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Klay Thompson is returning for his first game in over 900 days in what could be a defining moment of the NBA season

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  • Klay Thompson
    Klay Thompson
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  • Stephen Curry
    Stephen Curry
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Klay Thompson smiles and dribbles the ball during warmups.
Klay Thompson is nearing a long-awaited return.Jeff Chiu/AP Images
  • Klay Thompson is back after missing the last two seasons with injury.

  • His return should only improve a Warriors team that's been one of the best in the NBA this season.

  • Thompson could also inspire the Warriors to go all-in on another championship run.

One of the NBA's best teams is getting a major reinforcement.

For the first time since June 13, 2019, Klay Thompson is preparing to play an NBA game.

The Golden State Warriors have targeted Sunday, January 9, as a possible return date for Thompson. The five-time All-Star has missed two consecutive seasons after tearing his ACL in Game 6 of the 2019 Finals and then tearing his Achilles while rehabbing in November of 2020.

Thompson made the move official on Instagram, announcing he will play on Sunday.

It's a moment fans and analysts alike have looked forward to: the return of one of a historically great shooter, a fiery competitor, and one of the game's most unique, free-spirited personalities.

It's also set up to be a potentially season-altering move.

Thompson can ease the load on Stephen Curry and vault the Warriors into another tier

Expectations should be tempered, of course. Few players have ever successfully returned to form after tearing their Achilles; Kevin Durant is a significant outlier. Fewer have ever had such devastating injuries back to back.

Even if Thompson can reach his pre-injury form, it will surely take him a little while to get used to playing at an NBA level again after nearly three years off.

Klay Thompson shoots the ball during warm-ups.
Klay Thompson's return should help Stephen Curry.Jeff Chiu/AP Images

Still, the timing couldn't be better for the Warriors. At 29-9, they're in second place in the West, with the league's second-best point differential. They appear to be doing just fine without a third All-Star player.

But Thompson's return comes in the midst of what Stephen Curry has dubbed the worst shooting slump of his career. Over his last 11 games, Curry is averaging 26 points per game, but on just 38% shooting from the field and 34% from three, perhaps a sign that he is wearing down after a season-and-a-half of carrying the Warriors offense. Defenses have increasingly thrown all they can at Curry to stop his three-point shooting and make someone else make a play.

That the Warriors can still win games while Curry slumps is a good sign for their outlook.

"We're 29-8, tied for the best record in the league," Draymond Green told reporters after a loss on Wednesday. "It's not going so bad where we need to start worrying how Steph is being guarded."

Nonetheless, adding a player of Thompson's stature could do wonders for Curry and the Warriors offense. A career 42% three-point shooter, with the potential for scoring binges (see: his 37-point third quarter in 2015), Thompson's ability to spread the floor will only make it harder for defenses to blitz Curry. Thompson also has familiarity with the Warriors read-and-react offense and should help things flow more smoothly.

The Warriors already own the NBA's 9th-best offense, and they score like a top-3 offense with Curry on the floor. If Thompson can resemble his old self, it might vault the Warriors into another tier in the NBA — from a feel-good story and potential threats to serious championship contenders.

Thompson's return might decide how the Warriors view their future

Klay Thompson, Draymond Green, and Stephen Curry run down the floor high-fiving during a game in 2016.
Can the Warriors' Big 3 lead another championship run?Ben Margot/AP Images

Thompson's return may also provide more clarity on the team's future.

The Warriors are in a unique position, trying to straddle two different timelines at once. On the one hand, Curry and Draymond Green look capable of leading another championship charge in their 30s.

On the other hand, the Warriors have drafted three players selected in the top 15, potential bridges to the next era over the past two seasons. The Warriors are still eyeing deep playoff runs while building toward a future not involving the Big 3.

For this reason, the Warriors will likely be a team involved in trade rumors, especially if Thompson looks to be an effective player once again. The Warriors window to chase championships with this core might be short, and they have three talented to rookies to dangle in trades to upgrade their rotation.

The Warriors owners have insisted that their young players are meaningful parts of their future. They likely mean that, but with no clear-cut favorite in the West this season, will the organization ever regret going all-in around Curry, Green, and Thompson?

Thompson's return might have the opposite effect, too. If Thompson can't return to his pre-injury form, it might make management all that more focused on keeping their future in tact and holding onto their young players.

The Warriors have publicly insisted that they will try to remain competitive around Curry, that they won't give up on playoff pursuits to build for the future. However, if Thompson's return doesn't elevate the Warriors to some new level, the team might be more hesitant to sacrifice the future for a "win-now" type of move.

Sunday is shaping up to be a celebrated moment, the return of one of the league's most beloved players. It may also mark a turn in this year's championship race, and perhaps for future ones.

Read the original article on Insider

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