Warriors Steve Kerr Sounds Off on Klay Thompson’s Defensive Struggles

Klay Thompson, Golden State Warriors

Getty Killian Hayes #7 of the Detroit Pistons is guarded by Klay Thompson #11 of the Golden State Warriors at Chase Center on January 18, 2022 in San Francisco, California. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and/or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)

The Golden State Warriors couldn’t be happier to have Klay Thompson back in the mix, but not every part of his game is revamping at the same rate.

Thompson has been back with the team since January 9, appearing in five games to this point. He’ll play in his sixth game against the Indiana Pacers at Chase Center Thursday night, January 20. Dubs’ head coach Steve Kerr appeared on 95.7 The Game’s Damon & Ratto Show the day prior to that contest to discuss Thompson’s return to the court, during which he gave mixed reviews on the shooting guard’s play — with certain caveats.

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“Not the same level,” Kerr said of Thompson’s defense now as compared to 2019, before he had suffered two catastrophic injuries. “I don’t see how there would be a chance for him to be at the same level at this stage, with a two and a half year absence. But I think he’s moving really well.”

Warriors Ratcheting Up Thompson’s Defense Gradually

Klay Thompson and Steph Curry, Golden State Warriors

GettyKlay Thompson (left) high fives Stephen Curry (right), of the Golden State Warriors, as he runs back downcourt against the Detroit Pistons at Chase Center on January 18, 2022 in San Francisco, California. (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)

Thompson was selected to five consecutive All-Star games before he tore his ACL in Game 6 of the 2019 NBA Finals against the Toronto Raptors. The Warriors appeared in the NBA Finals in each of those five seasons, winning three championship rings.

During that stretch, Thompson was widely regarded as one of the best two-way players in the NBA. He averaged more than 20 points per game every year and often guarded the best player in opposing teams’ starting lineups.

It is possible Thompson will be that player again, but Kerr and company aren’t expecting him to do it right away. What makes those expectations easier is a deeper bench now for the Dubs to draw upon.

“We haven’t given him the toughest assignment [on defense] yet,” Kerr explained. “We’re leaving that to [Andrew Wiggins]. Last night we put [Jonathan] Kuminga on Cade Cunningham. That would normally be a Klay-type matchup.”

“We’re trying to ease him back defensively, too. But I think overall, physically, he’s feeling great and he’s looking really good,” Kerr continued. “I think over the course of the next few months, he’s just going to get better and better.”

Thompson Already Beginning to Look Like Old Self on Offense

Klay Thompson, Golden State Warriors

GettyKlay Thompson, of the Golden State Warriors, reacts after scoring on a three-point shot against the Cleveland Cavaliers during the second quarter at Chase Center on January 9, 2022 in San Francisco, California. (Photo by Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images)

In five games since his return, not including Thursday night against the Pacers, Thompson is averaging 15.2 points per game on just over 21 minutes played per outing, according to ESPN.

Thompson’s shooting is down, which is to be expected. He’s never shot worse than 42.2% from the field during his professional career or 40.1% from behind the 3-point line, per Basketball Reference. During his five games since returning from his multi-year absence, Thompson is shooting 37.7% from the field and 36.1% from deep.

However, Thompson’s offense continues to come along at an even quicker clip than his defense. The shooting guard scored a personal season-high of 21 points Tuesday night against the Detroit Pistons, which led all Warriors in scoring including fellow Splash Brother Steph Curry.

“He really got into a groove,” Kerr said. “Even though he’s still on a minutes restriction, you could see last night in front of the home crowd, he got into that groove second quarter. He hit the buzzer beater at the end of the half — the place is going crazy.”

“He’s looking great. He’s looking strong and fluid. You can see the rhythm and the timing is all starting to come back,” Kerr continued. “I’m sure they’ll be some ups and downs as we go the next few weeks, but it’s just so great to see him out there again.”

The Warriors are 2-3 in the five games since Thompson has returned to the lineup. Draymond Green has been out with a back injury, which is also impacting his calf, for that entire stretch. He is not expected back with the team until the Dubs travel to Houston to play the Rockets on January 31, at the earliest.

Golden State is currently second in the Western Conference standings behind the Phoenix Suns with a record of 32-12.

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