The National Basketball Association free agency period has already seen a whirlwind of player movement since its start on Monday. The Miami Heat are spending money like casino high-rollers, the Chicago Bulls are going all-in on a brand-new backcourt, and the Los Angeles Lakers are grabbing spare parts to support their Rolls Royce of superstars. Meanwhile, the Golden State Warriors have slowly added, restricted by the salary cap and a tax bill that seems to mount by the minute. However, the Warriors recent veteran minimum acquisitions of Otto Porter Jr. and Nemanja Bjelica signal an emphasis towards floor-spacing that supporters seldom saw last season. Coupled with first-round picks Jonathan Kuminga and Moses Moody, Golden State’s stockpiling of length and versatility has them trending in a positive direction.
Last season, the offense was wildly inconsistent. It relied on outlying shooting performances (ahem, Stephen Curry) and had to work too hard for each basket. The 2020–21 season marked just the second time since Curry joined the franchise that a Warriors team was below league-average in offensive rating– the other was the forgettable and injury-plagued 2019–20 season. The return of Klay Thompson will make things easier, but having multiple shooters who can play either forward position was absent last year. Both Porter Jr. and Bjelica stand 6’8” or more, each shooting three-pointers 38.7% or better for their careers. While Porter Jr. has not played a full season since 2018, Bjelica has played 60 or more games in five of his six NBA seasons.
Fans should not expect either to be finishing games for the Warriors (unless the season takes a bad turn), but no team ever complained about having too much shooting. Neither are bulwarks but each will give Golden State’s bench some offensive punch it has not had in two years. Last season, the non-Curry minutes were brutal — nearly 18 points worse per 100 possessions — and second-chance opportunities were tough to come by as the worst offensive rebounding team in the league. A more efficient three-ball is one way to mitigate that lack of scoring. Plus, outside shots create long rebounds, giving the Warriors bench unit a better chance to scoop up loose balls.
The other advantage is that Golden State will maintain its option of a midlevel taxpayer exception. Porter Jr. was earning max money until this offseason while Bjelica just completed the final year of his 3yr/$20.5 million contract. Neither expected to receive what they’d earned previously, but Porter Jr. reportedly turned down midlevel money to play for Golden State. Bjelica could also provide value for his salary. Both of the $1.7 million cap hits give the front office a chance to be creative in filling out the roster. The two areas still glaring for Golden State remain a backup point guard and a big man.
In-house options behind Curry are Jordan Poole, who might play more on-ball this season after becoming an improved playmaker down the stretch of last year. Nico Mannion looked sharp in the Tokyo Olympics as a member of the Italian national team but probably needs more seasoning. The free-agent guard pool is deep, but a quality piece like Victor Oladipo or Danny Green is probably out of the Warriors price range. J.J. Redick was a rumored acquisition last offseason before Golden State traded for Kelly Oubre, but a 37-year-old spot-up shooter coming off his worst shooting season in eight years does not inspire confidence. Meanwhile, the void in the middle will be determined by the growth (and health) of James Wiseman. If he can show more consistent flashes of the two-way ability that made him the 2020 number two overall pick, then the job drifts between him and Looney. If not, a shot into the frontcourts arm is necessary. The market is bare at that position, but a free agent like Ed Davis is a proven offensive rebounder. He doesn’t move the needle much, but is a contingency plan if the injury bug bites the Warriors’ big men.
As for Golden State’s lottery selections, Kuminga and Moody should not be expected to factor in immediately. However, that does not mean that one — or both — cannot contribute by the season’s end. Kuminga is undeniably more of a project at this point, but his physical tools at least make him a defender. Moody, despite his age, is nails as a spot-up shooter and can switch on defense. Both are years away from realizing their potential, but the seventh-oldest NBA roster will benefit from an infusion of youth.
Even if the Warriors do not add another impactful piece in free agency — they have already lost out on, notably, Nicolas Batum, Patty Mills, and George Hill — this roster projects as formidable. Its rebounding deficiencies are presumably lasting, but the offensive inefficiency from a year ago will undoubtedly improve. That makes the ceiling enticing. Championship aspirations are probably far-fetched in a stacked western conference, but a first-round victory is currently not out of the question. While concerns about the Warriors’ timeline to compete for another title are understandable, realistic expectations for the upcoming campaign are by no means ugly.
Since the 2019 Finals, Golden State’s direction has been cloudy. Now, fans can assess the front office’s actions instead of interpreting vagaries. The Warriors have accumulated length, shooting, and potential, a proven recipe for success in the modern NBA. Golden State now has that for both present and future, although the players will not change. The Warriors roster cannot be overhauled for at least a couple of years with the number of albatross contracts. What you see is what you get, but clarity is valuable. This team is not the frontrunner of recent memory, but it has a clear trajectory to becoming a formidable challenger.