Hear me out: Klay Thompson’s return alone does not restore Dubs to NBA’s elite

Even if Klay Thompson, right, rejoins Steph and Draymond, it’s not 2015 anymore.

Even if Klay Thompson, right, rejoins Steph and Draymond, it’s not 2015 anymore.
Image: Getty Images

The Golden State Warriors had a pretty disappointing season. Despite Steph Curry turning back the clock and making jaws hit the floor on a routine basis, the Dubs still couldn’t manage to sneak into the actual postseason — losing their bid for the Western Conference’s 8-seed in a 117-112 loss to the Memphis Grizzlies. Anyone who watched that game noticed one thing — the Grizzlies were just doubling Steph on every single play. Steph couldn’t touch the ball without two or three Grizzlies barreling down on him as if he were Leonardo DiCaprio in the Revenant. However, Memphis would never have been able to use such a defense if Klay Thompson was healthy. I expand on that idea in the linked piece — so feel free to give that a read too, if you’d like.

Two days ago, despite having not yet crowned a champion this season, the NBA revealed every team’s odds to win the 2022 NBA title. Only three teams were given better than 10-to-1 (+1000) odds: the Brooklyn Nets (+275), the Los Angeles Lakers (+450), and the… Golden State Warriors (+800)?!?

Well, color me confused. I understand that five-time All-Star Klay Thompson will likely return, and that the Warriors have two picks in the top-14 of the draft — but is that really enough to warrant the third-best odds in the league?

Steph, Klay, and Dray were a fearsome trio that took the league by storm in 2015. However, those players aren’t quite what they once were. Sure, Steph can still hit from the logo, Draymond can still lock down top players, and Klay can… give inspirational speeches on Instagram Live from his boat, but they’re clearly not the same players they were at the peak of the Warriors’ dynasty. Draymond Green averages a triple-single for goodness sake. As it stands right now, the only difference between the 2021 Warriors and the 2022 Warriors will be Thompson (seeing his first action in over two years) and the 7th and 14th picks in the upcoming draft. Say what you will about rookies, but I can’t recall a single rookie that made a serious championship-caliber impact their first season after being drafted later than fifth overall. You could argue (it’d be difficult, though) that Donovan Mitchell had that impact for the Jazz in 2017, but even if he did, that’s an outlier, and not something that should be expected.

So… it must be Klay, right? Well, even with Thompson returning to the 2-guard, the Warriors roster still seems far from competitive in a tough Western Conference. Wiggins showed flashes, but was never consistent. Draymond has great court vision, but is a liability everywhere else on offense, and James Wiseman has potential, but was extremely disappointing in his rookie season. While Thompson is great — one of the best two-way players in the game when healthy — there’s no guarantee that he’ll return to his pre-injury form. Even if he does, Thompson’s shooting ability wouldn’t actually vastly improve the Warriors’ numbers from last season like many believe.

In Thompson’s most recent season, the former 11th overall pick, hit 38.8 percent of his three-point attempts above-the-break — Thompson’s preferred zone to shoot from. The Warriors as a whole shot 37.7 percent. That was with Kevin Durant drawing a lot of attention on the floor as well. In 2021, the Warriors finished eighth in above-the-break 3-point percentage, shooting at a 37-percent clip. With the absence of Durant and Klay, you’d think that percentage would be far lower than where it ended up.

Not to mention that Thompson’s injury plays directly against what Klay did best for most of his career. On the offensive end, what made Thompson so dangerous was his ability to work off-ball screens into a catch-and-shoot situation. In 2019, Thompson was the second-most efficient shooter off zero dribbles. However, in order to catch-and-shoot at that level, Thompson needs to be able to start, stop, turn, and break on a dime — it’s all about timing with weak-side screens. If Thompson is even a fraction of a second slower than he was prior to his injury, that could have a massive effect on his ability to get quick open catch-and-shoot opportunities. Seeing as how Thompson’s two most recent injuries (the ones that forced him to miss each of the last two seasons) were an ACL tear in his left knee and an achilles tear in his right ankle – two of the most important tendons for quick movement on a basketball court — it’s more than likely that Thompson won’t quite have the same pep in his step that he did circa 2018.

Now, there are dozens of rumors circling that the Warriors are looking to trade for another superstar this offseason.

If the Warriors can land either of the players mentioned in the above tweets, I would understand the optimism several fans seem to have for Golden State next season. Lillard, while likely forcing Steph to the 2 and Thompson to the 3, would create the greatest shooting trio of all-time, and Simmons would add an incredible defensive option to pair with Green and Thompson, turning the Warriors into arguably the best two-way team in the league. However, until one of those trades happens, the Warriors don’t have the tools to compete with teams like the Lakers, Clippers, Jazz, or Suns (if they keep Chris Paul). Thompson is fantastic, but he won’t be enough on his own.

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