Three bold Warriors predictions entering 2023-24 NBA season

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Three bold Warriors predictions entering 2023-24 NBA season originally appeared on NBC Sports Bay Area

In the spirit of writing the most unique analysis ahead of the 2023-24 NBA season, I present to you … three bold Warriors predictions. But first let’s do some casual self-depreciation and take a look back at last season’s bold predictions.

To start off, my first bold prediction was the Warriors having four All-Stars. Wrong. They had one, with Steph Curry being Golden State’s lone representative.

Next, I predicted Jordan Poole would be the Warriors’ second-leading scorer. So, so, so close. Still, I missed the mark. Curry led the Warriors with 29.4 points per game, followed by 21.9 from Klay Thompson. Poole was right behind the Splash Brothers, putting up 20.4 points per game.

However, Poole did lead the Warriors in total points (1,675).

Finally, I had the Warriors winning at least 53 games, their win total from the previous season. So much for that. They won 44 regular-season games and were the No. 6 seed in the Western Conference a year after taking home the title.

After all that, it’s time for the latest iteration of three Warriors bold predictions. Remember, they’re bold for a reason. Don’t judge too much on these.

Only six players averaged 20 or more points per game in this year’s preseason slate. The list includes Giannis Antetokounmpo (20.0), Kyle Kuzma (20.5), Joel Embiid (21.0), Tyler Herro (21.7), Jonathan Kuminga (21.8) and Desmond Bane (22.0).

Kuminga, 21, is by far the youngest of the above group that includes two NBA MVPs and a Sixth Man of the Year. On a team that features Curry, Thompson and Andrew Wiggins, Kuminga isn’t going to match his preseason scoring averages in the regular season, but the efficient way in which he put up points should be a major reason for optimism. Kuminga in five preseason games shot 54.7 percent from the field on 12.8 attempts per game, 45.8 percent on 3-pointers and 75.7 percent at the free throw line.

This past season, Kuminga shot 52.5 percent from the field, 37.0 percent from deep and 65.2 percent on free throws.

The third-year leap looked real in the preseason, and the vibe is that it was far from a mirage going into the regular season. Kuminga was the Warriors’ fifth-leading scorer in his second season, averaging 9.9 points per game. How many will he average in Year 3?

Let’s say 12.0 on the short end and 15.0 on the high end. Pascal Siakam averaged 16.9 points in his third season, but he was in his age-24 season. Kawhi Leonard averaged 12.8 points in his third season with the San Antonio Spurs, his age-22 season. Jaylen Brown averaged 14.5 points in his age-21 season and Kuminga had pre-draft comparisons of all three stars.

His ability to get to the free throw line and his improvements there should be a big weapon for the former lottery pick. Shooting 37 percent beyond the arc last season shouldn’t be ignored, and his shot looks quicker, fluid and more confident. Defense and rebounding still will be main focuses, but Kuminga is going to have some big scoring nights, especially when playing alongside Chris Paul.

Kuminga will be in the mix for Most Improved Player, and even see some love for Sixth Man of the Year.

The Return of the Defense

There were many barriers that were in the Warriors’ way of repeating last season, and at the top of the list was their defense taking such steep steps backwards.

When the Warriors and Boston Celtics met in the 2022 NBA Finals, the series wasn’t only a battle of two high-powered offenses. It also was a clash of defensive titans. Boston’s 106.2 defensive rating was the best in basketball, and Golden State was second with a 106.6 defensive rating. The Warriors also only allowed 105.5 points per game in the 2021-22 season, the NBA’s third-best mark.

But this past season, they ranked 14th in defensive rating (113.4) and 21st in opponent’s points per game (117.1). The Warriors have to get back to being a top defensive team if they’re going to have any chance of contending again, and they should be much improved in that area.

The in-house additions of Gary Payton II and Andrew Wiggins should help from the start. Those two had a 100.0 defensive rating when they shared the court together two seasons ago. Last season, they didn’t play together once in the regular season.

Kuminga stepped into Wiggins’ role as a lock-down on-ball defender and is motivated to take on the opposition’s top scorer. Draymond Green will be on a mission to prove he’s still one of the NBA’s elite defenders, if not the best in the game. Age is a concern, though the prediction here is the Warriors finish top-10 in defensive rating and points allowed per game.

Best of the West?

This isn’t a regular-season wins prediction. Still, I’ll put it in ink: There were only two 50-win teams in the Western Conference last year, and the Warriors have every reason to be one this season.

They’re no longer relying on Anthony Lamb or Ty Jerome to play heavy minutes. The non-Steph minutes should look the best they have in years, whether Paul starts or comes off the bench. Golden State is a smarter, higher-IQ team than a year ago and are better served for the fourth quarter and clutch time. Again, this isn’t about regular-season win totals.

From bettors to NBA executives, the Warriors going into the regular season generally are regarded as the fourth-best team in the loaded West behind the Denver Nuggets, Phoenix Suns and Los Angeles Lakers. Those three teams amount to the defending champions, the team that sent the Warriors home early last season and a new “super team” the Warriors will see on opening night.

Now it’s prediction time: The Warriors will make it to the conference finals. What happens after is for another story at another time. Steve Kerr’s squad is built for the playoffs and has the depth, intelligence, balance and talent to be in position for their Big Three – Steph, Klay and Draymond – to have an opportunity to compete for a fifth ring while simultaneously helping Paul finally get sized for one of his own.

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