After a year on the back burner, Warriors begin 2021 with Klay out, Curry back at the helm

New faces could give the team new life as season begins

For the first time in a while, the Warriors were relegated to the back burner on the Bay Area sports scene this year.

When 2020 began, their two best players were injured and their eyes were looking at the best NBA Draft prospects instead of the top playoff seeds. Warriors fans are hoping 2020 was just a chance to catch their breath before their favorite players create more once-in-a-lifetime memories.

The 2020-21 season is beginning later than usual due to the delay in last season that pushed back the playoffs. Several key contributors who produced three of the last five NBA champions are back, with a few new faces looking to make an impact.

Here are the top five stories from 2020:

Klay goes down again

1 Klay Thompson missed the entire 2019-20 season after tearing the anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee during Game 6 of the NBA Finals against Toronto. The sharpshooting guard, averaging 19.5 points per game in his career, was eager to return to one of the most dynamic backcourts in NBA history. But those plans took a cruel twist Nov. 18 when Thompson, just before training camp, tore his right Achilles’ tendon. It will sideline Thompson, a career 41.1 percent shooter from 3-point range, for all of this season. Thompson, who scored 60 points in 29 minutes of a 2016 game, is expected to be back for the 2021-22 season.

A new prodigy

2 The benefit of having a really bad season is you get a really good draft pick. After posting the worst record in the NBA at 15-50 — the COVID-19 pandemic cut short the season for all non-playoff teams — the Warriors ended up with the No. 2 pick behind Minnesota (19-45) following the draft lottery. That resulted in the Warriors taking center James Wiseman. The 7-footer, who was the No. 1 recruit coming out of high school, played only three games collegiately at Memphis due to eligibility questions. Regardless, he has impressed in training camp and should be an impact player for the Warriors.

Steph’s return

3 Having missed all but the first four games of the season following surgery on his left (nonshooting) hand to repair a broken second metacarpal bone, Steph Curry returned to the Warriors’ lineup March 5, scoring 23 points in 27 minutes during a 121-113 loss to the Toronto Raptors. Due to the pandemic, it would be the only game Curry would play following surgery. Still, getting their superstar guard and two-time NBA Most Valuable Player back in uniform was a boost to the struggling team and provided confidence that Curry would be at full health entering this season.

A rookie rises

4 As the 41st overall pick in the NBA Draft, not much was expected out of Eric Paschall by the Warriors last season. But injuries and the team’s overall performance opened up playing time for younger players who would have otherwise languished on the bench with a contending team. One of those to benefit was forward Eric Paschall. The former Villanova star started 26 of the 60 games he played, averaging 14.0 points 4.6 rebounds and 2.1 assists. He was named to the NBA’s All-Rookie first team. Paschall was the only player to rank in the top five in scoring, rebounding and field-goal percentage among rookies before the shutdown.

Another new face

5 With Thompson’s injury leaving a void in the offense — and the Warriors expecting to return to a championship level — there was a need to make a move to stay competitive in the Western Conference. So just days after Thompson went down and Wiseman was drafted, the Warriors acquired small forward Kelly Oubre Jr. from the Oklahoma City Thunder for two draft picks. Oubre, acquired by the Thunder just three weeks earlier, averaged career bests of 18.7 points and 6.4 rebounds with the Phoenix Suns. More importantly, he is another 3-point threat, having shot 35.2 percent from long distance and 1.9 3-pointers last season.

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