Five bold Warriors predictions for 2019-20 NBA season: Steph Curry will win scoring title, but not MVP

For the first time since 2014-15, the Golden State Warriors will not enter the season as the prohibitive title favorite. In fact, there are people within the league who question whether Golden State, after five consecutive Finals trips, will even make the playoffs. Kevin Durant is gone. So are Andre Iguodala and Shaun Livingston. Klay Thompson is out until at least the All-Star break, and probably longer than that. 

These are not the Warriors we've come to know. 

Enter D'Angelo Russell as the main offseason acquisition to join fellow All-Stars Stephen Curry and Draymond Green, who will try to buoy the Warriors until Thompson can get back in time, hopefully, for a playoff run. Again, that's no lock. The West is a gauntlet. The Warriors have little, if any, margin for error. If Curry or Green gets hurt for any significant amount of time, forget about it. 

The defense, once the backbone of Golden State's championship anatomy, will have to fight to even be average. Durant, Iguodala and Thompson were the Warriors' three best defenders over the past three years. Without them, Green is all alone as the only elite stopper. Depth, rebounding and chemistry are also major question marks. 

And yet, nobody in their right mind is counting the Warriors out. They have, arguably, the best offensive and defensive player in the league in Curry and Green and a third All-Star in Russell, and Thompson will be back at some point. The cupboard isn't exactly bare. Would anyone be truly surprised if the Warriors hung on until March, got Thompson back healthy in time for a playoff run, and wound up in the conference finals? 

With that in mind, here are are five bold predictions for the 2019-20 Golden State Warriors season.

1. Steph Curry will win scoring title, but fall short of MVP

This is part necessity, part opportunity. Without Durant and Thompson, Curry will have to score big every night to keep the Warriors afloat. As mentioned above, they are not likely to be an elite defensive team. They're going to have to out-score teams, and Curry is the only guy that can lead that charge. 

The opportunity also comes in Durant's absence. It's no secret Curry sacrificed some of his offense to allow Durant the freedom to thrive as an isolation scorer. With the ball in his hands and a get-buckets mandate, Curry has a good shot to top the 30.1 points per game he logged in his unanimous MVP season of 2015-16, the last season before Durant arrived. 

Couple that with the assumption that James Harden's scoring output will come back to earth, at least somewhat, as he makes room for Russell Westbrook, and all the other superstar duos out there that will eat into each other's production, and Curry looks like the smart bet to win the scoring title if he can stay healthy. 

As for winning the MVP, Curry will fall short. The Warriors just aren't likely to win enough games to land him at the top of what is sure to be a stacked board of contenders. LeBron James and Anthony Davis are both going to have a monster year, and while they could end up splitting some of the vote, the fact that the Lakers stunk last season makes one of them winning the award an easier story to swallow for voters. (As opposed to the way Durant and Curry split votes the last three seasons on a team that was great before they got together). 

Harden will be there again on what could be a 55-win Houston team. Giannis Antetokounmpo will have a difficult time topping what he and the Bucks did last season, but keep a tight eye on Joel Embiid or even Ben Simmons, as the Sixers are primed to make a leap to potentially No. 1 in the East and we know those guys' stats are going to be off the charts. If Simmons has really added a jumper, he might be a good dark horse bet right now. 

Either way, Curry will fall just short of his third MVP. He'll be top five in voting for sure, probably top three. But he won't win it on a team that is likely going to struggle to win 50 games (See prediction No. 4). 

2. Klay Thompson will return for the playoffs

The typical recovery time for a torn ACL is 9-12 months. The front end of that would put Thompson back on the court around the middle of March, or about a month before the playoffs start. That even gives Klay some wiggle room to make it back in time for the postseason. You can count on that happening. Thompson is too much of a gamer to predict otherwise. The guy was ready to keep playing in Game 6 of the Finals right after he tore the darn thing. 

This won't be left entirely up to Thompson, of course. The Warriors just gave him a five-year, $190 million max deal, and they're going to protect their investment long term. Also, what happened to Durant when he obviously came back too early will not be leaving anyone's mind too soon. 

Still, the Warriors will make the playoffs, and Klay will be playing when they get there. 

3. D'Angelo Russell will not be traded

If the Warriors struggle at all, or perhaps even if they don't, you can count on a fully operation "D'Angelo Russell is on the trade block" rumor mill once Dec. 15 hits and he can officially be dealt. The Warriors have maintained they have no intentions of trading Russell, but of course they're going to say that. 

Who knows how Russell's going to fit with Curry. Who knows how badly the Warriors will need to address their defense. Who knows how much trade value Russell would even have. A lot of teams would be wary of adding Russell in the first year of a four-year max deal. 

In many ways, this is a short-term vs. long-term decision for the Warriors. They may be able to go out and flip Russell for a package that might put them in a better spot to win right now, but they don't have any other real means of adding a 23-year-old All-Star for a future that at some point isn't going to include a prime Curry, Thompson and Green. 

In the end, I just don't think the Warriors will be able to get enough for Russell, who they paid a hefty price to get in the first place. Honestly, if they were prioritizing this particular season and the defense they'll need to compete for a title, they would've just kept Iguodala. I think Russell stays, at least for this season. 

4. The Warriors will not win 50 games

The West is just too tough, and the Warriors' defense is, to my eyes, a real problem. They'll win a lot of games on Curry's back and Draymond will make them a functional defensive team, but seriously, look at this conference. Start going through the schedule and add up the games you're sure the Warriors are going to win. It's a slog. 

One element we could be overlooking here is the Warriors' home-court advantage, which was one of the best in basketball when they played in Oakland's Oracle Arena, but will that transfer to the Chase Center? The crowd almost certainly will not be the same. 

Beyond that, all it would take is one 10-game injury for Curry or Green and getting to even 45 wins would be tough. My prediction is 48 wins, which lands them somewhere between the No. 6 and No. 8 seed. 

5. The Warriors will win a playoff series

This is where it gets fun. Again, I believe Thompson will be back, and let's say the Warriors end up No. 7 and play, say, the Nuggets in the first round. With Thompson back, who you taking? 

As long as the Warriors avoid the Clippers or the Lakers in the first round, I would bet on Golden State as the favorite against any other Western team -- Portland, Denver, Utah, Houston, any of them. None of those teams has earned the right to be called the favorite against a Warriors team with a healthy Steph, Klay and Draymond. 

If the matchups go right, I could easily see the Warriors, as constructed, making it to the conference finals. If they did end up making a Russell trade for a more defensive-oriented package -- again, I don't think they will, but if they did -- I wouldn't bet against the Warriors making a sixth straight trip to the Finals. At the very least, however, I'm confident they'll win at least one series and take their chances on Curry and Thompson getting smoking hot and pulling a few upsets from there. 

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