How many championships are the Warriors winning with a trio of Steph Curry, Klay Thompson, and Damian Lillard? It's a fair question to ask because ultimately the Warriors were only one pick away from making this "Big 3" happen. This young core would have had a young Oklahoma City Thunder feel to it but the best part is that the team would have run the table while the trio of Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook, and James Harden was together.
The Warriors had a chance but were just one pick behind the Portland Trail Blazers. If Harrison Barnes would not have been taken that fateful night, what would this team have looked like?
Leading Up To The Draft
From 2009 to 2012, the Warriors own one of the best all-time draft selections over a time period. In 2009, the Warriors selected Steph Curry and then drafted Klay Thompson in 2011. The "Splash Bros" are a universal icon and the foundational pieces of the Warriors dynasty that ran from 2015 to 2019, which included five trips to the NBA Finals and three championships.
In 2012, the Warriors owned the No. 7 overall picks in the draft, which was ultimately used on Harrison Barnes. The Portland Trail Blazers selected Damian Lillard with the No. 6 overall picks. With that said, Barnes was a critical role player for the Warriors when the team won an NBA championship in 2015. Not to mention, the Warriors selected Draymond Green in the second round who rounded out the "Big 3" with Curry and Thompson. However, the Warriors nearly had a "Fantastic Four" of Curry, Thompson, Green, and Lillard but were just one pick-off.
A Hometown Legend
Lillard is a native of Oakland and had the opportunity in 2016 to join a superteam. He infamously posted on Twitter "hell no" when given the opportunity of joining a superteam. Lillard has been trying to carve his own legacy in Portland. He is currently the second-leading scorer in the NBA, was undoubtedly the MVP of the bubble last season, and is approaching Clyde "The Glide" Drexler's record in points.
We saw what Chicago did when Derrick Rose played for his hometown and won an MVP. We aren't saying that Lillard would have won the MVP with the Warriors, especially with having to play with a two-time MVP in Curry. If Lillard did accomplish that feat, he would have potentially pushed Curry aside, who practically owns the Oracle at this point, and be the true face of the Warriors. Turning Curry into the No. 2 option on the team would be a tall task but Lillard might have been the only one that could have done it.
An Even Greater Dynasty?
We know what the Warriors accomplished from 2015 to 2019 but could the dynasty been formed sooner? When Curry, Thompson, and Green played together from 2012 to 2014, the team was merely a first-round exit. It wasn't until Steve Kerr came to town and set a new precedent on winning. Thompson wasn't the version we see today until his fourth season, which was 2014. Green was not the player he is today until 2015.
What makes all of this interesting is that Lillard has been great since his rookie season. In 2012, he averaged 19.0 points and 6.5 assists. That was followed by 20.7 points and 5.6 assists in 2013 and 21.0 points and 6.2 assists in 2014. Curry's breakout season was in 2013 when he averaged 24.0 points and 8.5 assists. This would have given the Warriors two of the best passing guards in all the NBA, but three of the best outside shooters too.
Remember, Andre Iguodala joined the Warriors in 2013, so that means that realistically the Warriors dynasty would have had at least two additional seasons to compete for an NBA championship. With Lillard in the league at this time, he would have been playing on his rookie contract so all the bench pieces and foundational pieces would still be intact. The only substitute would be Lillard for Barnes.
The core of Durant, Westbrook, and Harden made an NBA Finals in 2012 in their third season together. The 2013 and 2014 NBA Finals would be roughly the second and third seasons for the group all playing together. With this talent, the team could have likely qualified for at least two NBA Finals. Then when it came to decision-making time, they would have been able to choose between Lillard and Durant. With a championship in hand, Lillard might have stayed and played hometown hero.
In the end, it's a great theory, but we also have to remember that Mark Jackson was the coach at the time. He couldn't win with Curry, Thompson, and Green. Kerr led the nearly same squad to the NBA Finals and won in his first season. It's hard to assume that Jackson would have gotten the most out of this group either.