Why Klay Thompson faces biggest NBA offseason of his Warriors career

Why 2023 NBA offseason is most important of Klay’s career originally appeared on NBC Sports Bayarea

SAN FRANCISCO — The dark days of Klay Thompson‘s 2019 offseason undergoing surgery to repair his torn left ACL will never fully be forgotten by the Warriors shooting guard. Neither will him recovering from that surgery but then tearing his right Achilles in November of 2020, right before the NBA draft.

But starting now, Thompson faces his most important offseason yet going into his 13th season and 11th on the court.

“I think the biggest thing for Klay is to have a great offseason,” Steve Kerr said Tuesday. “At 34, 33, I think, with two major injuries behind him, this is a time where he’s got to be more prepared than ever for the first day of training camp, not only physically handling the injuries and the strength and conditioning part of everything, but also understanding that as you get older you’ve got to get better in areas you can improve upon.

“You can’t rely on the same things you could rely on at 28 or 27. There are areas where he can get better, and he’s going to focus on those things this summer and come in and have a great year next year.”

Thompson turned 33 years old in February, three-plus weeks before Draymond Green also turned 33. His two devastating injuries that took two years of his prime are long gone. So is the rehab. He enjoyed his first rehab-free offseason last year while celebrating his fourth championship, though there was one rough roadblock.

The five-time All-Star is a basketball fiend. If he had to rank his two happy places, where he feels most comfortable, the court and the water would be atop the list — in any given order depending on the day.

That wasn’t true last summer, at least not with the court.

He rarely played summer ball. Mentally, it was too hard for the future Hall of Famer. It’s hard to argue with his reasoning, too.

The last time Thompson was healthy and enjoying pickup basketball, his Achilles popped and he again had to go through the nightmare of rehab.

“I didn’t play a lot this summer. It was hard to,” Thompson said to reporters ahead of the Warriors’ second preseason game in Japan on Oct. 1. “Especially what I went through the last summer when I was healthy, popping my Achilles. It was really hard for me to get out there. Just mentally, it was hard.

“It’s hard to explain, it’s like a mental block in a way. I’m going to face it one day, but this season was so taxing, with the whole coming back. It was hard to win a championship and then a month later, play. It was a lot. But I look forward to playing summer basketball again.”

The Warriors and Thompson have to be on the same page this summer with his training and regiment. They respected his vulnerability and honesty. They understood his sensitivities to what Klay called a “mental block.”

Now that he played essentially a full season, will he be able to get over that hurdle this offseason and tackle the work head-on?

His picturesque shot still is there, and always has improved as the season goes on. However, his extremely slow start hurt himself and the Warriors this season. He was ejected in the fourth game of the season for the first time in his career when he started off 1 of 8 from the field and missed all five of his 3-point attempts in a 29-point loss to the Phoenix Suns.

There were concerns if Thompson would even be ready for the regular season after opting out of scrimmages over the offseason and playing only one preseason game. The Warriors went from starting 18-2 in their first 20 games in the 2021-22 season to 10-10 one year later, and the star shooting guard was part of the problem.

“I think Klay’s second half of the season was fantastic,” Kerr said. “I know things didn’t end the way he had hoped in the playoffs, but I think there’s a lot of things we can do as a team to help get better shots for each other next year that I think will help Klay.”

January of 2023 was the best January of his career, averaging 27.0 points on 45.9 percent shooting and 43.1 percent behind the 3-point line. February bloomed an even better version of him. Over an 11-game span, Thompson put up 25.5 points on 45.3 percent shooting and 45.4 percent from deep. He had two 42-point performances and scored at least 20 points seven times for the month.

The playoffs, especially his series against his hometown Los Angeles Lakers, are what hurts the most.

Even with five of his seven games against the Sacramento Kings ending with 20 or more points, Thompson was good but not great by his playoff standards. His shooting percentage for the epic first-round series was 42.5 percent and he made 35.6 percent of his 3-point attempts. The last two games, though, were a preview of what was to come with only one day in between games.

Thompson in Game 6 and Game 7 against the Kings combined to score 38 points on 30.8 percent shooting (12 of 39) and 21.1 percent (4 of 19) on 3-pointers.

The first two games of the Western Conference semifinals saw him combine to score 55 points. In the final four games of the series, he scored a total of 42. The schedule gave Thompson no breaks and his body wore down right in front of us. Thompson was climbing an uphill battle and tumbled backward into a frustrating finish.

Look away if you must. But Thompson averaged 10.5 points while shooting 25 percent from the field and 27.8 percent from his second home, AKA 3-point territory, in the final four games — with three being in LA.

“It was awesome playing in front of my dad and him calling the game,” Thompson said after the Warriors’ season-ending Game 6 loss to the Lakers, one in which he scored eight points on 3-of-19 shooting. “I obviously wish I would have shot the ball much more efficiently. Probably the worst shooting series I’ve had in a long time.

“At the end of the day, though, I’m still under contract with the Dubs and I’m going to use it as fuel come next postseason. It just sucks. When you give it your all and sometimes it doesn’t go the way you want, that’s the hardest part of being a pro athlete.”

Focusing solely on the bad doesn’t tell the whole story. Thompson played 69 regular-season games, giving him his first full season since 2018-19, and played the final four back-to-backs of the season. Milestones came aplenty, including him leading the NBA in 3-pointers for the first time in his career with 301, joining Steph Curry and James Harden as the only other players ever to make at least 300 threes in a season.

Plus, his 21.9 points per game was Thompson’s best mark since the 2016-17 season, when he was 26 years old.

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Thompson famously said he wouldn’t sacrifice s–t when Kevin Durant joined the Warriors. Well, he might have to at this point in his career. More so, it’s about adapting and evolving.

Though he isn’t the two-way player he once was and doesn’t have the same quickness defensively, Thompson can use his size to his advantage and still flashes some strong defensive games. He’ll have to be able to play more of a small forward and even power forward in certain lineups. The Warriors can’t have him exclusively waiting for the ball at the 3-point line.

Maybe the mid-range becomes more of a friend. Thompson is a basketball historian who marveled at Michael Jordan and Kobe Bryant expanding their game with age. The Splash Brother made 41 percent of his mid-range shots this season, and they only made up 20 percent of his total shots.

As the Warriors try to balance their books and face multiple financial obstacles, Thompson is entering the final season of a $190 million contract. The Warriors awarded him a max deal after he sustained a torn ACL and saw him lose two years of that contract to terrible injuries. He is due more than $43 million next season before possibly becoming an unrestricted free agent.

“I know I’m going to come back even better next year,” Thompson said.

That starts now. The dark days are over, and Thompson says he’s ready to prove his doubters wrong once again. Let’s face the facts: His future — on the court and financially — might hang in the balance of the next few months, entering a pivotal season for him and the franchise alike.

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