Warriors

Ask Kerith: Are expectations for Klay's return too high?

Warriors
Klay shooting
  • Editor’s note: Kerith Burke, NBC Sports Bay Area’s Warriors reporter, takes you inside the team as only she can throughout the season with the Ask Kerith Mailbag. Send her a question on Twitter and Instagram, @KerithBurke.

Tonight, the 6-1 Warriors host the 1-8 Pelicans. New Orleans has the worst record in the NBA and they’re playing without Zion Williamson, following his surgery to repair a fractured foot.

After the conclusion of the game against the Charlotte Hornets, the Warriors held the top spot in the NBA for defensive rating (97.1) and assists per game (29.3).

There’s a ton of excitement around the Warriors, and they’re not at full strength. Klay Thompson is weeks away from playing, possibly months, and he was the most popular topic in this week’s mailbag. Fans are aching to know when he’ll make his 2021-22 NBA season debut, which is still a mystery, but getting closer. 

Before the Hornets game Wednesday, Klay got some shots up, similar to the way he warms up for a game. He finished with a dunk and free throws. Klay likes to participate in uniform while he rehabs, whether that’s pregame or at practice. He’s always on the bench for home games. He is involved.

Coach Steve Kerr said the team feels uplifted by Klay’s “imminent return.” But what does imminent mean for a guy who hasn’t played in 30 months? Six weeks? Eight weeks?

The Warriors have not set a date for Klay’s return (or James Wiseman’s, for that matter). One report puts Klay’s return at Christmas, when the Warriors face the Suns in Phoenix. 

 

However, Warriors president/general manager Bob Myers said Klay’s return will happen during a home game. I also wonder if the Christmas game will be too supercharged for a return. Klay’s already going to be fired up to take the court, and the NBA’s Christmas day hype makes the spotlight 100 times more intense. I wonder if the Warriors will try to protect Klay from that kind of scrutiny so he has a soft landing if his first game back is only average. He has been away so long. He deserves a cushion. 

In the previous mailbag, I made an extremely conservative guess that Klay’s return would come in January. I hope I’m wrong and we see him in December. 

Yes I do. Klay felt like he was playing the best basketball of his life in the 2019 NBA Finals, and it will be impossible to return to that level instantly after rehabbing for two years.  

Patience is difficult when you’re excited, and that goes for fans, media, and Klay himself. We know how good Klay is. At the root of these high expectations is the hope to see an awesome player return to his peak self, and be the impactful piece that puts the Warriors back to contention. I get it. But there’s too much riding on Klay’s shoulders if he's expected to be his peak self after, say, only three games back. 

Klay’s return will impact minutes for Jordan Poole and Damion Lee. Moses Moody too, as the youngest player in the pecking order. And Looney will see a change when Wiseman returns. 

I looked at Looney’s minutes and he’s averaging about 15 per game. Maybe Loon still plays 12-16 minutes when Wiseman returns, but those minutes are reshuffled in a reserve role. 

On Instagram @q_christianese asked, “For players recovering from injuries and the rookies, how do the Warriors decide who practices with G League vs team? Like Kerr said Jonathan Kuminga needs to practice with the team, why there as opposed to G League? I feel like its not always consistent, but I’m sure they have their reasons!”

Think of the G League as a place for exercise. If a young player or rehabbing player needs an intense scrimmage or low-stakes game, that’s a great place to get it. The Warriors practices are rarely intense during the season because they’re trying to save the players’ legs for a long season.

So while it’s true Kuminga needs to be with his teammates to learn their tendencies and how he fits, Kuminga might have a short-term need for some hard exercise. Make sense?

This concept will apply to James Wiseman soon. Wiseman sounds eager for a G League stint.

 

Overall, the G League is a great resource. And for the rookies, if they have a string of games where they don’t play or their minutes are few, a quick stint with Santa Cruz can keep them fresh and engaged with some action there. 

This question came in before Poole erupted for a new career-high in 3-pointers (seven) and lead the team in scoring with 31 points against the Hornets. He was due. 

Steve Kerr is going to ride with Jordan Poole as a starter until Klay comes back. 

Fun fact: Poole’s career-high in scoring (38) came against the Pelicans in May 2021. His stat line included 10-11 from the stripe, his career-high in FT made and attempted.

Nope. If the Warriors were going to make a trade, it would have happened in the off-season. 

Wiggins gives the team scoring, plays around the rim, and long, athletic defense. He’s an important piece this season.

The Warriors’ hot start and 6-1 record is getting attention. The Warriors are largely seen as a playoff team, and some pundits are waiting to get the full sense of this group’s potential once Klay and Wiseman return. 

ESPN's Stephen A. Smith already put a period on it.

On Instagram @maggiehendricks asked: What has been an unexpected joy of covering the Warriors?

The personalities make the team, and the kindness flows up. A trifecta of leadership comes to mind. 

Start with Steph. The face of the franchise. As giving and easy-going as can be for a superstar.

RELATED: Steph has great joke about Kerr's fist pump

Now go up to the coach. Kerr communicates well with everyone. He is a dream from a media standpoint. Open, and good-humored.

Now go up to the GM. I sort of laugh that Myers is honest to a fault. He’s emotional in a caring way. From what I see, he does not lord over people.

To have all three of these things in one organization? Extremely lucky. Their examples help everyone else fall in line. 

I talk to other reporters and umm, it’s not like this everywhere.

Follow Kerith on Twitter @KerithBurke and on Instagram @KerithBurke, and, of course, watch her on NBC Sports Bay Area’s Warriors coverage all season.

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