Kawakami: Warriors’ Klay Thompson is on the move, and his value keeps rising

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By journalsofus.com

SAN FRANCISCO — Klay Thompson didn’t just walk down the aisle back to the Golden State Warriors’ locker room after his pregame workout on Sunday, he levitated, He jumped up. He wandered at least once on his way to some kind of momentary nirvana. He laughed. He shouted.

“Man, I feel great today!” As he walked over, Clay gave a shout out to one of his favorite Chase Center employees. “Oh yes, I feel great!”

What happened over the next few hours, to anyone watching Hallway Hallelujah, seemed inevitable at the time: With Stephen Curry given the night off, Klay made five of his first seven 3-point attempts. , scored 25 points in the first half and finished with 32 points in the Warriors’ 118–110 victory over the greatly weakened Utah Jazz at Chase Center.

This won’t be remembered as a historic Clay Night, because those spots are reserved for unique explosions and instant playoff heroics and because Clay has already provided more than his share. But Sunday’s performance felt a little more weighty than another fluke defeat on a tragic foe, because it was part of the Klee continuum. And because Klay, his teammates, the Warriors’ decision-makers and everyone else in the NBA almost certainly know this won’t be his last moment like this.

Later on the podium, Clay was much calmer than he had been a few hours earlier. But it seemed like it added seriousness to everything. This was not a time for cheering and joy. He had come earlier also. After the game, things were much more serious and more lasting than that, even for Klay. Especially for clay.

“I felt great physically today,” Clay said. “I didn’t feel any pain anywhere. I thought it had a good impact on the game.”

How often do you feel this good before a game, Kel? “Eighty-two games in, you’re not going to be 100 percent every night,” he said. “I mean, what have I missed, maybe three, four games this year? After two years of rehabilitation plus this is incredible. So that’s something I can be proud of, it’s sustainable over the season.

For the record, Klay has only lost four games so far this regular season, with only four left to play. He had a poor start to the season, which greatly contributed to the team’s poor start and fueled discussion that perhaps this was the end of the line for him as a significant NBA performer and perhaps even the end of the Warriors dynasty. But he kept playing. He was benched for rookie Brandin Podziemski in January. But Clay continued playing. He returned to the starting lineup. Kept playing.

Eventually, Clay found a rhythm, and he’s still in it. Also, the Warriors have found their rhythm. They have also been playing.

And by the way, Klay’s 74 games played are tops on the team – three more than Curry, Jonathan Kuminga and Kevon Looney (though Looney’s only missed games have come when he was healthy but Steve Kerr didn’t play with him) – And pretty unfathomable for someone who missed the entire 2019-20 and 2020-21 seasons and part of 2021-22 due to persistent serious foot injuries right in the middle of his prime.

clay thompson

In his third season following major foot injuries, Klay Thompson has played in 74 of the Warriors’ 78 games so far. “This is something I can hang my hat on,” he says. (Bob Kupbens/USA TODAY)

Clay is no longer the same two-way All-Star he was five years ago; Injuries caused him to lose his lateral defensive speed, which he never regained, and he has more flat nights shooting the ball these days than ever before. But at 34, on a Warriors team that has been fighting for its playoff survival for several months and his contract expires this July, Clay is still a veteran player. He’s still a guy who can tilt a postseason series on his own. He is still always on the court. Always dangerous.

He’s seen his NBA life flash before his eyes one, two, maybe five times over the last few years… and he’s not really on the receiving end of anything. I think it’s more obvious now than at any point since he tore his ACL in the 2019 finals, and I think Klay is only getting stronger. And if he plays the next four games, he will have played 78 games this season, which is the total number of games he played in the 2018–19 regular season just before his first major injury.

“I think it’s amazing because it’s easy to fall in love with great shooting nights and big scoring output,” Clay said. “But unless you’ve gone through Achilles rehab or an ACL, it’s very difficult. To do that and to come out over two years and play, whatever it is, 94 percent of the games, that’s what I’m most proud of, just being available and being steady in the lineup. Because the NBA season is tough, it’s long. It takes a lot of discipline to be able to do this at night. That’s something I’m really proud of this season, just my ability to play that amount of games.”

Will it push the Warriors into the playoffs via the play-in tournament and perhaps knock off one of the West’s top-seeded teams in the first round? It’s impossible to know everything at this point, but at least the Warriors (24-11 since they were 19-24 at the end of January) have given themselves some chances on this one.

As Kerr pointed out Sunday, the Warriors will almost certainly finish with a better record than their 44-38 mark last season, which was good enough for a No. 6 seed last April; Everything is looking bad this season because there are a lot of good teams in the West, which has pushed the Warriors to 10th place, due to the Warriors’ slow start, due to Draymond Green’s two suspensions and due to the Warriors’ dynasty being no longer there. Time is also about to end.

But Kerr argues persuasively that the Warriors are actually a better team than last season — with far better chemistry, deep and young at key positions, still led by Curry and still energized by Drummond. Oh yes, and still getting a significant performance from Clay.

Best Records in the West (Since January 28th)

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These days, warriors don’t always need giant Clay Knights, which is good, because there are fewer of them than in their heyday. He’s got Podziemski’s all-around game. He has the pure athleticism and finishing ability of Kuminga. They have Moses Moody to play defense and hit 3s. He’s got shut-down coverage of Gary Payton II. He’s got Chris Paul to run the second unit and find his own shots in tough times.

Sometimes, Kerr doesn’t close games with clay. Even during Clay’s rally over the past few months, even now that he’s back in the starting lineup, there are games when Kerr will go with Paul to keep things steady, or go to GP2 for some key stops. , or will go to Podzimsky. His energy and rebounding. Clay is no longer automatic – even with his recent increase of 41.4 percent shooting from 3-point distance since mid-February, he’s still at a career-low 38.3 percent rate over the entire season.

Which leads us to the next part of the continuum: The Warriors could probably advance at a relatively similar level with or without Klay next season (if Kuminga, Podziemski and Moody continue to blossom), but Klay could also probably go much further. Are the same individual levels next season with or without the Warriors.

They have been incredible together. They can survive separately, so I can’t say the same for the Warriors without Curry or possibly Drummond without the Warriors.

One of the worst-kept secrets in the league is that Orlando, loaded with young talent but not shooters, could pay Klay a ton of money next summer. Meanwhile, Joe Lacob has said that the Warriors want to opt out of the luxury tax altogether next summer, which is possible, but only if they are very disciplined about how much they want to keep Klay (and/or CP3). How much are you willing to pay for it? ,

To be clear, Klay is the only one of the Big Three who might be worth more to another team than the Warriors are willing to give him. The more durable he is, the bigger contract he will be entitled to. The Warriors should definitely try to bring him back, and not just as a sentimental gesture.

But Clay has gained control over the process. That’s because there are many more chapters left in his NBA story, and he has every right to be very proud of them all.

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(Top photo: Theron W. Henderson/Getty Images)

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