Warriors Players Who Will Determine GSW's Ceiling During 2021-22 Season
So far so good for the 2021-22 Golden State Warriors.
It's only one game, and it wasn't always pretty, but the Warriors still fought their way to a 121-114 season-opening win over LeBron James and the Los Angeles Lakers.
Stephen Curry powered through uncharacteristic shooting woes to tally a triple-double. Jordan Poole kept the scoreboard spinning with long-range splashes and shifty dribble drives. Nemanja Bjelica shattered even the most outlandish expectations with 15 points, 11 rebounds and a game-high plus-20 in 26 minutes.
For already optimistic fans, the victory allowed imaginations to run wild. Maybe the Warriors really could snap out of a two-year playoff drought and right back into the championship race.
Is that possible? Time travel into the future, see what kind of season the following three players have and you'll probably have your answer.
Jordan Poole's push for Most Improved Player award consideration starts now.
The slithery scoring guard had an electric opener, flashing every part of the powerful punch he packs. Defenders couldn't stay in front of him, and when they were a second late to him on the perimeter, he was already firing up a three-ball.
Ten players logged more minutes in the contest. Just three scored more points: Stephen Curry, LeBron James and Anthony Davis. If Poole can put up points like this with any regularity, he could blow the roof off this offense.
The Warriors have an obvious need for support scoring now, and it won't go away even when Klay Thompson returns. Whether Poole is operating as a fill-in starter or a quick-strike sixth man, his point production could be invaluable.
Klay Thompson previously proved himself as the perfect backcourt partner for Curry. Thompson's lethal long-range shot prevents opposing defenses from overcrowding Curry, and Thompson's ability to guard either backcourt position keeps Curry from getting overexposed at that end.
At least, that's how things worked the last time we saw Thompson hit the hardwood. That was in June 2019.
Since then, he's had consecutive campaigns erased by injury: first a torn ACL, then a torn Achilles. He's still on the recovery trail and may not make it back before the calendar flips to 2022.
But, barring any setbacks, he'll return at some point, and when he does, he'll have the weight of Golden State's championship hopes directly on his shoulders. If he's the same old Klay or something close to it, the Warriors are in business and can fight for control of the Western Conference. But if Thompson is compromised as a defender and no longer the same scoring threat, their road to championship contention will be closed.
Last season, it felt like all eyes were on rookie No. 2 pick James Wiseman and whether he could climb high enough, quickly enough to contribute to a championship run. One year later, the 7-footer seems more like an afterthought.
That's partly because he's been sitting since suffering a meniscus tear in April. It's also due to the fact this roster has better depth now.
But it might best reflect Wiseman's uncertain standing with this squad. The Warriors played their best basketball without him last season and really hit their stride once they downsized to a smaller, more spread out style.
That doesn't mean they'll bail on his development, as he's overloaded with physical gifts and natural talent. They could even carve out a significant spot in the rotation (if not the starting five) for him if he flashes much more polish and poise than last season. If Wiseman is anywhere close to the player they think he can be, the Warriors could have the weaponry to turn their biggest dreams into reality.