When Klay Thompson returns Sunday, don’t think for a second that just because the Golden State Warriors are in first place they couldn’t use him.

The Warriors haven’t officially made the playoffs in his two and a half year absence, missing so dearly the spacing he brought to the floor that they went all-in on perimeter shooting half-measures this offseason just to operate their offense.

Last season’s Play-In Tournament fiasco served as a stark reminder to the front office just how much the team needs players that “fit” Kerr’s system and the summer of 2021 brought in a whole bunch of new faces that could do just that.

The “fit” aspect of new faces Nemanja Bjelica, Otto Porter Jr., and of course the returning Andre Iguodala, and their ability to play around Steph Curry and keep the ball moving is a big reason the Warriors are first in the West right now.

Enter Klay Thompson

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The man played with Stephen Curry and Draymond Green for basically his entire career. The three of them are all All-Star talents in their own right, but together they form a two-way, three-headed monster for opposing teams. 

Everyone talks about Draymond and Curry playing off each other so well, but Klay Thompson forms an underrated component for Golden State: he doesn’t need the ball in his hands to make an impact. 

When you play with the best point guard of your generation in Curry and a playmaking power forward in Green, one should expect not to get a lot of touches. But for Klay Thompson, getting the ball in and out of his hands as fast as possible is the name of the game, as seen by his exemplary catch-and-shoot numbers. 

Young shooting guards coming out of the AAU system often try to mimic the midrange snipers, spin-move specialists, or high-flying dunkers that have always made up the bulk of the position. 

So many two guards in this league masquerade as a subpar Kobe or MJ, from DeMar DeRozan to Devin Booker to Zach LaVine to Tyler Herro. Kobe is probably looking down from the heavens as a proud father of these shooting guards right now, but instead of trying to “Be Like Mike,” would it not be more efficient to “Play Like Klay?”

There is no single team that wouldn’t hand a healthy Klay Thompson a max contract right now.

He may not have the playmaking ability of a Luka or the handles of a Kyrie, but Thompson’s ability to make not just shots —but the right shots—the shots that occur naturally when one offensive player’s gravity sucks an entire defense in, is what makes him so great.

And Then There’s His Defense 

Coming off two leg injuries, it is understandable to have concerns about whether Klay can defend at the same high level that he was able to before. But he was defending at a high level before.

At 6’6”, 220 pounds, Klay Thompson has the length and lateral quickness to guard point guards and power forwards alike. Golden State has always been known as a high-octane offensive juggernaut because of their elite shooting backcourt in Thompson and Curry, but they have always been a highly rated defensive team as well. 

Draymond Green deserves some credit here, but Klay’s elite on-ball defense helps create turnovers and bother opposing teams at the point of attack, from wherever that may be coming.

Some players are so good that they force others to “fit” around them. And other players “fit” so well that they’ll never have to change their games; they can just keep doing what they’re good at and contribute to winning basketball. Klay Thompson is the second of those two, but when he takes the floor for the first time in two and a half years this January, he’ll do so as one of the best shooting guards in the league.

His impact as an off-ball shooter and switch defender is still rare in this league. Don’t be surprised when Klay Thompson returns.

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Thomas Christian

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