The Golden State Warriors have started off the season playing like a top team, reeling off three straight wins against their California rivals (Lakers, Clippers, and Kings). The league has certainly taken notice and is aware of Klay Thompson coming back to their lineup towards the end of 2021/early 2022.
Klay Thompson Planned Return
Klay Thompson hasn’t played in an NBA game since Game 6 of the 2019 NBA Finals due to a torn ACL; after being challenged on a dunk attempt by Danny Green and a torn Achilles that was suffered on November 18, 2020. The Warriors management team led by General Manager Bob Meyers and Head Coach Steve Kerr have “targeted” his return to the lineup on Christmas Day against the defending Western Conference Champion Phoenix Suns, which will be the Warriors 33rd game of the season.
It’s unknown how much he’ll play upon his return but expects a minute’s restriction to begin with. He’ll have to knock off the rust, adjusting to the speed and intensity of game action since last appearing in an NBA game over 850 days ago. While rehabbing, Thompson has been enjoying his time on the water.
Thompson has averaged 19.5 points per game with a career shooting percentage of .459 and a player efficiency rating of 16.4 (15 is league average). An easy argument can be made that he’s the second-best shooter of all time behind his fellow Splash Brother, Stephen Curry. He’s a catch-and-shoot guy, who takes minimal dribbles to score, which is beneficial for a player coming off two serious lower-body injuries. For reference in the Warriors 149-125 victory over the Chicago Bulls on October 29, 2018, Thompson scored 52 points on less than 20 dribbles, which is simply incredible.
Expectations for Klay Thompson’s Return
Dominique Wilkins and Kevin Durant are two of the NBA All-Greats who tore their Achilles and returned to action successfully. But unlike Klay Thompson, they did not have to recover from a previous cataphoric injury to their lower body. Before his Achilles tear on January 28, 1992, Wilkins averaged 28.1 points per game in 41 contests that season for the Atlanta Hawks; at the time he was averaging 26.3 points per game in his career. The following season after his injury, Wilkins averaged an incredible 29.9 points per game in 71 games.
Kevin Durant was a league MVP, 4-time scoring champion, 2-time NBA Champion, and 2-time Finals MVP before tearing his Achilles in Game 5 of the 2019 NBA Finals. With a career scoring average of 26.9 points per game (before his injury) and after missing all the 2020 season, Durant’s scoring average stayed the same at 26.9 points per game in his first season with the Brooklyn Nets: playing in 32 games battling various injuries.
Wilkins was a scorer known for his ability to drive to the basket and Durant can simply score, however, he wants. Thompson is a player who scores most of his points on jumpers, averaging 7 3-point shot attempts per game but does have the ability to explode to the hoop. The 3-time NBA Champ has the luxury of playing next to Stephen Curry, who is constantly being double-teamed or guarded in exotic defensive sets by opponents along with the passing ability of Draymond Green that will allow Klay Thompson plenty of opportunities to score.
There’s a certain fire and passion, Thompson will be playing with as he returns to the court and tries to help the Warriors retain their championship crown. But now, Thompson has an added motivation in his comeback, reminding coaches, scouts, league personnel, and reporters that he IS a Top 75 player in NBA history.
Based on the impact of the Achilles injury on Wilkins and Durant, Wilkins scoring increased by 1.8 points per game the following season after his injury and Durant stayed at his average points per game following his injury on a limited basis, I’m comfortable projecting Klay Thompson will average close to 20 points per game in his return to NBA action. I do see him struggling on the defensive end to start, but as they say, a shooter’s touch never leaves you.
He’s a player who is worth taking a later-round gamble on. If your league permits, he could be placed on an IR spot or simply “stashed” on your roster.