Thus far this season, Golden State Warrior losses have been a
lot like blue moons — seldom seen, and as a result, quite
Notwithstanding the team’s 89-86 loss to the Denver Nuggets on
Tuesday night, the Dubs have been the NBA’s best team this season.
They enter play on Dec. 29 with the league’s top record of 27-7 and
the second-best plus-minus (+10) among their peers. They also
happen to lay statistical claim of being the best defensive team in
the league, as they allow the fewest points per game (100.9) and
yield the fewest points per 100 possessions (102.1).
Offensively, they’ve been led by Steph Curry, who, in case you
haven’t noticed, is doing big things.
With the other half of the Splash Brothers lurking in the
shadows, one can’t help but to wonder whether the Warriors have
been so good that they’ve created a Klay Thompson
The assumption has always been that Golden State would become a
better team once Thompson returns to the lineup, but, in the words
How you gon' upgrade me?
What's higher than number one?
Nothing immediately comes to mind.
That the Warriors have arrived here is a surprise — at least to
yours truly. Their championship window seemed to be closing as their
core aged out, but a reinvigoration of youth and their development
has changed everything.
A combination of an improved Curry and a rejuvenated (and
effective) Draymond Green have anchored a team that has seen
auxiliary pieces like Andrew Wiggins, Jordan Poole and Damion Lee
become fairly efficient shot-makers who compete defensively.
Wiggins, in particular, has found his game in
A career 44.8% shooter from the field, he is knocking down a
career-best 48.7% of his attempts, including a blistering 42.5%
With players shuttled in and out of the lineup, Golden State’s
appreciable depth has been on display. Otto Porter Jr., Andre
Iguodala, Gary Payton II and Juan Toscano-Anderson have each played
impactful minutes when called upon, and the recurring theme for the
Warriors has been finding ways to win.
And again, all of this has occurred without Thompson.
As a player — assuming he can revert to form — Klay should be
expected to regain his place in the rotation and help the Warriors
on both ends of the floor. At least on paper, adding a talent like
him, with his specific gifts, could make the Warriors virtually
Nonetheless, it’s interesting to comprehend just how good the
team has been without him, and why.
According to 82games.com, the team’s best
five-man unit is Curry, Poole, Wiggins, Green and Looney. The
quintet has played 264.5 minutes together, boasting a net-rating of
+21 and outscoring opposing five-man units 65% of the time.
The second-best combination replaces Looney with Porter. The
group has played only 36.6 minutes together, but has a net rating
of +15 and has outscored opposing five-man units 55.5% of the time.
Others deployed by Kerr have smaller sample sizes, meaning that
these two lineups are the ones he relies upon most
What becomes evident from these two, however, is that both Poole
and Wiggins have been instrumental to the Warriors’ success — and
that is a pair whose minutes will be reduced most dramatically once
Klay is best as a catch-and-shoot player, so it’s easy to
imagine scenarios where he’s playing alongside Poole. It’s also
easy to imagine five-man units where Green plays center with Curry,
Poole, Thompson and Wiggins.
Still, reincorporating a piece — especially one who’s expected
to play starter’s minutes — is going to cause rotational demotions.
Young players don’t always handle those well.
The last time Thompson played in an NBA game, Kevin Durant was
still his teammate. Wiggins was in Minnesota, and had only recently
been separated from Tom Thibodeau and Jimmy Butler. Poole was a
sophomore Wolverine at the University of Michigan whose hoops
dreams had yet to fully materialize.
Lots has changed.
Assuming he is able to take the floor at some point before the
All-Star break, it will have been nearly three years since Thompson
last set foot on an NBA court. Many things, including those he will
call teammates, will have changed. So too may be the extent upon
which the Dubs will rely on him.
There’s no reason to believe that either Thompson or the
Warriors will have any issue reincorporating the other, but there’s
no question that Klay will be hungry to prove that he is still as
capable a player as he was when we last saw him.
When he takes the court for the first time, Klay will have seen
all but five of the teammates he last played with replaced. Curry,
Green, Looney, Lee and Iguodala will be the familiar faces.
There will only be one constant — the Warriors will still be the
bully on the NBA’s block.
Only this time, they will have attained that status without
Sure, Poole, Wiggins and the rest of the team’s pieces may
willingly yield back the reps and shots they earned by scratching
and clawing their way through the rotation. But just as they will
have to get used to the idea of yielding to Klay, he too will have
to accept the fact that 2019 was a long time ago.
Despite his absence, the Warriors haven't stopped being the
In some ways, it’s good. In most ways, in fact.
But in others, it’s a conundrum.
The Klay conundrum — perhaps the league’s most interesting
storyline as we head into 2022.