The Warriors will open the season with one starting lineup, and they almost certainly will finish it with another.
That’s because five-time All-Star Klay Thompson will be watching on the bench when the ball tips off on Oct. 19 against the Lakers in Los Angeles. Until he is cleared to practice without restriction, which the Warriors hope will occur sometime in December, his place in the starting lineup will belong to someone else.
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Here’s who our Insider, Monte Poole, thinks gives the Warriors the best chance of winning with Thompson still sidelined. Want to see some other options? Remove a starter and replace with a reserve to see how that affects the average offensive and defensive ratings. The video above explains the ratings system. NOTE: Rookies are not selectable since they don’t have any ratings yet.
That would be third-year combo guard Jordan Poole, who played very well over the final two months last season and continued to show progress, particularly on offense, during the preseason.
He’ll almost certainly join two-time MVP Steph Curry in the backcourt for what should be one of the more dynamic scoring duos in the NBA. The remainder of Golden State’s best season-opening starting five: Andrew Wiggins at small forward, Draymond Green at power forward and Kevon Looney at center.
The offense will continue to revolve around Curry, who last season led the NBA in scoring, averaging 32.0 points per game while also topping the league with 337 3-pointers. He’s a certified superstar who at age 33 submitted a season strong enough to make him one of the three finalists for the MVP award. He excelled with a rotating cast of backcourt mates with either Kelly Oubre Jr. or Kent Bazemore being the primary partner.
Poole is an altogether different player. He lacks the defensive credibility of Oubre or Bazemore, but is a much more versatile offensive player, able to score from all three levels — at the rim, from midrange, beyond the arc — yet still has the handle and vision to create shots for teammates.
You may recall how the Warriors started last season, being blown out in three of their first five games. Oubre’s wretched shooting was the most visible weakness, but it was clear he struggled at making the adjustment required to play offense alongside Curry. Poole is good at it, and should get better.
Having Green and Wiggins at the forward spots gives the Warriors a stout defensive presence, which should benefit both Curry and Poole. Draymond was a finalist in the Defensive Player of the Year voting, so he remains a linchpin on that end. Wiggins, who came to the Warriors with a reputation for being a poor/indifferent defender, was surprisingly proficient on that end. He faced the league’s toughest wings, as well as such players as LeBron James and was a net positive.
Starting Looney at center is based on two things. One, he has learned to make up for his lack of verticality — he’s not much of a jumper — by using leverage and instincts. Two, he knows what is expected and generally provides it.
There might come a time when 7-foot-1 James Wiseman moves into the starting lineup, but that won’t happen at the start, as he continues his rehab from knee surgery last April. He could be ready sometime in November, at which time coach Steve Kerr will decide whether to stay with Looney or go with the vertical dimension that Wiseman brings.
It’s a sure thing that Klay will enter the starting lineup the moment he comes off the injured list. As good a partner as Poole might be for Curry, Thompson is ideal in every way.
Which is why this team should be appreciably better in March than they will be in November.