"If Klay Thompson is 80 percent of himself next season, the Warriors will have a championship-contending team."
This is the statement that has been going around about Golden State ahead of the 2021-22 season.
And it might be a true statement, but there needs to be clarification. Are we talking about his offense? As in, does Klay Thompson's offense needs to be 80 percent of what it was since before he was injured in 2019? Or his entire game -- including his excellent defense?
If it's the latter, the biggest question is: what will he look like on the other side of the ball?
Before tearing his ACL in the 2019 NBA Finals, Thompson was one of, if not the, best two-way player on the Warriors' roster. You could argue he's the best 3-and-D player in the league. He was known for defending the opposing team's best guard or wing players -- especially in the playoffs -- before running back to the other end of the court and effortlessly knocking down a 3-pointer.
According to Thompson's latest Instagram posts, the shooting shouldn't be a problem. Sure, he'll have to get back into the rhythm of the game after missing the last two years, but his shot is there. It's one of those things he'll never forget how to do.
So, from the moment Thomspon steps on the court, defenses will have to respect the threat he presents, and that in itself will address some of the issues the Warriors had last season.
What's even better for Thompson's offensive game as he makes his return is that he's never relied significantly on his athleticism to score.
When he made history by scoring 37 points in one quarter against the Sacramento Kings in 2015, he did in on just 11 dribbles. It took his the same amount of dribbles to drop 60 on the Indiana Pacers in 2016. And in 2019, he scored 43 points against the New York Knicks on just four dribbles.
This is all to say that while Thompson uses certain athleticism to run the floor, continuously move without the ball to find the right spot and sometimes gets above the rim for a dunk, he's always relied more on his catch-and-shoot abilities to put the ball in the hoop. And those appear to be intact.
Most of Thompson's athleticism was used on defense, and that's what should raise more concern as he prepares to get back on the court this season.
Thompson's 6-foot-7 frame and 6-foot-9 wingspan surely help him defend, but he also depends on his lower-leg strength to allow him to hold position against his opposition and take up space.
Defense is where we see Thompson use his agility and quick feet, moving laterally to always stick on whoever he is guarding. We rarely see Thompson use this skillset on offense -- whenever he dunks it takes the roof off the building because it just doesn't happen often.
And this is why it's tricky to judge what his defense will look like. The Achilles tendon is the strongest muscle-tendon unit in the body, and it sees more force than any other joint, muscle or tendon. Many people who suffer an Achilles tear often lose some range of motion in the ankle and have a harder time starting and stopping quick movements.
The same can be said about the aftermath of a torn ACL.
In Thompson's case, it's easier to be more optimistic about the range of motion in his knee. He was scheduled to return for the 2020-21 season after he tore his ACL in 2019, so it's plausible that that shouldn't be too much of an area of concern on its own.
But when you combine that with his torn Achilles, it's impossible to know how agile Thompson truly will be.
Thompson's former teammate, Kevin Durant, is a testament that players coming back from a torn Achilles can return with great gusto. And Durant relies far more on his athleticism than Thomspon, so KD's recovery is a good sign. However, Durant is the exception.
There is hope that Thompson will be able to be close to his old self when he returns to the court, whether that's on Christmas, shortly before, or even after. Just having him out there will automatically help the Warriors with floor spacing -- and according to his Instagram videos, there's evidence to support that statement.
But Thompson's impact on the Warriors extends far beyond his scoring and shooting ability. And if the Warriors want to make a deep run in the postseason, they are not only going to need Thompson to be 80 percent of himself on offense but 80 percent of his all-around game.