Klay Day: Thompson returning at just the right time to help flagging Warriors offense
It's official, Klay Thompson is back, and so are the Golden State Warriors
While there’s never a bad time for a player of Klay Thompson’s caliber to come back from injury, his return today feels like perfect timing for a Golden State Warriors team that has looked low on gas recently. Confirmed yesterday by the man himself on his Instagram account, the future hall of famer will be in today’s starting lineup for the first time since June 13, 2019.
A lot has happened. And yet the hope is that Thompson’s return will be like one of those conversations with really good old friends — where the passage of time hasn’t penetrated down far enough to alter the core reality. And that reality is that one of the NBA’s best teams just added a hall of famer to their roster mid-season.
WHO: Golden State Warriors (29-9) vs Cleveland Cavaliers (22-17)
WHEN: Sunday, January 9th, 2022 // 5:30pm PDT
WATCH: NBCSBA; NBATV
The Splash Brother Returns
Love it or hate it, one of the salient features of coach Steve Kerr’s offense is his refusal to abandon the concept of ball movement. At times, it has led to some frustrating refusals to more directly attack with the team’s strongest weapon. But it’s a decision that has always been about today. About the eventual return of Klay Thompson.
Thompson has averaged 19.5 points, 3.5 rebounds, and 2.3 assists per game while shooting 41.9% from behind the arc over the course of his career. His statistics tell the tale of a “play finisher.” And that’s what Golden State’s offense has missed so badly during Thompson’s absence. It is an extremely critical aspect of their scheme; with so much of Kerr’s offense being “oh no, look out for that guy over there who just caught the pass!”
There have been some crucial roster shortages during this period, but nonetheless, at this point it seems worth noting that over the past 15 games the Warriors’ offense has ranked 23rd in the league.
Thompson will be on a minutes limitation, and won’t be playing in back-to-backs at first, but his presence alone will lift the entire Warriors offense.
Thompson will step into the Warriors starting lineup right away, as confirmed by Kerr numerous times.
"A few people ask me what are you going to do with Klay? He's Klay Thompson, you know? When you can score 60 points in 29 minutes, generally your coach should start you. So Klay is going to start."
The minutes restriction may be a blessing in disguise as it will allow Golden State a bit of wriggle room as the navigate changes to the other players’ rotation. Most Improved candidate, Jordan Poole has already moved to the bench, a move that may ironically help launch his campaign for recognition if he thrives as expected against opposing bench units.
There are also all of the new synergies to discover! Poole has never played alongside Thompson. Neither have players like Otto Porter, or Gary Payton. It’s possible that with the additional threat of Thompson’s lethal finishing move, some other player lineup combinations could run to the forefront of Kerr’s options.
And I know he’s the easy friend. The guy you never need to worry about, but I don’t think nearly enough has been said about what this does for Curry. He’s been shouldering Sisyphean-level daily struggles while being the Warriors primary offensive threat. It’s a system that leans heavily on Curry to make everything work — and no one makes that job easier than Klay Thompson. Together, they’re like a boxer with heavy hands, rather than a flawed fighter with a nice hook. More than anything, the lift from Thompson’s return is going to be like a booster rocket for Curry.
The Cavaliers exciting young core put on pause
The Cleveland Cavaliers have been one of the league’s most pleasant surprises after pushing out to a strong early start on the strength of their young core. Third-year player Darius Garland leads the team in both scoring (19.9 points) and assists (7.3). He pairs nicely with one of my favorite young bigs, Jarrett Allen who is averaging a beefy 17 points and 10 rebounds (or so) per game along with 1.4 blocks. Oh, and they also happen to have this guy:
Unfortunately, injuries have ravaged them. Ricky Rubio had been playing the best basketball of his career before suffering a season-ending ACL injury. And they’ve also lost another key backcourt player, with Collin Sexton also going down for season-ending knee surgery.
The Cavs have since lost four of their last six and have a bit of a playmaking bottleneck as they try to play Lauri Markkanen alongside potential rookie of the year, Evan Mobley and Jarrett Allen. Without their young playmaking guards though, they’ve added Rajon Rondo on the cheap, where he can hopefully help a roster desperately in need of a passer.
Klay Day has become one of those semi-jokes that becomes completely real. I’m planning my whole day around tonight’s game and just thinking about seeing Klay running around out there for the opening tip has me feeling all sorts of ways.
In a crazy world, I’m thankful for the simplicity of rooting for sports teams, and our players. Welcome back, Klay.