By John Krolik
Special to The Examiner
Over the first half of the season, the Warriors made it clear they have what it takes to win it all this year. Since then, there have been some ups and downs. The Warriors still have a shot at winning their fourth championship of the Steve Kerr era. If they want to do so, a few things will have to happen.
First, Steph Curry needs to be healthy. Actually, that’s an understatement. Curry doesn’t just need to be healthy. He needs to be what he can be when he’s at his best — one of the most unique and unstoppable offensive forces in basketball history. It’s been an up-and-down year for the two-time MVP. He posted career lows in both field goal percentage and three-point percentage. He struggled with injuries, as did Draymond Green, who sets Curry up better than any other player on the team. He spent a portion of the season mired in a serious slump.
None of that will matter if Curry has the kind of postseason he’s capable of having. He didn’t have anything to prove over the course of the regular season. He’s already led a team to the best regular-season record of all time. He broke the all-time record for three-point shots made this season, cementing his legacy as the best long-distance shooter in history.
If the Warriors want to end this season with a championship, though, Curry will need to be an absolute monster. He’ll need to contort defenses into scramble mode without even touching the ball using the threat of his outside shot. He’ll need to have games where he picks teams apart off the ball by flying off and around screen after screen, only to mix it up with the occasional backdoor cut.
He’ll need to have games where he takes the car keys on offense and is the one to get his teammates involved. He’ll need to put the ball on the floor, draw fouls and demoralize teams with his signature array of floaters and scoop shots around the basket. Most importantly, he’ll need to have a few games where he recognizes the Warriors won’t be able to afford losing, realizes he can’t wait for the game to come to him and takes it upon himself to simply not allow the Warriors to lose.
Next, the Warriors need to figure out the best way to use Klay Thompson. Nobody expected Thompson to come back at 100% after coming back from a pair of devastating injuries. However, few people would have expected the Warriors to be realistic championship contenders when he did come back. He’s shown flashes of his old self. His jump shot still looks beautiful. Unfortunately, his lift is gone. The midrange game he’s attempted to add to make up for it hasn’t worked out. He’s not getting the space from beyond the arc he used to get.
Thompson can still get hot, and the Warriors will likely need some stretches where he does get hot. But the Warriors were the best team in basketball for a large portion of the season when he was in street clothes. They can win a championship without him needing to play like he did before his injuries. Thompson is a Hall-of-Famer, it’s great to see him back on the court and he will be a key part of the Warriors at some point in the future. But for right now, it is imperative the Warriors focus on using him in a way that maximizes their chances of winning now, even if that means playing him sporadically.
The Warriors will need Green fully healthy and ready to make an impact on both ends of the floor. He’s the primary playmaker on offense and captain of the defense. But he has struggled with injuries throughout 2022. More disturbingly, he has been passive when he has played. He isn’t the most aggressive player offensively during the best of times, but now he’s nearly a spectator.
Green has yet to score in double-figures in 2022. He’s shot the ball five or more times just twice. After averaging 8.9, 7.6, and 9.3 points per game in December, November and October, respectively, he’s averaged 2.3 and 4.2 points in January and February. His assists are also down; after averaging over seven assists per game for 2021, he’s under six per game in 2022. Green is the key to what makes the Warriors work. He needs to recognize that sooner rather than later.
There’s more. Andrew Wiggins will have to regain the form that made him an All-Star starter. Jordan Poole, Gary Payton II, Jonathan Kuminga and the rest of the Warriors’ bench mob will have to follow up their breakout regular seasons with what will be a trial by fire in the playoffs. The Warriors will have to prove they can handle the league’s true giants — like Nikola Jokic, Deandre Ayton, Karl-Anthony Towns and Anthony Davis — if they run into one of their teams during the playoffs.
If the season ended today, the Warriors would be matched up with Jokic’s Nuggets in the first round. The reigning MVP can make jumpers out to the three-point line. He has a wide array of post moves. If push comes to shove, he doesn’t mind throwing around all 284 of his pounds and playing bully ball. Oh, and he’s the best passing center in the NBA. He would, no pun intended, be a tall task for the Warriors’ undersized front line in the first round.
That’s the outlook for now. The Warriors aren’t the juggernauts they were at the beginning of the season. Things will have to break their way for them to capture the Larry O’Brien Championship Trophy. But if they get those breaks, this team is absolutely capable of going all the way.
John Krolik is a freelance contributor to The Examiner.