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What to expect from Warriors star Klay Thompson when he returns

Warriors' Klay Thompson during game against the Heat.
Feb 10, 2020; San Francisco, California, USA; Golden State Warriors guard Klay Thompson claps for Miami Heat guard and former teammates Andre Iguodala before the game at Chase Center. Mandatory Credit: Kelley L Cox-USA TODAY Sports

The Golden State Warriors struck gold after drafting Klay Thompson with the 11th pick in 2011. Since then, Thompson has been a durable and instrumental cog in helping the Warriors win three championships in five years.

The big picture: After missing the entirety of the 2019-20 NBA season, what can the Warriors expect from Thompson when he returns on the court?

Thompson will be happy when he returns

Throughout his career, Thompson never really had to rely on his dribbling and driving ability. Because he was such a great shooter, he’s typically outside the three-point line. With a healthy Stephen Curry and a more-aggressive Andrew Wiggins attacking the basket, that will free up space for Thompson.

As Curry probes the paint and Wiggins attacks the rim, at some point the defense will relax. That leaves open catch-and-shoot opportunities for Thompson. Those types of shots are in his wheelhouse as during the 2018-2019 season:

  • 34.5% of Thompson’s shots were catch-and-shoot opportunities
  • He hit 40.5% of those shots, 17th in the league
  • Thompson hit 46% on corner threes, an elite mark

Although Thompson has the ability to drive to the basket, his best chance of success is by shooting the ball. He’s shown the ability to score 60 points on 11 dribbles so he could very well do that again in 2021 with the chances that he’ll get.

Is Klay Thompson the Warriors’ new Sixth Man?

Prior to his ACL injury in the 2019 NBA Finals against the Toronto Raptors, Thompson was extremely durable. In his eight seasons, Thompson has never played fewer than 70 games, with the lone exception being the 2012 lockout-shortened season – which saw Thompson playing all 66 games.

It wouldn’t be outside the realm of possibility to see Thompson come off the bench for the first few months of the 2021 NBA season. If Warriors head coach Steve Kerr goes this route, expect Thompson to:

  • Average around 17-19 points/three rebounds/two assists in about 25-27 minutes per game
  • Shoot around 43%/36%/85% from the field, three-point land and free throw line, respectively
  • Nab Sixth Man of the Year if he comes exclusively off the bench.

Considering how Thompson will have missed almost 18 months by the time the 2021 NBA season begins on Dec. 1, it’s best to ease him into game shape. No doubt the first first weeks will be rough, but coming off the bench will help him properly adjust.

How will Thompson’s ACL injury affect him?

Perhaps the most-pressing question concerning Thompson is how his ACL injury will affect him.

ACL injuries are one of the hardest injuries to come back from, especially for basketball players. That said, ACL injuries are one of the most common basketball injuries. It’s mainly because the moves a player does is conducive to those types of injuries.

Nevertheless, here‘s a list of players in recent years who were able to bounce back after tearing their ACL:

  • Derrick Rose: After multiple knee injuries including a torn ACL in 2012, Rose reinvented himself as a deadly Sixth Man.
  • Ricky Rubio: Tearing his ACL in 2012, Rubio has been a solid starter. He’s started in 503 out of 514 possible games.
  • Lou Williams: Tearing his ACL in 2013 didn’t stop him from winning three Sixth Man of the Year awards. He’s also averaging more than 17 points per game.
  • Zach LaVine: Since tearing his ACL in 2017, LaVine is almost averaging 25 points, five rebounds and four assists for Chicago.
  • Kristaps Porzingis: Also tearing his ACL in 2017, Porzingis is averaging near-career highs in scoring (19.2) and blocks (2.1). He’s also averaging career highs in rebounds (9.5) and assists (1.7).

Meanwhile, some players haven’t been as lucky:

  • Jabari Parker: After tearing his ACL in 2014, Parker tore his ACL again in 2017. Since 2017, he’s played on five teams and has seen his numbers regress heavily.
  • Rajon Rondo: Rondo tore his ACL in 2014 and hasn’t been the same since. He hasn’t averaged double-digit scoring and isn’t the same player he was prior to his injury.
  • Brandon Knight: Since tearing his ACL in 2017, Knight has played on four teams and is averaging under 10 points a game on below league average percentages.

Considering Thompson’s style of play, it’s easier to see him bouncing back. In any case, Thompson should be alright with the Warriors.

The bottom line: Expect him to come off the bench

Since Thompson is missing a year-and-a-half of basketball, the Warriors can focus on developing Damion Lee, Ky Bowman and Jordan Poole. Although they aren’t the most heralded trio, Lee, Bowman and Poole can hold their own while Thompson recuperates.

With a bevy of unrestricted free agent shooting guards, the Warriors could also sign veterans Kent Bazemore or Courtney Lee. Regardless of which direction they choose, Thompson should come off the bench in 2021.

If all goes well, Thompson could win Sixth Man of the Year and help the Warriors reach another playoff berth.