Golden State Warriors: 5 Biggest Questions Entering Training Camp

Zach BuckleyNational NBA Featured ColumnistSeptember 19, 2017

Golden State Warriors: 5 Biggest Questions Entering Training Camp

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    The Golden State Warriors are preparing to open their 2017-18 training camp with virtually the same group that took to the 2016-17 NBA title.

    If they confidently let their minds drift, they could entertain some pretty wild questions.

    Like, how do championship rings work as cupcake toppers? Is there any chance 74 wins are on the table? Or do the four All-Stars plan to coordinate their outfits for the midseason getaway?

    Win 67-plus games for three seasons straight, and normal inquiries don't seem as appropriate.

    But as the basketball world returns from its vacation, the Warriors find themselves in the same spot as their 29 peers. There's an 82-game marathon ahead, and Golden State has several on-court puzzles to solve.

    We have put the Warriors' five biggest questions under the microscope and ranked them by significance.

1. Which Youngsters Are Ready?

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    Golden State's payroll—salary alone—sits north of $125 million for at least the next two seasons. Tack on the new deals needed down the line for Kevin Durant and Klay Thompson, and it's almost certain the astronomical roster numbers will continue to climb.

    The Warriors will gladly foot the bill to remain in championship contention. But they need to supplement their super-talented, super-pricey core with inexpensive prospects who can keep the budget down.

    It's worrisome, then, that ESPN.com's projected depth chart is nearly devoid of youth. The youngest player among the first and second strings is Draymond Green, the 27-year-old All-Star with five NBA seasons under his belt. RealGM has three of the four players Golden State acquired over the past three drafts being out of the rotation and getting only limited playing time.

    That isn't the greatest surprise, since the Warriors are rightfully all-in on trying to win now. But in an ideal world, their win-now efforts would be bolstered by their up-and-comers.

    Patrick McCaw is the only youthful fixture in the rotation, having appeared in all five 2017 NBA Finals games as a rookie. But even after a torrid run through summer league, the former second-rounder could struggle to expand his role after the additions of Nick Young and Omri Casspi.

    Golden State's two young centers—Damian Jones and Kevon Looney—seem bound for the bench with Zaza Pachulia, David West and JaVale McGee all still around. Rookie Jordan Bell might find his way to the floor, though, thanks to Golden State-style physical tools and a polished set of defensive skills.

    "Bell's combination of athleticism and high basketball IQ makes him a perfect fit for the way Golden State plays," The Ringer's Jonathan Tjarks wrote. "... Don't be surprised if Bell is playing important minutes in next season's playoffs."

2. Has Anyone Closed the Gap?

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    For everything the Warriors gained this summer—new contracts for Durant and Stephen Curry, a strengthened second unit, sleek new alternate jerseys—they might have relinquished the Association's best starting backcourt crown. As Bleacher Report's Adam Fromal sees it, that title now belongs to the Houston Rockets' new twosome of James Harden and Chris Paul:

    "Under the supervision of noted point guard whisperer/head coach Mike D'Antoni, they'll produce a mind-bending amount of offense.

    "The Rockets can now have an elite ball-handler on the floor throughout an entire game, and both players are capable of either calling their own numbers or setting up their teammates with aplomb. It's almost unfair, especially because Paul can fill the Patrick Beverley role and cover up for his new teammate on defense."

    Does that push the Rockets past the Warriors overall? Of course not. It's still two All-Stars against four, and Paul is the only player among the six on the wrong side of 30. But his addition, coupled with a focused effort to improve the defense, has pushed Houston nearer to Golden State's stratosphere.

    Russell Westbrook has an All-Star running mate in OKC again after the heist of Paul George. And the Minnesota Timberpups could quickly mature with Jimmy Butler, Taj Gibson and Jamal Crawford suddenly onboard.

    Out East, the Cleveland Cavaliers might not miss Kyrie Irving too much if Isaiah Thomas gets healthy, and Jae Crowder is exactly the kind of malleable defender needed to battle the Warriors. The Boston Celtics, meanwhile, followed a 53-win season by adding two All-Stars (Irving and Gordon Hayward) and another top-five pick (Jayson Tatum, No. 3).

    Even if no one crept close enough to the Warriors to matter, at least the competition behind them should be fierce.

3. How Is Coach Kerr Feeling?

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    Steve Kerr has seemingly enjoyed a charmed existence as the Warriors' skipper. During his three seasons at the helm, Golden State has never won fewer than 67 games or missed the NBA Finals. He's added two championship rings to the collection he started during his 15-year playing career.

    But truth be told, it's been a painful ride. He had back surgery to repair a ruptured disc in July 2015 and has been dealing with complications ever since.

    Chronic headaches, resulting from a spinal cord leak, have been so debilitating they have forced him off the sideline multiple times. He missed the first 43 games of the 2015-16 season, then stepped away from coaching for 11 games during the 2017 postseason.

    There's been speculation the condition could lead to an early retirement. Kerr says that's not what he envisions, although he readily admits he's not at 100 percent.

    "I'd love to say that I'm all better, but not the case," he told Scott Ostler of the San Francisco Chronicle. "I'm feeling better, having a good summer, relaxing. ... I fully expect to coach all year. That's my expectation."

    The Dubs have a way of distorting Kerr's importance when he's unable to participate. They went 39-4 under then-interim coach Luke Walton to open the 2015-16 campaign and won all 11 contests lead assistant Mike Brown oversaw this past playoff run.

    But that success is a testament to the cohesive environment Kerr has helped create. While it can operate without him, it flows most efficiently when he's calling the shots.

4. Will the Turnovers Ever Go Away?

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    Marcio Jose Sanchez/Associated Press

    The buildup to Golden State's offensive highlights and lowlights are strikingly similar. Both see possessions turned into tightrope performances—exhilarating, enthralling and wholly unnecessary.

    Talent typically trumps the risks. No amount of long-range pull-ups, hot-potato passes or cross-court lobs ever derails this offense for long. Each season under Kerr has produced a higher offensive efficiency rating than the last—from 109.7 in 2014-15 (second) to 113.2 last year (first).

    But the Warriors' commitment to chasing roundball extravagance yields its share of head-scratching blunders. They aren't above uncorking a behind-the-back pass into the stands or firing impossible alley-oops into a crowd.

    They've never ranked among the league's top half in turnovers per game under Kerr. And they haven't finished better than 14th in turnover percentage. As much as Kerr's clipboards don't want to hear this, this issue won't be easily solved.

    Giveaways are as much a part of the Golden State experience as Splash Brothers' cannonballs and stonewall small-ball defense.

    "Some Warriors turnovers are a function of carelessness," wrote FiveThirtyEight's Kyle Wagner. "But others are more about the team's identity since Kerr arrived, what the younger Jim Mora used to refer to as Michael Vick's 'athletic arrogance'—the belief that they are the best team in the world and capable of summoning any necessary magic on the court."

5. How Concerning Is the Threat of Complacency?

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    Seizing the NBA throne is one thing, but successfully defending it is a different kind of monster.

    Since 2000, only the Los Angeles Lakers and Miami Heat have been repeat champions. The San Antonio Spurs—the franchise synonymous with hoops consistency—have never celebrated back-to-back titles.

    Maybe the Dubs are different. After all, the last time they were coming off a championship, they set historic marks for most wins to start a season (24) and most victories overall (73).

    But that campaign featured a catastrophic Finals collapse, not a return to the mountaintop. And even with Golden State favored in this race, a lapse in effort, energy or intensity could lead to another disappointment.

    "The biggest challenge is complacency," Kerr told the Athletic's Marcus Thompson II. "We've been to the Finals three years in a row. And for our core group, ... that's a long haul, and you just cannot lose your edge in this league."

    Staying razor-sharp means fighting against what the Warriors already know. They won a league-best 67 games last year and improved over the summer—through internal continuity and external additions. It's human nature to ease up on the accelerator when no one is visible through the rearview mirror.

    Outside of the unpredictable injury risks that threaten every team, Golden State faces no steeper hurdle than contentment.

                   

    Unless otherwise indicated, all stats from Basketball Reference or NBA.com.

    Zach Buckley covers the NBA for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter: @ZachBuckleyNBA.