With the one-year anniversary of Klay Thompson’s torn ACL now in the rearview mirror, a lot has changed for the Golden State Warriors. Not only did Kevin Durant exit for Brooklyn, but the Warriors battled other injuries throughout the 2019-20 season, ultimately landing in the NBA’s basement and falling short of trip to Orlando for the league’s 22-team restart. While the Warriors are generally discussed in different fashion to the rebuilding teams facing similarly extended off-seasons, Golden State does have a number of questions to answer, including the high-profile incorporation of Andrew Wiggins and a guaranteed top-five pick in the 2020 draft.
Still, the Warriors are still keyed by the trio of Thompson, Stephen Curry and Draymond Green and, as the league’s salary cap structure faces potential alterations, a massive price tag could arrive for Joe Lacob and company. After all, Curry, Thompson, Green and Wiggins are owed a combined $130 million (!) for the 2020-21 season alone and, in short, the franchise can’t afford for that foursome not to operate at the highest possible level.
With Wiggins, the Warriors knew they were “buying low” in an attempt to reconstruct a former No. 1 overall pick with considerable talent. With Curry, Golden State knows it has one of the best players in the NBA and a legitimate one-of-a-kind performer. And, with Green, the organization knows they have a top-level playoff X-factor, even if that elite performance may not show up for all 82 games.
For Thompson, though, the terrain is at least slightly less clear, as the now 30-year-old shooting guard recovers from a knee injury that kept him out of action for the entire 2019-20 season. Granted, the Warriors were greatly incentivized to keep Thompson off the court and, if anything, the extended layoff should be helpful to a player coming off an ACL tear. Thompson is in the middle of a five-year, $190 million contract, however, and that lofty salary brings a bit of additional pressure, along with the simple reality that Golden State needs its second-best offensive player firing on all cylinders.
It is possible that, as he recovers from a serious injury to begin his 30’s, Thompson may not recapture the same pure athleticism and explosiveness that he once held. To be fair, observers would not characterize Thompson as an uber-athlete even in his prime but, on the defensive end, Thompson does need his quickness to stay with smaller guards, as he often takes on major assignments in the backcourt. Thompson has always been underrated by advanced metrics, really on both ends of the floor, but his defensive impact is hard to quantify because it doesn’t come with steals and blocks. As he ages, that may be even more of a concern, especially if he transitions into simply being adequate after being a definitive positive during Golden State’s title runs.
Fortunately, Thompson does profile as a player that should age quite gracefully on the offensive end of the floor. To put it plainly, he is one of the best shooters in NBA history, knocking down 42 percent from three-point range at high volume for his entire career. Because Thompson rarely utilizes off-dribble moves to create space or advantages, his off-ball approach should also function well as he ages. Questions do arrive when prompted on just how much Thompson may decline, though, and his contract could become a talking point as a result.
Thompson is owed $157 million over the next four seasons and, even under the best possible circumstances, that is probably an overpay when considering his age and the recovery from injury. The Warriors likely knew this reality when they inked him to the five-year deal just weeks after his torn ACL but, with Durant now gone, Thompson may have more pressure as a scorer, much in the way that he did before Durant’s arrival in the first place. Curry will certainly operate as Golden State’s No. 1 option but, as evidenced by Thompson’s famous takeovers in high-profile playoff situations, he might be the club in the bag that the Warriors are more reliant on now that their hybrid, do-everything option in Durant is off the table when it counts.
While it would be silly to worry too much about Thompson, it is also fair to point out that the Warriors need him more than they did in their two previous runs to the NBA Finals. Green isn’t the same offensive player that he was in his absolute prime and, while Wiggins (and the first round pick) could conceivably return value in the coming years, there is a great deal of uncertainty with almost everything outside of Golden State’s “Big Three.”
That isn’t to say that Thompson won’t be given time to reacquaint himself with the rigors of an NBA season. On the whole, the Warriors may prioritize deep playoff runs, at the expense of the regular season, more than just about any franchise. From an overarching standpoint, Thompson may be the most under-discussed part of the Warriors’ next phase, though, and they essentially can’t afford — both on the floor and financially — for him to be less than a top-level player by the time the 2021 Playoffs (and beyond) arrive.