Warriors pick James Wiseman, but lose Klay Thompson in emotional draft day
Dub Nation's beloved quirky Superstar goes down hours before the draft, highlighting this moment as a turning point
This is the second time that a Klay Thompson injury has gut-punched Warriors Nation in under 18 months. As news broke yesterday afternoon - first as a rumor, and then later confirmed to be a likely Achilles injury - I found myself shell shocked.
In a daze, we listened in as the Golden State Warriors selected James Wiseman with the second overall pick. It’s a solid choice, and one that immediately makes the Warriors bigger and more athletic. Wiseman, a 7-foot tall, athletic 19 year-old is a generational athlete possessing the combined size and speed of a generational talent. Paired alongside the Warriors returning stars, Wiseman was going to be a side note as the core veterans came back to battle for their old spot atop the NBA.
But with Thompson’s injury, everything has changed. Will the Warriors wobble through another gap year, or can the front office salvage enough spare parts for Stephen Curry’s machine to return to form - even without his fellow Splash Brother in tow?
The bad news
A tough year just got tougher.
Without Klay Thompson, it’s really hard to imagine Golden State making it the NBA Finals, much less dominating the league without some sort of significant roster upheaval.
Thompson’s return was heralded as the answer to much of what plagued the team last year. And lest we forget, last year’s squad was bad; they finished with the league’s worst record: just 15 wins to 50 losses.
Sure, Curry was out and the roster was in flux, but more importantly, this injury calls into question the future of the entire dynasty. The list of players returning from a significant Achilles injury is a short one, with around 40% of players never stepping foot on an NBA court again. Of those returning, the picture is only slightly more rosy, with all showing “a significant decrease in playing time and performance.”
Klay Thompson is in the first year of a freshly signed five-year, $189 million contract.
Here’s Anthony Slater of The Athletic detailing the call between Thompson, and Warriors General Manager, Bob Myers - just hours before the draft:
Myers detailed the way he learned of the Thompson injury news. It was sometime in the early afternoon. He was at the team’s facility. Thompson called him on the phone. He was in a car driving across Los Angeles, leaving a gym where he feared he might have just torn his Achilles. What?!
The severity won’t be known until Thursday. The Warriors are holding out hope that tests give them better-than-expected news. But it’s bad. Some type of long absence awaits. Myers knew it then because Thompson knew it then. He put Thompson on the phone with the team’s trainers and staggered back into the draft room.
“I had to get back to the draft,” Myers said. “So hard to disengage mentally from it, but we had a lot of stuff going on as far as drafts and trades, potentially other things, so I couldn’t really let my mind go all the way there. But now the draft’s over.”
With players sending thoughts and prayers, and the whole ‘Myers knew it then because Thompson knew it then’ quote, this does not look good.
Kerr and some team staff are en route to LA now to be with Thompson, hopefully they bring his old road buddy Zaza Pachulia and Klay’s dog Rocco, because back-to-back significant injuries like this are absolute soul crushers.
I went to bed sad and woke up sad and thinking about Klay, so I cannot imagine how he and the rest of the team are doing.
Looking to the future
This is why we love the NBA so much: even in the darkest hours, there’s still hope. Coming into the draft, there were a couple of schools of though regarding how the Warriors were going to handle the highest draft pick the team has had in more than two decades. After being forced to pick later, the Warriors of late have opted to go with the “safer” picks - players forecast to contribute right away.
But with this Wiseman pick, the team went with who they thought had the highest ceiling. And when one lets their imagination wander with Wiseman, it’s not hard to see the potential. In a league that has trended towards bigger wings that can shoot, the Warriors opted instead for a huge, athletic center and it was the correct strategic design choice.
The more he can be used as a simple shooter as Curry ages, the better. Having a player like Wiseman (again, just 19 years old) hitting his stride in three years as a dominant big would play well into the Splash Brothers sunset years. The team also appears to be trending in a more athletic direction, following up on some of the rumblings that have been knocking around while everyone watches the next generation of stars coming up through the ranks.
In case you missed it during last night’s live stream, here’s the timestamped link to David Alexander, trainer for James Wiseman. Give it a listen. I know he’s a biased source, but this is a man who knows Wiseman closely and to hear him predict rookie of the year is just the sort of energy we need:
Remember also that the Warriors are holding a prized pick in next year’s draft as well: Minnesota’s lightly protected pick. As long as the Timberwolves don’t finish as one of the league’s bottom three teams, the Warriors could pick as high as fourth in what is purportedly a stacked draft - potentially finding another young player that could develop alongside Wiseman to usher in the next era.
The Warriors also picked two second rounders. Nico Mannion is the one that will become most immediately familiar to fans as he will be competing for a roster spot. A smallish guard with excellent court vision and some nice shooting, he would have to outplay Ky Bowman so will likely spend significant time in the G League. Check him out, he does look like he can play!
The Warriors also selected Justinian Jessup - but he’s commited to play in Australia so doesn’t factor into this season. The perfect tall wing shooter that I was mentioning as the leading architype, he hit well over 40% from deep with a large number of attempts over his career college career. Plus, at 6-foot-7 and known as a solid defender, he may be a name that becomes quite well known in a few years… or maybe not. Second rounders, ya know?
Looking to the present
The Warriors will still enter the season with most of their projected rotation intact. Though Thompson’s absence will leave a gaping hole in the rotation (and my heart), the team still reunites Stephen Curry with a slimmed down Draymond Green and newly acquired Andrew Wiggins. So that’s three of the five positions mostly covered.
The biggest tool in the arsenal is the teams $17.1 million traded-player exception, which will allow them to absorb a contract - if they can find one that they want. The most glaring need is shooting guard, where the current trio of Damion Lee, Mychal Mulder, and Jordan Poole leaves… some room for improvement.
The catch is that it must be used by November 23rd.
The options are tricky here because it is all speculation as far as who is available. But some of the more popular names like Kelly Oubre, or even Evan Fournier won’t come for free. Anthony Slater speculates that though the Warriors are unlikely to part with the Timberwolves pick, they have plenty of other team picks to play with here.
Then there is free agency, where players like Austin Rivers, or Kentavious Caldwell-Pope could be had. The Warriors won’t be limited to just the mid-level exception here either.
Assuming Thompson really is out for all or most of the season, the Warriors can apply for a disabled player exception with would grant them another $9 million(ish) to use on another wing. It gives the Warriors the chance to either sign a player to a one-year contract, trade for a player in the final year of his contract, or to place a waiver claim on a player in the final year of his contract.
As Bob Myers works the phones to try and identify these players, we should start to see roster movement soon. Already a need, the injury to Thompson elevates the chase for another rotation-quality player into overdrive.
I don’t know that I’d call this fun, but for fans wistfully missing the days of the Warriors being underdogs, the 2020-2021 season sure did kick off with a bang. Not the sort of bang I would have liked, but here we are. Underdogs.