It’s fair for the Warriors to consider 2019-20 a throwaway season.
A blight on basketball. The revenge of the law of averages. Or, perhaps the most common euphemism, “a gap year.”
For the first time in nearly a decade, they were a “W” circled on the schedule of every opponent. They’re 15-50, with the worst record in the NBA when the season was suspended in March. And as most of the league yearns to resuscitate the coronavirus-interrupted season, they’re practically begging to be euthanized.
But not rinsed away completely.
For amidst the calamity that followed Klay Thompson’s torn ACL, Kevin Durant’s departure, Steph Curry’s fractured hand and the failed D’Angelo Russell experiment, the Warriors believe there were lessons from the mud.
Lessons that go beyond the favorable trade of Russell for Andrew Wiggins, even beyond the mental and physical refreshing afforded their stars.
That’s why coach Steve Kerr has spent a portion of the hiatus studying video from their lost season and forwarding requests to video coordinator James Laughlin for clipping and storing.
“I’ve watched some of our games, mostly to brush up on a player or check out an opposing player for something I might want to explore further next year,” Kerr told NBC Sports Bay Area. “It’s so easy now, because we’ve got all the games on the computer. I can pull up anything I want. So, it’s still very valuable to have access to all of that.”
While Kerr is looking to see what worked and what didn’t, general manager Bob Myers and his player-personnel lieutenants take a more intensive approach. They break down individuals on the roster knowing it will influence strategies for the draft, free agency and trades.
“We learned what some of our young players can do and not do,” Myers told NBC Sports Bay Area. “We took some chances on a lot of guys and had the ability to give guys a lot more rope than we normally would, whether it was our rookies or our 10-day guys, and not live and die with every win or loss.”
The Warriors gave up on guard Jacob Evans as a rotation player. They cycled out big men Willie Cauley-Stein and Omari Spellman when neither was as effective as Marquese Chriss. They auditioned Alec Burks and Glenn Robinson III before trading both while remaining open to the possibility of either returning next season.
They also went through seven rookies, the most since 1992-93.
The Warriors discovered that rookie Jordan Poole may be better suited, at least initially, as a combo guard rather than a pure wing. They discovered that rookie forward Eric Paschall doesn’t flinch. They discovered that Chriss can provide productive minutes, mostly at center. They’re beyond pleased that all three are on modest contracts -- fewer than $5 million annually combined -- and none is older than 23.
“We looked at more developing and because of that I think we grew his coaching staff,” Myers said. “It was tough because the injuries -- not to blame our record on it -- didn’t allow us to fully see what we had or didn't have. We traded for Wiggins and how he played with Steph, well or not well, and Klay being out the whole year, it’s a very incomplete picture.”
The Warriors concluded, definitively, that forward Alen Smailagic is a project and Damion Lee can score off the bench. They believe Mychal Mulder, originally signed to a 10-day contract before getting a multi-year deal, can fill the role previously occupied by Ian Clark and Quinn Cook.
Above all, the Warriors saw enough to believe their inviting culture is unshaken and still can be attractive to players exploring free agency.
“We also learned that, in this league, you might see the top of the mountain but you’re going to see the bottom sometimes,” Myers said. “How are you going to live with it? How are you going to deal with it? How are you going to act? Will you be able to maintain your culture? These things are my best takeaway from this season.
“Through it all, having the worst record in the league, I don’t think we lost our identity as far as people still enjoying coming to work. Or people respecting our processes, respecting what we’re trying to do. I think we maintained that in a big-time losing year. Sometimes when you lose at that level, some of the other foundational things can be stripped away. I think we kept those intact.”
Yet the factors that will dictate their fate in 2020-21 lie with the stars. How successful will Draymond Green be at silencing whispers that he’s an “old” 30? Can Thompson be effective after 16 months to heal and rehab? Will Wiggins take another step toward his highest level?
Curry? The only lesson there is how dreadful the Warriors are without him.