After a nightmare season marred by a seemingly endless cavalcade of injuries, the Warriors thought they were finally back at full strength.
Unfortunately, their stretch of bad luck hadn’t run out yet.
Just weeks before the start of the NBA season, Golden State suffered a devastating blow when star shooting guard Klay Thompson tore his right Achilles tendon during a workout in Southern California, forcing him to undergo season-ending surgery.
“It’s tough,” said two-time MVP and fellow “Splash Brother” Stephen Curry. “I called it a gut punch. It was emotional for sure because you want the best for him.”
With the preseason set to begin later this week, the Warriors now face the daunting task of replacing a five-time All-Star in their lineup.
“We still feel we can be a good team,” head coach Steve Kerr insisted. “I do like the concept of what we have, the length and athleticism we have at every position.”
Indeed, Golden State has the pieces to construct a strong lineup around Curry and three-time All-Star Draymond Green. The Warriors will see the return of former Rookie of the Year Andrew Wiggins from last year’s squad, while also recently acquiring rising star Kelly Oubre from the Suns. Those two wings are the top candidates to fill Thompson’s lost minutes.
Wiggins scored 22 points per game last season between Minnesota and Golden State, adding five rebounds and four assists per contest. After adding some muscle this offseason, he believes he will have his best season yet.
“I definitely feel stronger,” Wiggins said. “I feel fast, stronger. I feel good. Coming into the season, I feel the best I’ve ever felt.”
Oubre averaged 19 points and six rebounds last year in Phoenix and is touted for his tenacious defense and all-around energy on the court, which should make him a perfect fit in the Warriors’ system.
“It fits me,” Oubre said of the team’s style of play. “Fast-pace basketball, lucid basketball. We can all play position-less ball, so it really works well in each and every versatile player’s favor.”
Golden State added another top-level talent with the second pick in the NBA Draft, selecting athletic big man James Wiseman from the University of Memphis. While parts of his offensive game are still raw, his 7-foot-1 frame and 7-foot-6 wingspan, along with excellent footwork and leaping ability, will allow him to contribute right away.
“We had him as our No. 1 player on our board,” said Warriors general manager Bob Myers. “Rarely do you get to pick this high and rarely do you get to draft the player that you like the most.”
Added Kerr: “James’ potential athletically is so dramatic that I imagine he’ll have a chance to step in and help us because he’s so athletic and dynamic.”
The Warriors’ roster is also surprisingly deep, especially after adding veteran guards Kent Bazemore and Brad Wanamaker in free agency. That tandem combined to average 16 points, six rebounds, and four assists last year off the bench.
Golden State is also extremely high on rookie guard Nico Mannion, considered a first-round talent by many experts. The University of Arizona product could become a valuable contributor as the season progresses.
Meanwhile, Damion Lee and Jordan Poole both return after playing significant roles last season due to the Warriors’ injury woes. Lee averaged 13 points, five rebounds, and three assists, while Poole added nine points per game in his rookie year out of Michigan.
In the frontcourt, Eric Paschall is poised for a big season following his impressive rookie campaign. Paschall was named to the All-Rookie first team, averaging 14 points and five rebounds while shooting 50 percent from the field and 78 percent from the free-throw line.
Big men Kevon Looney and Marquese Chriss provide further depth up front, particularly on the defensive end.
“We have a pretty talented team,” Curry said. “It may look different, but we have a lot of youth, athleticism, length, speed and the ability to do a lot of different things out there.”
Added Kerr: “We have some players who we feel can absolutely fill roles. If you look at it, there’s a pretty good roster there to have the depth that we need.”
So count out these Warriors at your own peril. Just remember, they still have arguably the best player in the game in Curry. They still have a three-time All-Star and former NBA Defensive Player of the Year in Green. And they still have a former NBA Coach of the Year in Kerr.
Said Oubre: “If we continue to work like we’re doing right now, everybody continues to stay focused and locked in, the sky is the limit.”
The Warriors open their preseason schedule Saturday at Chase Center against the Denver Nuggets before playing a pair of games in Sacramento against the Kings next week. The 72-game regular season tips off Dec. 22 in Brooklyn where Golden State will face old friend Kevin Durant and the Nets.