Someday soon, the rich will get richer.
After missing the 2019-20 season with a torn left anterior cruciate ligament and the 2020-21 season with a torn right Achilles tendon, it looks like Klay Thompson will make his long-awaited return to the Warriors this Christmas. Several months ago it was reported that the Warriors were targeting Christmas Day for the return of the five-time All-Star, but recent reports indicate it could come a game or two earlier.
Thompson appears to have confirmed those reports.
Injured Warriors guard Klay Thompson told IG that he hopes to be back “in the next few weeks. Maybe a month. “
– Marc J. Spears (@MarcJSpears) December 3, 2021
The Warriors already have one of the best records in the league this season without Thompson. It remains to be seen how he responds after missing two straight seasons with major injuries, but he gives Golden State even more star power in its quest for another championship.
How good could the Warriors be with Thompson? That depends on a few factors.
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What can the Warriors expect from Klay Thompson offensively?
This is your reminder that Thompson is one of the best shooters we’ve ever seen.
For his career, Thompson is averaging 7.0 3-point attempts per game and converting them to 41.9 percent. He’s already ranked 21st all-time in 3s and 13th in career 3-point percentage. Few players instill as much fear beyond the 3-point line as Thompson does. Even fewer run as hot as he does.
MORE: Six Iconic Moments to Promote About Klay Thompson’s Return
Most of Thompson’s 3-point attempts throughout his career have been of the catch-and-shoot type, but he’s much more than just a standing shooter. Before his injury, he was the league’s leading scorer off the screens, peaking in 2018-19 with a career-best 7.3 points per game on those plays.
Sometimes a simple pindown is all it takes for Thompson to loosen up …
… but he’s one of the most active off-the-ball players in the league.
Like Stephen Curry, Thompson is a genius when it comes to manipulating screens to his advantage, wearing down teams with his constant movement. There’s a reason he was consistently among the league leaders in distance traveled on offense.
Thompson was also a prolific scorer in transition. He didn’t create much for himself in those situations – he didn’t need to do it with Curry, Kevin Durant and Draymond Green pressing the pace – but he applied constant pressure by running the court with mistakes and turnovers.
It’s hard to imagine Thompson not being an excellent standing shooter when he returns, but after two lower leg injuries, it will be interesting to see if he can continue to do the things off the ball that made him so special.
Of course, Thompson is more than a 3-point shooter. He has become more comfortable exploiting the occasional misalignment at the post, and is more than capable of punishing teams for getting too close to him at the 3-point line with mid-range pull-ups and shoves to the basket.
Not that he was ever a great jumper, but Thompson had become one of the most efficient finishers in the basket for his position.
Once again, it will be interesting to see how the injuries he’s sustained impact that part of his game.
“I anticipated coming back without much rebound, but I feel like I can get it back,” Thompson told reporters recently. “Fortunately for me, my game is not based on jumping 12 feet high … My game is based on skill, so I knew I could go back and still be really good.”
MORE: Stephen Curry is breaking defenses before he even touches the ball
What can the Warriors expect from Klay Thompson on defense?
Thompson should be able to make an offensive impact on the strength of his three-point shots alone. Defense is more of a question mark for him.
A former member of the Second Defensive Team, Thompson was one of the best full-backs in the league prior to his injuries. Not only could he comfortably defend point guards, guards and forwards, but he often took on the challenge of protecting the best player from the opposing team’s perimeter.
Look at the list of players Thompson spent the most time paired with during his healthy last season and you’ll see names like Damian Lillard, Donovan Mitchell, Luka Doncic, Devin Booker and James Harden.
Will Thompson still have the lateral quickness and athleticism to defend the smaller guards? If the answer is no, he will limit himself more to defending his position.
The good news for the Warriors is that they are already the best defensive team in the league without Thompson. In his absence, Andrew Wiggins has assumed the role of Golden State’s defensive stopper on the wing. Plus, Curry has vastly improved as a defender since Thompson last hit the court and Green is still at the peak of his defensive powers, so much so that he is the favorite for Defensive Player of the Year until the quarter mark for the season. .
The Warriors would go up another level if Thompson gets close to the defender he once was, but they won’t be. What trusting in his versatility on his return.
Ultimately, as long as Thompson hasn’t fallen to the point where he’s someone teams can attack on defense, the Warriors should be fine.
How does Klay Thompson’s return impact the rotation?
Golden State’s starting lineup for all but one of this season’s games has been Curry, Jordan Poole, Wiggins, Green and Kevon Looney.
Assuming the plan is for Thompson to return to the starting lineup, the most obvious candidate to replace him is Poole.
As good as Poole has been this season, moving him to the bench would make him Golden State’s sixth man and give the Warriors another spark plug from the bench. Depending on what they need, Poole would still have a chance to close out games when head coach Steve Kerr comes down with Green at center.
In the 44 games Poole came off the bench in 2020-21, he averaged 10.5 points in 17.1 minutes with shooting divisions of .429 / .347 / .872.
Thompson’s return will likely affect the minutes of other players on the roster. The Warriors are running 11 deep right now, with the current five starters plus Gary Payton II, Damion Lee, Andre Iguodala, Juan Toscano-Anderson, Nemanja Bjelica and Otto Porter Jr. each receiving actual minutes. Some have been in and out of the lineup with injuries, but Kerr will have to make some tough rotation decisions when they are in top form.
James Wiseman, the No. 2 pick in the 2020 NBA Draft, will also be part of the rotation when he returns from injury.
Depth was a problem for the Warriors last season. This season, not so much.
MORE: Should the Warriors go after Ben Simmons?
How much better are the Warriors under Klay Thompson?
By the numbers, much, much better.
Since 2011-12, the Warriors have outscored their opponents by 9.8 points per 100 possessions with Curry and Green on the court and Thompson on the bench, according to PBP Stats. Pretty good, right? Well, with Curry, Thompson, and Green on the court, the Warriors have outscored their opponents by, wait, 17.0 points per 100 possessions.
The Warriors have posted an offensive rating of 120.2 and a defensive rating of 103.2 with all three in the lineup.
|Players in||Players out||No Rtg||Outside Rtg||Def Rtg|
|Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson and Draymond Green||–||17.0||120.2||103.2|
|Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson||Draymond Green||6.4||112.7||106.3|
|Stephen Curry, Draymond Green||Klay thompson||9.8||115.9||106.1|
|Klay Thompson, Draymond Green||Stephen Curry||1.5||105.3||103.8|
They may not return to that level of dominance, but Thompson should make life easier for Curry and Green by giving them even more room to work on offense and another smart defender to work with on defense.
Throw in all the weapons around you that this Warriors team currently has and it’s scary to think how good they could be.