Klay Thompson had a simply remarkable return to the hardwood last season, helping the Golden State Warriors to a fourth NBA championship in eight years.
Coming off back-to-back major injuries, the 32-year-old was always likely to have some struggles at stages throughout the season. However, offensively, they weren’t overly evident as he hardly missed a beat. Sure, the shooting came and went in inconsistent fashion, but that’s often been the case across his career.
Defensively, it was a different story. Thompson’s understandable decline in athleticism and lateral quickness was evident on that side of the ball.
Further removed from his devastating injuries, can Klay Thompson return to his defensive best for the Golden State Warriors in 2022-23?
After his return from injury mid-season, Thompson was ranked 12th at the Warriors for defensive win shares, and last in defensive box plus-minus at -1.6. His playoff performances did provide a reason for optimism, particularly during the Finals where he came up with some clutch defensive stops when it mattered most.
Still, he isn’t the elite perimeter defender he once was. Across three seasons in a row between 2016-2019, Thompson finished top four at the Warriors in defensive win shares. Thompson’s in a fortunate position thanks to the emergence of Andrew Wiggins. The latter now takes the opposing team’s best perimeter player, meaning Golden State relies less on Thompson and his defensive capacity.
He’s still an important contributor though, particularly for the viability of a three-guard unit with Stephen Curry and Jordan Poole. While most look at the latter’s need to improve on the defensive end, Thompson too needs to rediscover that aspect should they want to play together more come playoff time. Based on last season’s statistics, Curry is now, somewhat sensationally, the best defender of that trio.
It’s a combination that still works in theory. Sliding Thompson down to small-forward is actually ideal given his present defensive strengths. He still has the size and strength to battle in the post, with his reduced lateral quickness making him more susceptible to quicker, slithery guards.
While it’s unfair to expect Thompson to ever return to his previous defensive best, a full preseason and a sustained injury-free run should see him improve that facet in comparison to last season. Providing that will be a massive advantage for the Warriors and presents as an area of upside as they seek to win back-to-back titles this season.