floor and hit 3s” rather than “I’m admittedly biased, but he’s the best player in the NBA.”
Probably the dumbest common r/nba take (which is saying a lot) is saying that Draymond is overrated, or a bad basketball player. You’d certainly like him to do more than he currently does; I legitimately wonder about NBA players that are routinely ignored enough by the defense such that they’re essentially dared to shoot wide-open 3s — is that really not-practice-able to the point where you can’t develop it and make them pay? — and Draymond gets this treatment basically every game (plus he seems to be a little less confident trying to finish closer to the rim these days). In return for these shortcomings, he’s an all-world orchestral conductor on defense, the emotional core of the team, and the de facto point guard on half the team’s possessions. I live for weird Draymond box scores, and they almost never tell the story of what he’s actually doing on the floor (even the TO-heavy games are usually “the rest of the team is out of sync and making bad cuts”). I suspect that some of his struggles come from adapting to the luxury (in the KD days) to essentially not have to create any offense, and nowadays, since it turns out teams aren’t quite as scared of Kent Bazemore off-ball, he actually has to do stuff. Fortunately, we don’t have to have the conversation about “can you win a championship with Draymond Green as your third-best player?”
I really like Kevon Looney as a basketball player. In fact, Kevon Looney is pretty much my NBA spirit animal: relatively limited athletic ability, can’t finish at the rim, A+ defender who can sneakily guard nearly anyone, subsists entirely on knowledge of the exact right position to be on the court at any given time. (He’s probably more aware of his shooting limitations than I am, although I kind of wish he would shoot more often; his midrange J is actually pretty decent.) He looks (and plays) like a 40-year-old; it’s really easy to forget that he’s only 25. I don’t think his age actually matters that much, though; you could make an entire decade+ long career of doing exactly what he’s doing for 15–20 quality NBA minutes per night. For a player with the least flashy box score stats of all time, I honestly think the Warriors would have the best change of title contention playing him as a full starter, either at PF or small-ball C.
I’m going to eat my (nonexistent, because unlike in the present, I was smart enough not to write down my thoughts) words on JTA. When I watched the Baby Dubs last season, I thought this guy was one of the easiest cuts on the roster. In short: I wasn’t really sure what he did that qualified as being at an NBA level. Ky Bowman was fast and was a dog (in a good way) on defense; Damion Lee and Mychal Mulder could shoot; Alen Smailagić was, uhh, young (?) — etc. I really wasn’t sure where “defensive effort, questionable shooting, and older than most of the other prospects on the roster” got anyone (and I’m actually a little biased in favor of older players — we’ll get to this in a bit).
Turns out the NBA-level skills that were hiding were: “actual plus defender, jump shot that magically took a huge leap in the offseason, and really high basketball IQ”. Who knew? I want JTA playing solid rotational minutes for as long as all of this lasts (assuming he didn’t just drink Michael’s Secret Stuff in the offseason). This is why I don’t currently work in NBA scouting and player development — the Warriors had more patience than I would’ve, and got rewarded with a solid modern-NBA 3-and-D wing.
Similarly to JTA, I am pleasantly surprised to have been proven wrong here. Unlike JTA, I would have advocated for holding Poole, but he did not pass my personal eye test for most of the prior year; holding was more of an “in a vacuum, it’s really stupid to just immediately give up on your first round pick, even if it looks like they might suck” move. And don’t get me wrong — he did suck in his rookie year. It really wasn’t pretty; dude was a chucker that couldn’t buy a basket in any given game, and a defensive minus; he clearly wasn’t ready for the NBA, and I wasn’t enamored with his future prospects. But then something happened with a year’s worth of G-League stints — he started making shots, but he also learned to 1. play within the flow of the offense (instead of being a black hole that launched off-target shots incessantly) and 2. create, with some nice dribble moves and pullups. A couple times during this season, he’d hit a pretty ridiculous off-the-dribble 3 and, for a second, he’d look like Baby Curry — one of the only players with the audacity to take (and make) that kind of shot. It’s probably a really good sign if, even for (extremely brief) flashes, you’re reminding casual viewers of the team’s best player.
He’s not ready for prime time yet (and the positions where he would theoretically start might be filled already by, uhh, some pretty good players), but Poole is exactly the type of “6th man that can run the bench unit, create his own offense, and singlehandedly win a few games” that the Warriors have been kind of dart-throwing to try and find for a while now.
KEEP, BUT MAAAAYBE SHOP FOR A TRADE OFFER, BUT MAYBE NOT BECAUSE OF CONTRACTS OR SOMETHING
I will not tolerate any Andrew Wiggins slander (and there’s quite a bit online, from various sources). His is a classic tale of mismanaged expectations; if you’re the top prospect for years before college, #1 draft pick, and Rookie of the Year, at what point is it okay that your output is “extremely solid starting quality player” rather than “superstar”?
For the Warriors’ current purposes, Wiggins works great; he’s a plus defender and a super-consistent secondary scoring threat who shows (very occasional) flashes of being able to take over games. He might have been “miscast as Batman, but a pretty good Robin,” but the Warriors have their Batman already; they need guys who can contribute for 30+ minutes a night during the regular season, and not have enough of a detriment in their games that they become totally exposed/unplayable during the postseason. Those guys don’t grow on trees; casual NBA fans, through the misadventures of the 76ers re: Ben Simmons (dating this article extremely specifically), are currently finding out that they don’t grow on max contracts either. “Pretty good Robin” is actually a very reasonable deal in this circumstance; you can win a championship with Andrew Wiggins on your starting roster.
The weirdness with Wiggins comes in that his skillset is juuuust “not-unique” enough to get people to theorycraft trades where he gets shipped off the roster for picks (jumpstarting a total rebuild) or some other starting-caliber player with a potentially more-Curry-complementary skillset (going all in on win-now). My (extremely limited) understanding of the situation is that Wiggins’ contract is somewhat of an albatross, and it’d have to be a pretty specific circumstance of asset availability and reciprocal desire to move him out, which creates a strange situation where he’s not integral enough (or in an obviously contract/circumstance-friendly enough situation) to be considered irreplaceable (unlike the aforementioned players), but in practice, he basically is.
WE’RE ALL IN ON “KEEP” SO I REALLY HOPE IT WORKS
Klay getting hurt and missing the entire season was probably the primary thing that torpedoed any shred of realism in the Warriors 2020–2021 title chances. The entire current roster construction is basically built assuming he can come back and play at 90%+ of where he was at previously (and his absence ended up having some other domino effects, like panic-signing Kelly Oubre). Is this realistic? We (as casual fans) won’t really know until next season starts. KD proved that it’s doable, and I don’t think you worry too much about Klay’s offensive catch-and-shoot game; it’s the defensive “lock down one of the opponent’s best players” contribution where you worry about maybe a lost step, or a slight sapping of lateral quickness being enough to totally derail half of what he brings to a roster. Realistically, he’s the second face of the franchise, a fan favorite, and not getting traded or moved as-is; if things don’t work out here, we’re probably hosed (in that we’ll basically end up running back the construction of the 2020–2021 roster, which wasn’t enough) so it’s almost not worth any consideration of alternatives. I really hope this goes well.
WE’RE PRETTY MUCH ALL IN ON “KEEP” OR SOMETHING CLOSE TO IT SO UHH GOOD LUCK
We really need this guy to pull a Jordan Poole. I don’t buy the revisionist takes that he was the wrong pick; LaMelo had some pretty big question marks himself, and Tyrese Haliburton at #2 would’ve taken a supremely confident front office. The Warriors have been lacking a true center, or really anything more than a patchwork defense of the center position, for ages; it’s been pretty frustrating that you could look at the opposing team’s roster, see a reasonable complementary player like Steven Adams who happened to be a large human being, and pencil the dude in for an easy 20/10. Offensively, the brief stretches where the Warriors have had anybody serviceable to catch lobs have unlocked a whole new dimension and showed flashes of ridiculous potential even when the player in question was only playable for short stretches and had clear deficiencies elsewhere (Javale McGee) or showed nothing to convince me that he should actually be in the NBA (Damian Jones). You (and by you, I mean me/I) often wondered — what would the Warriors look if they had that type of player — an actual competent-level NBA starting center, who could space the floor inside and force defenses to be honest, taking pressure off perimeter shooters, yet also provide much-needed relief for an (often-overmatched) Draymond and Looney in locking down the other team’s big man?
Wiseman could be that guy, at an actual NBA-starter-quality level of contribution. Problem is: he was beyond terrible this year, and actually seemed to regress as the season progressed. He looked lost on defense, made some horrifying unforced errors on offense (stone-hands turnovers, randomly stepping out of bounds), and did basically nothing (other than put up some empty box score counting stats) to inspire confidence in his future NBA prospects. The Warriors were immediately and obviously better as soon as he was sidelined with a torn meniscus. What they do with Wiseman is a pretty big linchpin re: the rest of their long-term plans. It would be dumb to trade him now and give up on a 20-year-old #2 pick at his lowest value… unless they can somehow find a trade partner who offers something reasonable and totally ignores everything that happened last season. They also can’t just run back last year’s strategy if he shows no improvement whatsoever, since he might’ve been the worst player in the NBA. I really hope the front office/player development departments are having regular back-ish channel meetings about what to do here; no pressure, but their course of action here probably shapes the next decade+ of the franchise.
NBA QUALITY PLAYER, BUT NAHHH HE GONE
Kelly Oubre Jr.
Kelly Oubre Jr. is a fuckboi. It’s actually amazing how much that stereotype maps not just to his public persona — essentially nearly trying to be a male IG model, self-anointing a stupid “Tsunami Papi” nickname, with a weird online cult fandom and an undercurrent of homoeroticism claiming that he’s the most attractive player in the NBA (“it ain’t gay if it’s Oubre”) — but to his basketball game. You love his defensive energy; he tries really hard; he’ll randomly take over a game and make you feel special; he’s dumber than a sack of bricks, basketball-IQ wise; he’ll launch stupid pull-up 3s with 20 seconds left in the shot clock; he’ll make a nice defensive stop, and promise not to hurt you again. He blows kisses as a taunt/celebration. He’s visibly moody and body-language-pouts when things are going wrong; his effort disappears in a losing blowout. Teams will fall in love with his potential — a true 3-and-D wing with incredible athleticism — only both the 3 and the D can disappear randomly. News reports claim he might be a diva and unable to accept a role coming off the bench; a week later, he’s publicly okay with coming off the bench, maybe. He swears that he will change; if you can just look beyond everything that’s happened in the past, it’ll work out this time. He makes a ridiculous putback dunk, and all is forgiven. Then he launches a step-back, double-teamed 3 with an open Steph Curry begging for the ball 10 feet away, and the cycle renews itself. (I can’t stress the low-basketball-IQ thing enough. We need to Frankenstein JTA and put him in this dude’s body. Several times during this season, I saw an Oubre play that made me want to pick up a basketball, go to my nearest local park, and spend several hours drilling myself never to do the thing he just did on-court, because as frustrating as it was to me — a casual spectator — I would have been 10 times as peeved if I had been his teammate at that moment.)
Unlike some other members of the Warriors’ roster, Oubre is definitely NBA-caliber. Do I want to see him on the roster next season? Not unless we’re pressed into it, or we can get him super cheap. We have too many tweener guards/forwards (especially with Klay theoretically back) and Oubre (correctly) likely realizes his market value is higher elsewhere. Someone will want to pay him as a starter, if he so desires; there’s always another match, waiting. I’m fine with that; no games, no drama, as it were.
REPLACEABLE, BUT IN VARIOUS STAGES OF “KEEP”, PROBABLY
At the NBA level, he’s kind of just a dude. He’s pretty reliable when it comes to scoring off the bench, and not enough of a horrendous defensive piece that he would get totally exposed in the regular season (I suspect he would if forced to play any type of reasonable minutes in a playoff matchup). Mostly I think he’s cheap contract-wise, and is Steph Curry’s brother-in-law, which seems reasonable for locker room chemistry. I’d give him the slight edge over Mulder and Bazemore as far as “sure I’d like to see him back next year;” as far as 9th/10th man goes, he seems perfectly serviceable.
Paschall is kind of a weird case because he got pretty limited by injuries (and COVID) last season. In theory, he works as a kind of square-peg piece in the round hole of the modern NBA — an undersized, bully-ball, ball-dominant power-forward type that can score off the bench against smaller/worse players (e.g. mostly the exact antithesis of the player type desired by current front offices). He’s not complementary-skilled enough to work in the Warriors’ current starting lineup alongside superstar perimeter shooters, and not untalented enough to be truly replaceable. He didn’t really get a fair shot this year, even as the bench was searching for a reliable scoring/playmaking anchor for most of the year; Jordan Poole might be that guy next year, and then what?
He’s still on a pretty cheap contract, I think, and probably deserves a shot to see if he can function in the Warriors’ ideal rotation to kick off the year. There are definitely other teams in the NBA that would be looking for a player like him, but I’m not sure what the Warriors would get in a trade return that would be better for their roster (although he’d probably be the second piece alongside trading a starter, e.g. Wiggins). I think this is a “hold, but I’d really try to figure out what we’re doing here pretty early on” type of situation.
I’m not bullish on Nico — he wasn’t much of an offensive contributor aside from the occasional nice pass, and wasn’t great defensively either — but as I’ve said a couple times before in this post, it’s really stupid to immediately give up on your draft picks. He showed some nice flashes of playmaking at times this year, although it might have just been because we were so scarred by watching months of Brad Wanamaker that even “high-G-League” level talent seemed like a breath of fresh air. I’d like to see him get a bunch of developmental time in the G-League instead of actually playing NBA minutes, and maybe he gets used as a primary 2nd-unit ballhandler if Poole gets hurt or regresses.
Gary Payton II
If the Warriors don’t sign him and give him extended bench run, someone else should. He was the best player on the court (admittedly in garbage time) in some games this last season. I refuse to believe that “Andre Roberson, but for your bench unit” is a valueless player in the modern NBA. His defensive instincts are off the charts. Who cares if he’s 28? Is his offense really that bad, with no room for improvement? (Apparently it is, but it didn’t seem like it in last season’s limited sample size.) In my amateur-fan opinion: sometimes teams way overthink themselves and end up playing the Nico Mannions of the world over these guys. I know young player development is important, but the siren song of the mystery box should probably be ignored sometimes; GP2 can give you 10–15 minutes a night of locking up the best player on the opposing bench right now.
I’D RATHER NOT
I think, technically, Bazemore was one of our better bench scorers (and, by the numbers, defenders…) this last year. He’s also incredibly frustrating, in that he tends to play outside his own skillset; sometimes he can go off for 20+ and win you a game, but other times he’ll chuck ill-advised shots and make you swear at your TV. For a “better defender,” he also makes dumb fouls ALL THE TIME. He’s older than Damion Lee and Mychal Mulder (although none of them are particularly young, NBA-wise). He’s also anti-vax, and therefore an idiot.
The Warriors will likely pick 1–2 of Lee/Mulder/Bazemore to keep on the roster. I could see it being Bazemore, and that wouldn’t necessarily be the wrong choice, but personally I’d be a little frustrated. I’d rather have a smarter player (BBIQ and otherwise).
I really hope there are advanced stats (that aren’t badly designed; shout out to Total QBR) that take some sort of game-relevance/importance into account. In theory, Mulder is an above-average 3PT shooter off the bench who provides floor spacing and blah blah blah; Theoretical-Mulder is a nice bench piece, but Actual-Mulder is a dude who I’m pretty sure is only capable of hitting a shot in complete garbage time. If you watched, you know. I respect the undrafted-to-G-League-to-contract hustle, but I’d like to see him figure out how to produce meaningful NBA scoring on someone else’s roster.
The Warriors signed him because they needed a warm body who could play basketball. Unfortunately, he can’t play basketball very well. In a parallel universe somewhere, he’s a nice rotation player who stays disciplined on defense and never jumps at pump fakes.
I was on board with this at first, but it’s abundantly clear that he has no idea what he’s doing on-court. He’s not very coordinated, doesn’t understand positioning well, and in most aspects seems like he’s the equivalent of a baby animal; if Smailagić is a deer, an NBA court is the headlights. The experiment of attempting to teach him to play basketball reminds me somewhat of attempting to teach a gorilla sign language; increasingly, it seems as though the ceiling might be “rudimentary infantile competency.” Honestly, the gorilla would probably be more effective on an NBA court, as it would likely scare away the opposing team. (This might be worth considering; by the Air Bud doctrine, there’s no rule saying it can’t play.)