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Asking Dub Nation: Was this Warriors season a success?
A year full of wild ups-and-downs forces us to weigh expectations vs reality.
The Golden State Warriors’ memorable but playoff-less 2020-2021 campaign has Dub Nation buzzing during the first week of the postseason. As a succession of white-knuckled fans disembark from the rollercoaster that was this year, we’re also watching the teams that made it into the tournament and realizing most of those squads ain’t really that scary. And after a month of the Warriors being labeled as the team nobody wants to play in the playoffs, it’s rather anti-climactic for our fanbase to watch Luka Doncic and Damian Lillard go crazy while the best player in the world Stephen Curry is relegated to the golf course.
Damned play-in tournament. Technically the Warriors were the 8th seed and in a normal year would be facing the #1 seeded Utah Jazz in the first round, spamming them to death with Curry pick-and-rolls. For all the talk about this team becoming “We Believe 2.0”, there’s a stronger parallel to the 48-win GSW squad that failed to qualify for the playoffs the season after We Believe. Since 1983-1984, no team has won more games while missing the playoffs. Pour one out for the OG homies Baron, Monta, and Captain Jack.
With that in mind, we’ve got to weigh out the pros and cons of the season to suss out our feelings. There’s few NBA fanbases as emotionally connected and hypercritical of their team as Dub Nation is (especially on the internet), so this conversation is going to be a fascinating revelation of our collective psyche.
The question is: was the ‘21 season a success for Golden State?
I sent out the open question and got responses back from the brilliant Apricot, our blogging godfather Nate P., and Thomas “Dr. Tom” Bevilacqua the author of “Golden Age: The Brilliance of the 2018 Champion Golden State Warriors”.
You cannot see this season as anything other than as a success. What the Warriors were able to achieve this season without their second-best player and key secondary offensive weapon in Klay Thompson alone secures it. While a fully healthy Steph-Klay-Dray tandem makes the Warriors a title contender, not having Thompson out there (and having to hastily make up for his absence with imperfect players) made that an unrealistic goal.
But beyond Thompson's injury before the season even started, the bad injury luck that plagued the Warriors throughout this season--losing Marquese Chriss, James Wiseman, Kelly Oubre, and Eric Paschall for extended stretches, including the play-in tournament--makes the fact that they were able to have as good a record as they did all the more remarkable. Considering this should provide us with some important perspective, particularly regarding how we should define success for the Warriors this season.
While not getting into the "actual" playoffs is a bit disappointing, the Warriors having the eighth-best record in the conference given the bad injury lucky they had should be considered a win. Those losses in the play-in tournament were frustrating but also it was a matter of bad/unlucky breaks. I also think the injuries played an outsize role there as the thin roster was stretched beyond the breaking point. Turnovers and defensive lapses are indicative of an exhausted team, understandable given how depleted the Warriors' roster was and how hard they had to grind to lock up that eighth-best record. It doesn't take away the sting of the losses to the Los Angeles Lakers and Memphis Grizzlies but the somewhat flukey/unlucky quality of both those losses should not make us overlook the good work the Warriors did to get into that position.
It's also worth noting the big steps many players took this season for the Dubs. Jordan Poole was nothing short of a revelation with his play after going to the G League bubble and Juan Tosacano-Anderson looks like a player who can provide solid minutes off the bench for a good team. Certain segments of the fan base love to roast GM Bob Myers and head coach Steve Kerr, but they found and coached up these players so we should acknowledge that.
Also, Andrew Wiggins' development continued on the path started when he joined the Warriors near the end of the 2019-20 season and Wiseman certainly showed flashes of greatness before his season-ending injury. Finding these players and getting them the experience playing with Stephen Curry in big games (the play-in tournament losses leave a bad taste in everyone's mouth but getting wins over the Utah Jazz and Phoenix Suns in that last week of the season was pretty impressive) will pay dividends in the future. Based on what that could do for the 2021-22 Warriors, a team that will have a healthy Klay Thompson to play with Stephen Curry and keep opposing defenses from throwing three guys at him, I think this season has to be considered a successful one for the Warriors.
For all these reasons and because Stephen Curry played like... Stephen Curry, this season should still be considered a success for the Warriors. It maybe wasn't the success Warriors fans dream of but it was the most realistic success possible and this team achieved that.
Daniel channeling the ghost of former coach Mark Jackson
Absolutely not! Trust me, I know what it takes to get Steph Curry to the playoffs with an unproven cast around him. You’ve heard me say “Hand Down, Man Down” before, but this Warriors season can be summed up in “Coach Trash, Team Trash”. Mama, there goes that lottery pick! #FireKerr
I just think it’s weird that people try to attribute enormous significance to EVERY season — for a team that just went to five straight finals in recent memory... this was never gonna be a standout season ... so why put all that weight on it? Like would it really have been THAT much better to pull a CP3 and flame out in the first or second round? I’m just not clear what people are going for here ...
It’s a matter of perspective and time frame. If you look at it on a geological time scale, 300 million years ago, dinosaurs were — hang on, that’s too much perspective. Start over.
From the perspective of GSW being one shot away from beating both LAL and MEM to get into the playoffs, that feels very much not like a success. Especially given that every team is maimed or on the verge of health collapse, then it’s looking like healthiest team left standing is going to win it all, and why not GSW? Any team with Steph Curry has a puncher’s chance at winning. We are getting the Random Ending at the season level for the whole league.
From the perspective of GSW being not very good in March and losing Wiseman to injury and feeling like nothing was going to get done this season, this season was a success. Steph started being MVP 2.0 Steph. Poole started being the volume scorer GSW needed. Our Guy Juanito got back the minutes he had earned which Kerr had been lending to Oubre and Wiseman (taking for granted that OGJ would be able to handle the benching for the greater good). GSW found its winning groove.
From the perspective of GSW coming into the season with a raw mess of a team, they discovered:
Wiggins is a solid glue guy and third scoring option, and a very good on-ball defender. And that he can get you 18 points a game without using up too much of the play calls on the first unit, and by being The Man on the second unit.
Wiseman is about two leaps away from being as useful as JaVale McGee, but maybe already made one leap just as he got injured. Simplify the game for him and let his game grow slowly.
Kerr made adjustments emphasizing more pick and roll and installing new actions to counter the junk Box-and-1 defenses (remember those?) and the triple-blitz-Curry defenses. And they could do that while still finally playing competent Kerrball in the last third of the season.
By playing Wiseman and Oubre enough, they could tank down to just outside the Top 10 and keep their pick.
Steph can still play at an MVP level, even with an inert offense around him.
Draymond can be an elite defender and a great point forward, and has also remained a negative threat to score.
Our Guy Juanito belongs in the league and can be a micro Draymond as a spot starter or a sixth man.
Poole, when he has fully stacked his confidence, can be a Lou Williams volume scorer type on a team that had little scoring punch.
Paschall needs a leap before he can be a threat, now that the league has figured out the ultra small ball center gimmick.
Mannion and Mulder need another year of seasoning.
The team has guts and never gives up. Out of the disaster of the first month, they actually turned into a Top 5 defense, which is freaking amazing.
*I* would say they discovered that Oubre can’t be a scoring option on the team. Not everyone agrees with me here. I’m not sure what GSW thinks. So if Oubre wanted to be an awesome utility player and a sixth man who scores opportunistically and is the defensive stopper and sometimes closer, I think he could have a place. But I’m guessing he and other teams think he can be more than that in a different situation, for more money.
So GSW discovered a lot about what they had on the roster and what they need going forward. So maybe the year was a disappointment, but it was an expected disappointment. Is that a success? With a whole season of setting the stage like that, success will be judged by how next year goes and by the quality of the draft and/or the trade of the draft picks..