After a busy offseason, the Golden State Warriors are finally gearing up for a new NBA season. The Warriors will host their media day tomorrow, with training camp opening the following day and their first preseason game in Portland on 4th October. Here are five of the biggest unresolved questions that should become clearer over the next few weeks.
How much does Avery Bradley have left?
The Golden State Warriors didn’t end up using their taxpayer Mid Level Exception, partly due to the enormous luxury tax bills they are facing, but also to allow them to retain flexibility for any veterans who come on to the free agent market later in the season. That leaves them with an empty spot for the 15th man on their roster. Training camp will host an intriguing competition for that spot. Mychal Mulder, Gary Payton II, Langston Galloway, Jordan Bell, and Avery Bradley are the names in the frame.
Mulder, Payton and Bell are well known to the Warriors. Of those, Payton probably has the inside track as he can give them some tenacious defense on point guards, something they are lacking on the roster as it stands. Mulder is eligible for their two-way contract if he passes through waivers, so they can likely keep him around for backcourt depth. Unless he gets a better offer, Bell is probably destined for Santa Cruz as a mid-season insurance policy should injuries bite.
But the late signing of Bradley to a training camp deal injects a different dimension. He’s only 30 years old and has long been one of the most disruptive point-guard defenders in the league who has a respectable career three-point mark of 36.3%. Last season saw him receive spotty playing time in Miami during their early season struggles and then Houston, who weren’t that interested in playing veterans to put it mildly.
Back in a situation where he is needed to play a specific role on a team that hopes to contend, Bradley could turn into a very useful addition. Last time he was in that sort of situation, he was an important part of the pre-bubble Lakers. If he’s healthy and raring to go, the Warriors won’t find a better option for 15-20 minutes of hounding opposing ball handlers in important games.
Which version of Otto Porter Jr shows up?
Talking of veterans with question marks hanging over them, Otto Porter Jr is probably the biggest swing factor of their offseason additions. After a couple of injury plagued years on bad teams, Porter Jr has a chance to resurrect his career in Golden State. If he’s in shape and healthy the Warriors get a 40% three point shooter who can guard multiple positions, play within the flow of their offense, while creating shots for himself and others.
That’s a big if though. They may well get the Chicago Bulls version. Porter can still knock down shots and play intelligently, but defensively he’s more limited and what talents he has left only count when he’s actually on the floor.
The likelihood is they’ll get something in between. It’s not unreasonable to hope for better health and more motivation from Porter in a much better situation. He won’t lose that combination of shooting, size, and intelligence. But if he’s able to recapture some of his athleticism and stay on the floor, he’ll be a big addition for the Warriors who desperately need intelligent veterans who can knock down shots and make plays.
How quickly can the next generation contribute?
The other swing factor is how quickly the Warriors can get their next generation of talent into a place where they can contribute positively. Jordan Poole is already part of the rotation and is pegged for a big role. He’s their best option to create offense on the second unit, and he’s also likely to handle some of the playmaking duties alongside a returning Andre Iguodala.
The Warriors draft went better than expected, but rookies rarely contribute on contending teams. Still, Jonathan Kuminga had a promising summer league debut and clearly adds a dimension that the Warriors don’t have with his physical play. Coach Steve Kerr recently came out with an intriguing comparison for Moses Moody in Trevor Ariza, highlighting a potential early role as a 3-and-D wing.
There will certainly be minutes available if their young players can earn them, especially with Thompson out for the early part of the season. The real key to getting on to the floor will be their defensive effort and decision-making. That potentially bodes a bit better for Moody, who plays a more limited game with poise beyond his years, than Kuminga who has genuine superstar potential but plenty of rough edges to refine.
The biggest question mark remains James Wiseman whose recovery from injury means he can only take part in limited ways in training camp and will likely miss some of the early season. Given his bumpy rookie season and lack of clear fit with the Warriors’ small ball system that is far from ideal.
There is a route to driving quicker development for Wiseman though. Unlike last season, there will be a full G-League schedule rather than a contained bubble. The Warriors could use Wiseman’s injury recovery as a reason for an extended run with their Santa Cruz team. Their schedule starts on 5th November, and has a clear run of six games in quick succession in the first two weeks, before a gap of only one game in two weeks, and then another four quick games in a row from 3rd-9th December. That seems tailor-made for some early extended run for Wiseman, and possibly Kuminga too.
What does Klay Thompson’s progress look like?
The biggest factor determining the Warriors chances this season and beyond is what Klay Thompson looks like when he finally returns to the floor. He’s not played a single minute since his legendary walk back down the tunnel to shoot that free throw in Game Six of the 2019 NBA Finals. So much of Golden State’s future rests on his successful return.
Thompson won’t be back for the beginning of the season. The Warriors are reportedly targeting a December return. But he will be there in training camp, ramping up his conditioning and practicing in some drills. It’ll be the first time quite a few of his new teammates will actually see him in action. There should at least be some early clues as to how he’s progressing and what kind of boost the Warriors might expect deeper in the season.
What is Andrew Wiggins’ vaccination status?
The story of the week has undoubtedly been the vaccination status of Andrew Wiggins. Per city rules, all Warrior players must be fully vaccinated to play home games at Chase Center, with no exemptions. In an email the San Francisco Department of Public Health clarified that full vaccination means “two weeks after completing the entire recommended series of vaccination (usually one or two doses) with a vaccine authorized to prevent COVID-19 by the FDA”. To date there have been multiple reports that Wiggins hasn’t had one dose of any approved vaccine.
The Golden State Warriors stressed today in an email that “as has been the case during the entire pandemic, we will comply with any regulations and protocols put in place by the San Francisco Department of Public Health.” In a worst-case scenario this situation would mean the Warriors would not have their leading minutes player from last season for half of their games this season. But Wiggins has 15 million reasons to get himself vaccinated, and when push comes to shove it’s hard to imagine he won’t do it given the enormous stakes involved.
Wiggins will definitely miss some preseason games at Chase Center though, and could potentially miss some early regular season games too depending on what vaccine he gets, and when he does decide to do it. That is far from ideal and a potential major disruption to the Warriors’ early season when they’ll already be missing Thompson and Wiseman and are facing a home-heavy schedule with 9 of their opening 12 games at Chase Center. Given that, Wiggins’ status will continue to be a major focus of the next few days.