To preview the 2021-22 NBA season, we’re taking a big picture look at what this year means to each team in the league. Part 2 on Tuesday consists of just the two teams in the Western Conference that open their season today, and what they need to do in order to be successful by reasonable standards. Look for the rest of the Western Conference teams on Wednesday.
Golden State Warriors
Make it known and feared that you’re back
This is the year the Warriors have been waiting for.
It’s been a lost past two seasons thanks to injuries sustained by Klay Thompson for Golden State. Now, Thompson will be back, and the roster is fitted perfectly for how the Warriors want to play.
It’s all built around Stephen Curry, Thompson and Draymond Green, who in some way could resemble their 2015 selves. Curry is clearly still at the top of his game after nearly winning MVP last season, while Green and Thompson’s abilities are less clear.
Thompson is coming off of two of the worst injuries an athlete can suffer in a torn ACL and torn achilles. He hasn’t played basketball in 2.5 years, and could be a shell of his former defensive self. Green has seemingly forgot how to shoot and space the floor over the years, complicating his offensive role. But he’s still found a niche acting as a screener and passer at the elbow, unlocking a lot for the Warriors’ offense when it needed to give Curry a break. Defensively, Green is still very good and proved a lot of people wrong last year. Steve Kerr has mentioned how he plans to implement Green as a small-ball center again this season, which only advances the notion that the Warriors plan to get back to their roots.
But the Warriors also have other people to take care of. It’s clear James Wiseman needs as many minutes as possible to gain his bearings in the NBA, or Golden State will quickly be looking at a scenario where they drafted the worst possible player with the No. 2 overall pick in 2020. His role is reduced significantly if Green is to play at the five late in games. The same can be said for 2021 No. 7 overall pick Jonathan Kuminga, who could very well be the last wing in the rotation on Golden State’s roster depending on how washed Nemanja Bjelica is (it was pretty rough last year for him).
Golden State has the right formula and plan to contend this year. Now it just needs to execute it. It has well-fitting players – off-ball wings – around its big three. If they fail to live up to the stakes, supplementary scorers like Jordan Poole and Andrew Wiggins stand by to help. There’s the perhaps scary variance of what Kuminga and Thompson could bring to the table, but there’s also stability in Moses Moody and Juan Toscano-Anderson. Ultimately, things come down to Curry again, which probably isn’t what the Warriors totally wanted for him and themselves. But with a better surrounding cast, a performance like last year’s from the former MVP is all the more meaningful.
Los Angeles Lakers
Don’t let the Russell Westbrook trade crater your chances
It would be one thing for the Lakers to come up short of winning the NBA title this year for the following reasons.
The Nets or Bucks – two loaded teams – could take them down. LeBron James could finally show some signs of not being as dominant. A lengthy injury to Anthony Davis cannot be out of the question given his medical history.
But the one thing Los Angeles can’t afford this season is chemistry issues brought on by the addition of Russell Westbrook this summer. As a result of that move – a valid one in the sense of boosting the win total if James plays like a 36-37-year-old should or if Davis does go down – the Lakers’ roster is much worse. Out went flawed but quality players like Dennis Schroder, Kyle Kuzma and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, and in came almost exclusively washed veterans like Trevor Ariza, Carmelo Anthony and Wayne Ellington. All of that was done to accommodate a very high usage, volatile presence in Westbrook who has proved that he plays best when he believes he’s the only player on the court. If James is still capable of playing up to his previous standard, and Davis is healthy, Westbrook’s presence could very well become a liability.
The Lakers must fine-tune his role when the games start to matter this season. Houston reached a decent level of efficiency with regard to Westbrook’s role in the 2020 Bubble, playing him almost like a center in the paint and allowing him to drive to the rim whenever he wanted. This role eliminated Westbrook’s low percentage jumpshots and isolations and instead utilized his incredible athleticism.
It might be tough for the Lakers to do the same with Westbrook this year though. Davis is best utilized in the same area of the court Westbrook is, though his ability to isolate and create from outside the paint is underrated and is probably worth developing more. That said, Westbrook’s presence conflicts directly with what makes the Lakers a dangerous postseason threat. Unless either James is a shell of himself or Davis is out, Westbrook stands to be a liability once again. After an overhaul geared directly toward him, a poor ending to this season due his selfishness is a disaster of epic proportions.
Projected standings in the Western Conference for both teams:
2. Los Angeles Lakers
4. Golden State Warriors
Some sentences about the two: Despite concerns about their postseason viability, the Lakers should be able to roll through most of the Conference during the regular season without Westbrook causing too much disruption and destruction. The Warriors don’t enter the playoffs as favorites per se, but strike fear into every opponent they face and get enough from Thompson and Moody to be taken seriously.