Less than a week after being ousted from the playoffs by the San Antonio Spurs, NBA fans are already eager to see what’s coming for the Golden State Warriors next season. Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson captured the attention and the hearts of many around the basketball world in the last month with deadeye shooting and a fast-paced western style of basketball that has the future looking bright in Oakland. With a host of promising youngsters and a still-evolving coach in the colorful Mark Jackson, are the Golden State Warriors the next big thing in the Western Conference? Perry Green and Stephen D. Riley of the AFRO Sports Desk debate the question.
Riley: You have to like what you see when you look at Golden State’s roster. Thompson and Curry are already one of the best backcourts in the NBA, and rookie Harrison Barnes and rugged power forward David Lee have the potential to become a tough front line. They're young, fast and flashy, and if Lee (hip) and Curry (ankle) had been 100 percent healthy—or even moderately healthy—then the series against San Antonio could have easily gone the other way.
Green: Yes, they're a good team but the question at hand is will they be the next great thing coming out of the West—and I just can't see it. Are they good enough to beat the Oklahoma City Thunder, San Antonio Spurs or even the Memphis Grizzlies as presently constructed? I don’t think so. Curry’s becoming a superstar but his size (hovering around six feet) limits his impact. We saw him go for 40-plus points a few times in these playoffs, but once a bigger defender was assigned to him, as the Spurs did, you saw him quiet down. He scored 31 points and shot 3-of-15 from the arc over the last two games once San Antonio put Kahwi Leonard on him. That’s an issue. I can easily see a healthy Russell Westbrook locking him down in next year’s postseason and without Curry’s shooting, Golden State is just an average team.
Riley: You always fail to tell the whole story, Green. Sure, Leonard played good defense, but let’s not forget the serious ankle issue that Curry re-aggravated early in the series, virtually zapping him of any explosion off of it. Look, this Warriors team is really good and they might be one of the deepest groups out West. They have all the components you could want in a team: size, shooting and defense. And their marketability should make them a key player in NBA free agency going forward. They’re already extremely capable of beating any team in the West with Lee on the mend, but once he returns next season and Barnes has a full offseason to improve his game, we’re looking at a new Western power. Think how much promise Barnes showed over a two-game stretch against the Spurs, scoring 51 points and hauling in 17 rebounds. His development along with that surging backcourt is going to be exciting to watch.
Green: There’s just something about this team that doesn't impress me in the end. I’m not sure how committed they are to defense, nor do I see the kind of defensive players needed to handle the Kevin Durants, Westbrooks and Kobes of the West. Everything about them is all offense, and we both know it takes more than shooting and scoring to advance in the playoffs. Memphis plays great defense as well as the Spurs and Thunder. If we’re ranking teams in the West for next year I would put Golden State behind the Los Angeles Clippers with the three aforementioned western teams ahead of them both.
Riley: I see a top three Western team coming up next year. All of these guys are young, and they’ll grow together. We haven't even talked about center Andrew Bogut’s struggles with an ankle surgery this year that caused him to miss 40 games. No one saw the real Golden State Warriors this season. We saw a hobbling Bogut, Curry and Lee try to gut it out against San Antonio, and they still took the series to six games. Mark my words: Golden State will challenge seriously for the Western crown next year.
Green: Oklahoma still has the two most dynamic players in the West in Westbrook and Durant. And with no one on the Warriors’ roster at the moment who can successfully, or even barely, guard those two guys, I’ll hold off on any premature praise.