When Steph Curry remarked during ESPN’s broadcast of the NBA Draft Lottery that counting on ping-pong balls was an awkward place for the two-time champion Warriors to be, it was a reminder not only of the team’s continued dominance the past half-decade, but the opportunity in front of Golden State to stock up and return next season ready to compete for another title.
By landing at No. 2 in the Lottery and nabbing a top pick in the Draft, the Warriors are in position to upgrade their core and remake the team on the fly after a lost 2019-20 campaign. Or at least that’s what we might say during a typical offseason. Golden State is always going to have playoff aspirations with its core of Curry, Klay Thompson, and Draymond Green, but they’ve shown over the past two years that you can’t just round out top-heavy a roster with cheap G Leaguers and compete against deeper, more well-calibrated teams in the postseason.
We haven’t held the No. 2 pick since 1965.
That selection turned out to be a Warriors legend.
— Golden State Warriors (@warriors) August 21, 2020
The question from now until draft night (which is suddenly up in the air again) will be how the Warriors choose to use this pick and the pieces on their roster — like Andrew Wiggins’ gigantic contract — to add to their championship core. But while that’s the clear course of action for this team, there is no obvious way for them to do so.
It’s actually not all the way accurate to describe 2019-20 as a lost season for Golden State. Through losing all the games they did, the team was able to give adequate development time to the types of young players they struggled to find during their run to four straight NBA Finals. We’re likely to see Alen Smailagic, Eric Paschall, and Marquese Chriss in gold and blue next year. Maybe a shooter like Damion Lee sticks around. And the Warriors’ best players are a big and two perimeter shooter/scorer types.
That brings us to the wing. Golden State lost the 2019 Finals because of injuries, sure, but also because their wing talent could not stack up to Toronto’s. They had no answer for Kawhi Leonard — which, in fairness, few do — but a much bigger concern was that they did not have much of an answer for Fred VanVleet, either. Playing Andre Iguodala, Shaun Livingston, and Alfonzo McKinnie couldn’t cut it without Kevin Durant around.
Golden State landing at No. 2 might actually prevent them from getting help at the position they need most. Early projections, including our own, suggest Georgia’s Anthony Edwards is the favorite to go first to the Timberwolves, and he’s the closest thing to a wing in the top-five. Behind him, teams will be choosing from guards like LaMelo Ball and Killian Hayes as well as traditional rim-rolling bigs like James Wiseman, Onyeka Okongwu, and Obi Toppin.
Bob Myers on Warriors getting #2 pick: "Do we like somebody there? We don't entirely control the draft, but all we have to like is two guys to be happy. So that makes it simpler."
— Anthony Slater (@anthonyVslater) August 21, 2020
The Western Conference next season will still, barring unforeseen turnover, go through Los Angeles, whether it be the Clippers or the Lakers. This version of Golden State’s roster has no answer for that, and the Draft is not the place they’ll find help there.
Wiggins’ contract, which extends for three more seasons and about $95 million, isn’t the only financial asset on the Warriors’ books. Golden State also can use a whopping $17.2 million trade exception to absorb the salary of a rotation-level wing making up to that amount in 2020-21. But ESPN’s Kevin Pelton laid out why that could get expensive quickly, even for a team as willing to spend as the Warriors.
If Golden State does try to use Wiggins’ contract in combination with the No. 2 overall pick to acquire a player who helps them right now more than Wiggins, the most likely route is swapping albatross salaries. The Warriors should be looking for teams which either, A) Have more use for Wiggins’ athletic scoring skill set or, B) Are willing to take on Wiggins in order to get the No. 2 pick. Good luck finding many teams who fit either box. Speaking in purely hypotheticals here: Would the Sixers flip Tobias Harris for the ability to draft someone like Ball, who might help their offense? Might Boston be convinced to part ways with Gordon Hayward and try to develop Wiggins for the price of the second overall pick?
Myers: "A lot of people are talking about trades. The first thing we have to do is rank our board."
— Wes Goldberg (@wcgoldberg) August 21, 2020
The answer to all of that is probably no. Wiggins is in competition for the worst contract in the NBA. Despite the occasional flash of promise, he has never consistently looked like a capable start in the league. In a year in which salary will be more precious than any since the last television deal, the Warriors’ plan to flip Wiggins may be more of a problem than anticipated.
If the Warriors are sold on Wiggins’ potential and don’t use the Iguodala trade exception, the Draft itself could offer a few methods to get better organically. The first is simply to trade back. While the top of the class is short on wings, guys like Auburn’s Isaac Okoro, Florida State’s Devin Vassell, and Vanderbilt’s Aaron Nesmith are projected to go in the back half of the lottery and could compete for a spot in Golden State’s rotation right away.
Wrote this yesterday. Feels pertinent now. pic.twitter.com/YQ0lMQkuLT
— Connor Letourneau (@Con_Chron) August 21, 2020
By moving back into that range (the Pistons, Knicks and Wizards all stand out as potential partners here), Golden State could continue to replenish its treasure chest of draft picks while finding a player who better fills its unique needs. As Pelton notes, the Warriors could also target a younger player like Atlanta’s John Collins with the No. 2 pick rather than someone who matches Wiggins’ salary.
Because it’s the Warriors, we also have to consider the potential that they go really big. After all, this is the team that surprised us by recouping D’Angelo Russell when it lost Durant last summer. In this case, going big would mean dipping into the return for Russell aside from Wiggins and using the future Timberwolves first-rounder they received in that deal. That pick is top-three protected in 2021 and unprotected in 2022, making it a hugely valuable asset considering Minnesota was one of the worst teams in the NBA this season and have a steep climb ahead of them for a playoff spot in the West next year.
A lot will be said on where Golden State winds up in the lottery but I honestly believe the 2021 first (top 3 protected) from Minnesota will have more value. Early projections is that 2021 could be a strong draft. That pick is unprotected in 2022.
— Bobby Marks (@BobbyMarks42) August 21, 2020
If the Warriors find a truly huge trade they like, Wiggins’ hefty salary combined with this year’s No. 2 pick and that future Minnesota first-round pick is a competitive starting offer. Who that player might be is anyone’s guess, but any team with a good player that wants to kick off a rebuild would, assuredly, raise their eyebrows at the thought of that much draft capital.
Regardless of what Golden States chooses here, the combination of bottoming out in a season with a poor draft class and a pandemic causing financial uncertainty for the league means there is no spectacular option to put them on track to continue their dynasty unchallenged. These are the Warriors, though, and if recent history has told us anything, it’s that they’ll make sure to exhaust all options before making a decision on which path to choose.