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Klay Thompson’s return helps Warriors return to NBA's biggest stage

As Klay Thompson and the Warriors prepare for the NBA Finals, we look at the key trends that illustrate Klay’s impact since his return in January.

Klay Thompson is set to play in his sixth NBA Finals, beginning Thursday in San Francisco.

The Golden State Warriors are in the NBA Finals for the sixth time in eight seasons, joining the Bulls of the 1990’s (1991-93, 1996-98), the Lakers of the 1980s (1980, 1982-85, 1987-88) and the Celtics of the 1950s and 60s (1957-1966, 1968-69) as the only franchises to accomplish that feat.

For Klay Thompson, it’s six for six as he missed the past two seasons when the Warriors not only didn’t make the Finals but did not qualify for the playoffs.

After suffering a torn ACL in Game 6 of the 2019 Finals — then suffering a torn Achilles tendon during his ACL rehabilitation — Thompson missed a total of 941 days before returning to the court on Jan. 9, 2022. A lot of rust can accumulate over 2½ years, and over the course of 32 regular season games and 16 more in the playoffs, Thompson has done the work to shake much of it away.

Thompson has had some incredible highs when he looked like vintage Klay Thompson — scoring a season-high 41 points against New Orleans on April 10; his 30-point night as “Game 6 Klay” to close out the Grizzlies in the conference semifinals; and a 32-point effort in Game 5 against Dallas to send the Warriors back to the Finals. He’s also some forgettable games — scoring a season-low seven points twice, and shooting below 20% from 3-point range seven times.

But the key is not to focus too much on the highs or the lows, but rather the trends that show Thompson’s progress over the past 48 games. As he and the Warriors prepare for another run at the Larry O’Brien NBA Championship trophy, we look at the key trends that illustrate Klay’s improvement.


As the trendline above shows, Thompson’s scoring has steadily risen over the course of the season. After averaging 15.6 points in 23.4 minutes over 10 games in January, Thompson reached an average of 27.9 points in 34.6 minutes over 10 games in April — the final three games of the regular season and Golden State’s first-round playoff series with Denver.

January 10 23.4 15.6 40.6 14.3 32.9 3.3 2.7 0.6 0.5
February 7 27.9 19.3 44.8 15.0 45.6 4.6 3.4 0.6 0.3
March 12 34.0 20.9 40.2 20.5 34.4 4.0 2.4 0.5 0.8
April 8 34.6 27.9 51.8 20.5 48.3 3.9 1.9 0.8 0.5
May 11 35.4 18.5 43.4 16.5 36.8 4.5 2.8 0.9 0.7

In the two subsequent rounds against Memphis and Dallas, Thompson’s scoring dropped to 18.5 ppg over 11 games as he attempted four fewer shots per game than he had in the previous two months (more on that later).


We see a similar rising trendline in Thompson’s effective field goal percentage over the course of the season — starting near 50% and ending near 60% — including posting an EFG% of 60 or better in five of his past seven games entering the Finals.

5/26/22 GSW vs. DAL W 37 32 64.0
5/24/22 GSW @ DAL L 28 12 60.0
5/22/22 GSW @ DAL W 39 19 41.7
5/20/22 GSW vs. DAL W 37 15 65.0
5/18/22 GSW vs. DAL W 35 15 57.7
5/13/22 GSW vs. MEM W 42 30 68.2
5/11/22 GSW @ MEM L 25 19 70.8

Like all shooters, Klay will have some nights when’s he hot and others where he struggles, but the latter have come at a lower frequency as the season has progressed.


In the postgame press conference after Klay’s comeback game on Jan. 9, Stephen Curry laughed when asked about Thompson firing up 18 shots in just 20 minutes after his lengthy absence: “That is so Klay Thompson and I frickin’ love it.”

But one thing that has made Thompson so special throughout his career is his ability to put up points and impact the game while not posting a high usage rate. Remember, this is the same player that scored 60 points on 11 dribbles in less than 30 minutes. That’s what makes this downward trendline notable as Thompson has not had to force his offense but rather let it come to him as it had in the past.

Among Warriors players that have averaged at least 12 minutes per game in the postseason, Thompson ranks third in usage at 22.4% behind Stephen Curry and Jordan Poole. In Golden State’s three title seasons, Klay posted usage rates of 23.3% (2015), 19.7% (2017) and 21.6% (2018).


Back in November, when Thompson was scrimmaging but still more than a month away from his return to the court, he said that the Warriors were at a point where it was “championship or bust.” With Golden State getting off to such a great start and Klay still set to return, he knew the potential of this team would be another championship run. He was asked about that proclamation at NBA Finals Media Day on Wednesday.

“Well, I made that observation because we started 18-2,” he said. “That’s an incredible start, and I wasn’t even in the lineup yet. We weren’t even whole. I envisioned us as all the pieces in the puzzle together, and I thought we could attain greatness.”

The Warriors brought Thompson back slowly, limiting his minutes early and holding him out of back-to-backs. His minutes rose month by month — 23.4 in January, 27.9 in February, 34.0 in March, 34.6 in April and now 35.4 in May. Thompson leads the Warriors in playoff minutes at 35.1 per game, and with no more back-to-backs, he is in the lineup each and every night.

With the reintegration of Thompson, the emergence of Poole, the leap of Andrew Wiggins and the steady play of both Curry and Draymond Green, the Warriors find themselves back on the stage they were when Klay’s absence began — the NBA Finals.

“Everything that we all went through with this as the ultimate goal of getting back on this stage, the chance to play for another championship,” Curry said. “Klay coming off an unreal rehab journey. Broke my hand. Draymond was injured with a bunch of different stuff. We had a lot of young guys coming into the fold and trying to reclaim our chemistry as a core but also get those guys up to speed in how they can help us and help impact winning.

“Then you look up and all the work that you put in over the last two years has paid off, built on the experience and just the veteran presence that we have. So all that stuff is just built into the context of what’s happened since Game 6 of the 2019 Finals, and we’re back here. So it’s pretty special.”

The Warriors are now four wins away from attaining the greatness that Thompson saw in this team while he was still working his way back.