Had the Golden State Warriors come back and won the 2019 NBA Finals over the Toronto Raptors, Klay Thompson would have had a strong argument for Finals MVP. The veteran marksman averaged 26 points per game on almost 59 percent shooting from behind the arc, but suffered a torn ACL midway through Game 6 that removed any hope the Warriors might have had of ultimately winning their third straight championship. Thompson went on to tear his Achilles while recovering and has now missed two consecutive seasons. He has never been further from that elite form in his career than he is right now.
But Thompson believes he can get back there, even if it will take some time. “I was playing the best basketball of my life in 2019 when I get hurt,” Thompson told Frank Isola and Brian Scalabrine in an interview with Sirius XM. “I expect to get back there. Not right away just because that was 100 games worth of work and incredible shape. But when I step back on the floor I’m gonna be a very effective player. Maybe not what I was doing shooting the ball like I was, but I will still be really good. And I will just keep going up – and I really believe that, and the training staff believes that, and my teammates believe that. You know the power of the mind. I have belief in myself to get there again.”
Shooting, fortunately, tends to be somewhat sustainable as players age and lose some of their physical gifts. If nothing else, Thompson should be able to step onto an NBA floor and hit open shots with ease. But Golden State’s offense requires a ton of off-ball movement, and that is part of what makes Thompson special. Will he be able to cut as effectively as he once did? Will he be able to recapture his former All-Defense form if he isn’t as quick or strong?
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It’s too early to tell, and the Warriors won’t know for quite some time. Thompson is currently expected to return around Christmas, so the Warriors will have to make it through the opening months of the season without him. Even when he does come back, they will have to reintegrate him into the fold slowly. But recent evidence suggests that even injuries as serious as Achilles tears can be overcome in the modern NBA. Thompson’s former teammate, Kevin Durant, looked as dominant as ever last season despite tearing his Achilles in those same 2019 NBA Finals. But Thompson has to contend with both a torn Achilles and a torn ACL. There is no precedent for a player recovering from both injuries at Thompson’s level of stardom.
Thompson will attempt to be the first, and he seemingly believes in his ability to do so. Fortunately, he’ll be returning to a very player-friendly ecosystem. Having Stephen Curry, Draymond Green and Steve Kerr in place will give him room to improve gradually. The Warriors don’t need him to be his old self in December. They need him to be close to that by April or May. If he can hit that timeline, the Warriors can compete for a championship.