NBA's 2020 Watch List: The Warriors Wildcard and the Next Chapter for Draymond Green
The basketball world just lived through the wildest NBA offseason of all time. Now we’re on the other side. A dozen stars have changed teams, contenders have been transformed all over the landscape, and next season's NBA looks more wide-open than it has been for the past 30 years. Now, as the basketball world passes the time at the end of the offseason, I can’t write another winners and losers column, and we can all survive without a final round of offseason grades. Instead, what follows is an attempt to imagine where things are headed. Who are the five most interesting players in next year's NBA? Whose stories will shape the league we're watching in 2020?
The end of the 2019 Finals looked like the end of an era in Golden State, and the Warriors went out like champions. Klay Thompson and Steph Curry put together an evil shooting performance in the fourth quarter of Game 5 to steal a win on the road and then, in Game 6, in the final game at Oracle, the team left it all on the court. Klay played one of the best games of his career before an injury cut it short. Then he hobbled out of the tunnel to hit free throws on a torn ACL and told Steve Kerr he just needed a two minute rest before he'd re-enter the game. Draymond Green finished with 11 points, 19 rebounds, 13 assists, and eight turnovers—one of the most Draymond lines of all time. Andre Iguodala hadn't been hitting shots for more than three weeks, but he added 21 points on 9-of-15 shooting.
It all came down to the final possession, when Curry missed a good look from three, but losing the game wasn't the point. The fight from the Warriors in Game 6 was the culmination of a month-long effort from the Core Four—Steph, Klay, Draymond, Iggy—to keep everything rolling. They were a shell of a team by the end, but they refused to make it easy for Toronto. They went out with more pride and dignity than ever. That's what mattered.
I recognize that all of the above makes me sound like Matt Millen narrating an NFL Films documentary, but it's how I feel. That game was awesome. The final night at Oracle will stick with me as much as anything else this team has accomplished over the past five years.
Now it seems like everyone expects the Warriors to crash back to earth. Some of that's understandable: Kevin Durant is in Brooklyn. Iguodala is in Memphis. Shaun Livingston was waived. Klay is currently out indefinitely and rehabbing with Rocco. And obviously, we already lived through the poetic final night of the dynasty. It's time for a new reign to begin somewhere else.
I get it—but I don't know. Of the 8,000 conversations we've had about the chaos in the NBA this summer, not enough have focused on what's still possible for the Warriors at the end of all this. Steph is 31 years old. Klay and Draymond are 29. Looney is back, and I still have no idea how they signed him for $15 million over three years. Also: Trading for D'Angelo Russell after losing Durant was one of the most incredible moves of the summer. Russell isn't a perfect fit, but to get a 23-year-old All-Star for a superstar free agent who was leaving anyway? That's insane. The Cavs got a trade exception and a handful of middling draft picks when LeBron James left in 2010. Most teams get nothing. The Warriors got an All-Star guard who can either help next season or eventually be traded for depth that solidifies the rotation for years to come. Maybe both. The availability of that move was almost as absurd as the cap spike that allowed them to sign KD in the first place.
It just seems like we've underplayed what's possible going forward. Steph will have a lot more help than he had by the end of the Finals, and if Klay comes back healthy, Golden State can enter the playoffs looking every bit as scary as anyone else. I'm a terrible gambler so maybe this means nothing, but for next year's title, an underdog Golden State at +1200 seems like a better option than the favored Clippers at +350. Or last week, for example, these post-free agency power rankings had the Blazers ranked above Golden State among West contenders. Think about that: Portland lost every plus defender on its roster and replaced them with Hassan Whiteside, Kent Bazemore and Mario Hezonja. That team is a safer bet than Steph Curry, Draymond Green, Klay Thompson, Kevon Looney, Willie Cauley-Stein, Alec Burks and D'Angelo Russell?
Granted, the second half of that sentence gets a little shaky. And yes, now that you mention it, I did have to think long and hard about whether to include Glenn Robinson III in Golden State's top seven. Maybe that explains some of the skepticism among the mainstream. No one should pretend that the Warriors are sure thing. According to his agent's timetable, Klay could be back anywhere from December to March; that's one variable. Steph played 69 games last season and only 51 the year before; that's another. Nobody has any idea what to expect from Russell in the Warriors system, and for that matter, coaching next season's supporting cast will be a pretty interesting test for Steve Kerr as well. So, two more variables there.
What's clear, though, is that in a league full of unknowns on the way into next season, the Warriors loom as the biggest wildcard of all. It's possible that Game 6 was never the funeral we thought it was. Everything we saw that night could be what keeps this team at the top of the league longer than anyone expects.
The most telling variable will be Draymond. At his best, he's the backbone of an elite defense and the playmaker who helps unlock the best of Curry and Klay on offense. He's also entering his eighth year in the league, and he's spent his entire career banging against guys twice his size, jeopardizing his longevity. At this point in his career, it's an open question as to how durable he can be playing eight months straight for a team that needs him at his peak. And speaking of his peak ... Last season, Draymond averaged 7.6 points per game, his lowest numbers since his second year in the NBA. He only took 6.4 shots per game. He shot 28% from three, his worst percentage since his rookie year.
He's coasted through the past three regular seasons. Some of those cruise control months were self-preservation after playing up a position for basically his entire career. Some of them were a natural by-product of going to the Finals for five straight seasons. None of it should be criticized. Draymond turns into the best kind of maniac when it matters, and the legend of his six-week weight loss program was one of my favorite stories of last season. Still, Golden State will need more from him if the goal is continue contending over the next few seasons.
His IQ is off the charts, and that'll always be true. With timing, length, and a relentless motor, he's one of the most gifted defenders the league has seen in 20 years. On offense, he and Steph been killing teams with the pick and roll for the better part of a decade. But he's also notoriously stubborn, his personality can be exhausting, and his prime has always seemed like it will be more finite than that of his peers. He looked unstoppable against a handful of helpless Portland big men in last year's Western Conference finals, but he was outplayed by Raptors bigs several times over the course of the Finals.
He's eligible for a contract extension this summer and a deal along the lines of what Al Horford just got in Phildelphia—four years for between $97 and $112 million, depending on incentives—could make sense for both sides. Green has said he'd be open to an signing extension before free agency, but he also said in 2018 that he doesn't plan to take a discount on his next deal. If no extension materializes in the meantime, he'll hit free agency next July. Forecasting that market is its own adventure. Most of the contenders that could justify adding him won't have the cap space to make a credible offer.
I could pretend to have some special insight into what happens next, but I don't. I have no idea. I'll just say that a few years ago I was talking to a friend who's been watching Draymond since his days at Michigan State. We were arguing back and forth about something Green had done during a Warriors game when finally my friend said, "Look, if you're going to be 6'6" playing against centers for 10 years in the NBA, you gotta be wired a little different."
Draymond has been wired different for his entire career. Now we'll see how far that can take him. There are good reasons to bet against him over the next few years, and several ways this could go wrong. But hasn't that always been true? If Draymond is the Hall of Fame legend that everyone assumes him to be, he may have another chapter left. There's no question that he will have one more opportunity to prove a lot of people wrong. And make no mistake: if he's able to stay at an elite level, the Warriors can, too.