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Are Golden State still a title contender?

The big talk around ex-champions Golden State this summer was KD leaving for Brooklyn. With all the buzz around the heavy free-agents signings, like Finals MVP Kahwi coasting to LA Clippers, and Russell Westbrook reuniting with his old teammate James Harden in Houston, De’Angelo Russell’s arrival in Bay didn’t get so much hype around it. The young blood has some big shoes to fill in for sure, yet we still don’t know how high his ceiling is.

No denying about the good work of Golden State’s management in dealing with Durant’s situation. They received a talented asset in Russell’s face in the sign-and-trade with Brooklyn. The player averaged 21.1 points per game as a 22-year-old last season, and he also averaged career highs in nearly every statistical category on top of that. De’Angelo couldn’t handle running the show with Los Angeles in 2016-17. He was too young and handled badly some locker-room situations with his then-teammates. He started afresh with Nets though and slowly but steadily rebuilt his self-confidence and reputation as a young prospect around the league. The Nets weren’t world beaters by any means, which was totally expected with the young roster they had. They were 19th in offensive rating, with a 42–40 record. Russell deserves a big share of credit for their 14-win improvement though. So he’s an unquestioned asset for the reigning Western Conference champs. But can he keep the Warriors in the Finals conversation as the third-best player on the roster behind Curry and Draymond (before Klay’s return in action)?

It’s very interesting to see how Steve Kerr will implement Russell in his preferred schemes of screens and fast ball movement. At first De’Angelo appears to be a natural fit. Brooklyn finished 11th in pace last year and Golden State were ranked 10th. The Warriors were 3rd in threes made while the Nets were 5th, and both teams finished in the top eight in three-point attempted frequency. Russell will be free to run and gun with the Warriors, as much as he wants. Of course, Klay Thompson is in another class from the 3, but the lad will do much to help the Warriors to continue bury teams via long-range shooting.

 

 

When it comes to ball-handling, Russell carried a hefty share of Brooklyn’s offense last season with a 31.9 % usage rate, 6th highest in the league. LeBron James’ usage rate fall a tick below at 31.6%. Steph Curry posted a 30.4% usage rate alongside Kevin Durant last season and he can well boost this percentage this season. It remains to be seen how well both players will live together on the court, but Russell can’t realistically expect to be Kerr’s go-to balling guy before Steph, except in certain type of scenarios. De’Angelo was also among the highest volume pick-and-roll creators in basketball last season. Only Kemba Walker logged more possessions in this category, and only Walker and Damian Lillard scored more points in pick-and-roll’s. Russell ran pick-and-roll on 49.9% of his possessions last season but will surely need to cut down this percentage a lot this season, as it’s just not in Golden State’s philosophy.

One very probable possibility is Kerr to use Russell mainly as a scoring and floor leader for the second unit, at least in the beginning of the season. He could save the undermanned second unit, left a tad bare without the long-standing veterans Andre Iguodala and Shaun Livingston.  He pulled the Nets to the playoffs without players like Curry or Green last season. Trusting him to lead Warriors’ second unit is an easy decision and more than many other NBA teams can offer. Curry and Green should be enough to earn a playoff spot alone, why not fighting even for the 4th or 5th place in the West. Adding Russell and the possible return of Klay in March and the things get way rosier for the Warriors nation.  On the other hand, a healthy Klay on roster will most certainly mean reduced minutes for Russell. This won’t be the end of the world for him though. Russell is at his best as an eruption scorer. Just like his former Lakers teammate Lou Williams, a 5 or 10-minute stretch of scoring from Russell can swing any given game.

De’Angelo Russell has a fair 117 million USD deal and a legitimate chance at a deep play-off run. Perhaps he won’t be in Golden State through his full contract. It’s too early to think of that right now though. For the time being one can’t look at NBA Outright market and help thinking that these odds in the region of 12s and 13s for Golden State to pull a surprise and overturn the expected LA dominance in the league, are a shade on the bigger side. Of course, another course of action would be to take some position on the back side, and trade out of it for a profit just before the play-offs (in case of a regular season for GSW) or after the first round.

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