The 3 biggest questions facing the Warriors over final quarter of NBA season

For the Warriors, this has been a season full of obstacles, setbacks and revelations.

Just this last week saw head coach Steve Kerr make a meaningful lean into more pick-and-roll on offense, James Wiseman suffer a season-threatening meniscus injury and Golden State close the gap for the ninth seed in the Western Conference. Meanwhile, Stephen Curry is in the midst of a blistering streak of scoring 30 or more points in each of his last seven games, including Monday’s 53-point performance to earn a signature win over the Denver Nuggets. But during this up-and-down season, strong stretches haven’t necessarily led to the breakthrough this team has been hoping for.

With 18 games left for the Warriors this season, including a five-game trip starting Wednesday night in Oklahoma City, here are the biggest questions facing the organization over the stretch run.

What’s the priority after James Wiseman’s injury?

When Kerr handed Wiseman the starting center job last month, it signaled that the organization was prioritizing Wiseman’s long-term development over winning in the short term. But now with Wiseman likely out for the rest of the season with a meniscus injury, what becomes the priority?

Making the playoffs would seem like the obvious answer, although Draymond Green on Wednesday reiterated his lack of interest in the play-in tournament: “I saw that Luka [Doncic] doesn’t like it, I saw that Mark Cuban doesn’t like it. That’s as much as I pay attention to the play-in standings.”

Even if Green isn’t motivated by the play-in tournament, which includes the 7-10 seeds in each conference, the Warriors are in position for one of those spots. According to FiveThirtyEight.com, the Warriors have the ninth-best odds to make the playoffs in the West while the Ringer gives them an 81% chance of making the play-in.

Of course, the other option is to tank. Currently, the Warriors hold the 13th-best odds in the draft lottery, giving them a 4.8% chance of landing a top-four pick. At this point, the most they could slide is probably to 11, which would give them a 9.4% chance of moving up into the top four. But the Warriors don’t have to count on their own pick, necessarily, because they own Minnesota’s top-three protected pick. There’s a chance the Warriors could both make the playoffs and end up with a top-five pick in this draft.

SAN FRANCISCO, CALIFORNIA – FEBRUARY 17: Golden State Warriors’ Juan Toscano-Anderson (95) dribbles against Miami Heat’s Duncan Robinson (55) in the third quarter at the Chase Center in San Francisco, Calif., on Wednesday, Feb. 17, 2021. (Nhat V. Meyer/Bay Area News Group) 

Who earns a role for next season?

As the front office plans for the offseason, the Warriors need to identify how many current players can play a meaningful role next season when the team hopes to vault back into contention. With Klay Thompson set to return, the assumed 2021-22 starting lineup is Curry, Thompson, Andrew Wiggins, Green and Wiseman.

While there are plenty of concerns regarding the starting lineup (Will Thompson return healthy? Will Wiseman take a leap? Will Wiggins be comfortable as a third or fourth option?), there are questions about the rest of the rotation. Kelly Oubre Jr. will be an unrestricted free agent this summer and his return is doubtful. Jordan Poole has been a revelation over the last month and seems poised for a role as a bench scorer next season, while Kevon Looney is reliable and should be penciled in for backup minutes at center.

That leaves about two spots in the rotation for Golden State to figure out. Among the team’s current candidates, Juan Toscano-Anderson, Eric Paschall and Damion Lee probably have the best chances of earning consideration for one of those core rotation roles next season. In particular, Toscano-Anderson and Lee have been solid and fit the Warriors’ ethos, but both are free agents after the season. These final games are important for them if they want to stick around.

Where does Minnesota’s pick land?

The aforementioned Timberwolves pick, protected for picks 1-3, is the Warriors’ best resource to improve this roster. As of Wednesday, Minnesota has the league’s worst record, which would result in a 60% chance the pick conveys to Golden State at fourth or fifth overall. If it doesn’t convey, the pick becomes unprotected in 2022.

If the Timberwolves put together a few wins, those odds could change. For now, Minnesota (14-41) is a half-game away from second-worst Houston (14-40), and 2.5 games from dropping to the third-best odds behind Detroit. It’s hard to see the Timberwolves, who have struggled all season, ascending the standings over these next few weeks.

Whether it conveys in June’s draft lottery or not, the pick will still be a valuable asset on the trade market if the Warriors want to go that route. After last month’s trade deadline, general manager Bob Myers said there were plenty of calls about the pick. There will be several calls after the lottery as well. If the Warriors end up with the pick, prospects such as Gonzaga’s Jalen Suggs or the G League Ignite’s Jalen Green could make an immediate impact, or they could trade it for a high-level rotation player.

Either way, over these next few weeks the Warriors will be watching the standings, not only to monitor their own status, but Minnesota’s as well.

Click this link for the original source of this article.
Author: Wes Goldberg


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