By Brian Gewecke
Graphic by Yiying Zhang
As of Monday, February 8th, the local Golden State Warriors have played 24 games and are exactly a third of the way through the 2020-21 NBA season. The Warriors were expected to be strong championship contenders this year, but when star shooting guard Klay Thompson was struck with another season-ending injury, nobody was sure of what to expect. This is a young team with only four players still on the roster from Golden State’s five-year finals run. With the team sitting at ninth in the west with a 12-12 record, there is much to discuss with the Warriors’ season so far.
The first topic is the highly-scrutinized Kelly Oubre Jr. Throughout his career, Oubre has developed into an average three-point shooter, but when Oubre began the season with atrocious shooting from deep, basketball fans were quick to write him off. Personally, I believe that the criticism towards Oubre is much worse than he deserves, and he has in reality been a valuable player for the Warriors. Since his terrible start, Oubre has greatly improved his three-point shooting, and his overall percentage will continue to rise as the season continues. The main reason I disagree with most fans on his performance is because I don’t see shooting as where his value comes from. Instead, I appreciate him for two other reasons: his defense and his intensity. In many games early this season, the Warriors have had trouble offensively. The only thing that kept them in these games was their defense, which has been one of the team’s more consistent characteristics. Although it may be hard to see, Oubre has easily been one of the Warriors’ best defenders, and his contributions guarding other wings have been a large reason the Warriors have stayed afloat. Another less obvious factor of value Oubre brings is his intensity. In some games, a team may lack energy, which can drain their ability to play effectively. I am a strong believer that all teams need a player who can always bring energy and compete, and I think that’s exactly what Oubre is. I especially believe that next year with a healthy Klay, should the Warriors choose to resign Oubre, he can bring an invaluable spark of intensity off the bench that can give the Warriors instant momentum.
One player that has grabbed attention early this season is this year’s second overall pick, James Wiseman. Wiseman has had a fantastic start to his rookie season, and there is a lot to be excited about with him. His box score numbers don’t jump out, but so far, no rookie has had Luka Doncic or Donovan Mitchell-like rookie numbers; this simply isn’t one of those draft classes. However, Wiseman’s numbers are as good as those of all the other top rookies, and he has done it in fewer minutes. Starting with the part of his game that has improved the most, he has shown great promise as a potential stretch big. While he probably will never be as good of a shooter as most guards and wings in the NBA, he already looks like one of the league’s better-shooting centers, an uncharacteristic skill for bigs so early in their careers. If he can continue to shoot at a similar level, it will greatly benefit the Warriors’ spacing and will unlock countless new possibilities for their offense. One aspect of his game that I heard about but still takes me by surprise is his incredible speed in transition and ability to take the ball from one side to the other and put down a monster dunk. To put it simply, he looks like a tree in a field that pulled out its roots and began to run like a gazelle. His athleticism has been exactly as advertised, and he is a terrifying lob threat who will do wonders with Stephen Curry and Draymond Green in the pick-and-roll. He has been a very solid rim protector, which is nice to see, and hopefully, that part of his game can continue to develop over the next few years. Wiseman has shown few holes in his game, most of which revolve around foul trouble and a few other defensive mistakes, which are expected of practically all young centers, and are usually fixed as they mature physically and mentally.
Overall, the Warriors have held themselves afloat at 12-12 and are currently at the lower end of the playoff race in the Western Conference. This isn’t terrible, especially considering their expected slow start and the recent plague of injuries that wiped out their centers, in which they’ve surprisingly played well despite the losses. I would expect the Warriors to finish in one of the lower playoff seeds, where they could give any team trouble. For fans looking for a top-level Warriors team, that won’t happen this year, but next year’s Warriors may look like the best team in basketball.