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How Will Klay Thompson Fit In? Three Thoughts on the Warriors Reunion

The guard made his anticipated return Sunday night after tearing his ACL in the 2019 NBA Finals. And he didn't let the time off stop him.

Nine hundred and forty one days since tearing his ACL in the 2019 Finals, Klay Thompson stepped back onto an NBA court Sunday night. And he didn’t let the time off stop him from getting his shots up. Thompson played 20 minutes in his highly anticipated return, picking up 17 points, three rebounds, and an assist in a 96–82 Warriors win. Klay shot 7-of-18 from the field, including three threes in front of an electric Bay Area crowd. Here are three thoughts on Klay Day…

The NBA Needed a Night Like This

This regular season has not been a banner one for the NBA, especially up until this point. For the third straight year, games have been marred by COVID-19, and for weeks many teams were fielding rosters half filled with replacement players. Thompson was a uniting force for the viewing public. The announcement of Klay’s name during starting lineups was deeply emotional, and if only for a brief second, it was inspiring to see Thompson, Stephen Curry, and Draymond Green together on the floor (before Green intentionally fouled and left the game because of a left calf injury.)

Golden State is a rare breed during this era of chaotic player movement. Steph, Klay, and Dray have been teammates for nearly a decade now. Their shared history and the ups and downs of their 10 years as a trio added so much heft to the emotional buildup to Sunday. Hopefully Thompson’s return can kickstart some more excitement to this season. With other potential returns—Jamal Murray, Anthony Davis, Kawhi Leonard?—hopefully happening in the near future, the NBA (and its fans!) can be a little bit more hopeful of star power saving this season.

Golden State Warriors guard Klay Thompson (11) celebrates his 1800th career three-point basket

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So, How Did Klay Look?

It would be silly to draw any hard conclusions about Thompson only 20 minutes into this stage of his career … and yet, that’s exactly what we’re going to do. Klay looked promising! He hit his first shot, a kind-of runner in the lane. And he kept shooting from there. Thompson launched 18 shots in only 20 minutes, finishing second on the team in both points and field goal attempts. He looked better as the game went on. After starting 1-of-5, Klay played especially well during his shifts in the second and third quarters. In those two stretches, Thompson shot 5-of-8 from the field, and hit two of his three threes. Though on a minutes restriction, Klay never looked gassed, and while his shot never felt crisp, it also never felt as if the game was moving too fast for him.

There were a couple moments that probably had fans holding their breaths, like when Thompson briefly stumbled running back on defense in the first, or the hard landing after his one-handed slam in the second. But Klay looked supremely confident in his body, and at no point did it appear he was pulling his punches. He competed defensively, and his no fear mixing it up in the paint. Ultimately, Thompson having faith in his lower body is probably more important than anything else at this stage. So far, so good.

Is a New Death Lineup On the Way?

This is the really interesting bit for the Warriors—how do they best work Klay back into the rotation? Golden State has been one of the top teams in the league all season, and the Dubs were arguably the title favorite even before Thompson’s return. And this is a much different squad than the one Klay used to play for. Kevin Durant is gone, and a bevy of valuable role players have taken his place. Andrew Wiggins needs his touches now. Jordan Poole is an ignitable scorer in his own right. Gary Payton II has become an integral cog in the backcourt. Otto Porter also has his moments on the wing. Klay is obviously better than all of those people at his best, though it could obviously be some time before he’s back to that level. How will Steve Kerr balance getting enough touches for Thompson while making sure he doesn’t slight the rest of the rotation?

It helps that Golden State has built a culture of sacrifice from Curry down. And the luxury afforded by the team’s hot start is that Kerr doesn’t need Thompson to be incredible right away. If anything, it could be fun for Kerr to figure out the next iteration of the death lineup. By the playoffs, you can expect Curry, Green, Thompson, and Wiggins to be on the floor in crunch time. Kerr gets to tinker with that fifth spot until the postseason, with many options (don’t forget Andre Iguodala and James Wiseman!) at his disposal.

Thompson cleared his biggest hurdle by finally getting back on the floor. Now the Warriors get to play around with making their great team even better. 

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