Kawakami: Warriors' Klay Thompson continues to progress, and his price continues to rise

Kawakami: Warriors' Klay Thompson continues to progress, and his price continues to rise

SAN FRANCISCO – Klay Thompson didn't run down the hallway back into the Golden State Warriors' locker room after his pregame workout on Sunday. Up. recoil. At least once he swirled his way into a kind of momentary tranquility. He laughed. Shouted.

“Man, I feel good today!” Clay shouted at one of his favorite Chase Center employees as he walked by. “Oh yeah, I feel good!”

What happened over the next few hours, to anyone who witnessed the entrance, seemed inevitable at that point: With Stephen Curry on time off, Klay made five of his first seven three-point attempts, scored 25 points in the first half and that was it. He scored 32 points in the Warriors' 118-110 win over a very tired Utah Jazz at Chase Center.

It won't go down as a historic night for Klay, because those spots are reserved for unique blowouts and playoff championship snaps and because Klay has pitched more than his share of those games already. But Sunday's performance felt a little heavier than just another accidental defeat to a distressed opponent, simply because it was part of Clay's ongoing streak. And because Klay, his teammates, the Warriors' decision-makers and everyone else in the NBA certainly know that these won't be his final moments this way.

Then on the podium, Clay was much calmer than he had been a few hours earlier. But that seems to add oomph to everything too. This was not the time to scream and cheer. This came before. After the match, things were more serious and ongoing than that, even for Clay. Especially for Clay.

“I felt good physically today,” Clay said. “I didn't feel any pain anywhere. I thought that translated well to the game.

How often do you feel this good before a game, Clay? “Eighty-two games, you're not going to be 100 percent every night,” he said. “I mean, what have I missed, maybe three or four games this year? That's unbelievable after two years of rehab. So that's something I can hang my hat on and be proud of, is being solid during the season.”

For the record, Klay has only missed four games so far this regular season, leaving only four games left to play. He started the season poorly, which contributed a lot to the team's poor start and led to increased talk that this might have been the end of the line for him as an important player in the NBA and perhaps also the end of the Warriors' dynasty. But he kept playing. He was benched in January for rookie Brandin Podzemski. But Clay kept playing. He returned to the starting lineup. Keep playing.

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Eventually, Clay found a rhythm, and he's still in it. Along the way, the Warriors found a rhythm as well. They kept playing too.

Incidentally, Klay's 74 games played are the best on the team — three more than Curry, Jonathan Kuminga and Kevon Looney (although the only games Looney missed were when he was healthy but Steve Kerr didn't play with him) — and it can't Pretty much understood. For someone who missed the entire 2019-20 and 2020-21 seasons and part of 2021-22 due to back-to-back severe leg injuries midway through his prime.

In his third season after suffering serious leg injuries, Klay Thompson has played in 74 of the Warriors' 78 games so far. “That's something I can hang my hat on,” he says. (Bob Coppins/USA Today)

Klay is no longer the same All-Star he was five years ago; He's lost lateral defensive movement due to injuries that he'll never get back, and he's having flatter nights shooting the ball these days than he used to. But at 34 years old, on a Warriors team that has been fighting for the playoffs for months and on a contract that expires next July, Klay is still a solid player. He's still the guy who can tilt a postseason series by himself. He's always still on the field. Always dangerous.

He's seen his NBA life flash before his eyes once, twice, maybe five times over the past few years…and he's not really on the end of anything. I think that's more evident now than ever since he tore his ACL in the 2019 Finals, and I think Klay is getting stronger. If he plays the next four games, he will have played 78 games this season, the total he played in the 2018-19 regular season, just before his first major injury.

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“I think it's amazing because it's easy to fall in love with great shooting nights and scoring big goals,” Clay said. “But unless you've had an Achilles tendon or ACL rehab, it's very difficult. To do that and in two years to go out and play, whatever, 94 percent of the games, that's what I'm most proud of, just being available and being consistent in the lineup.” “Because the NBA season is grueling, it's long. It takes a lot of discipline to be able to do that nightly. That's something I'm very proud of this season, is being able to play that many games.”

Will this propel the Warriors through the Play-In Championship, into the playoffs, and perhaps into a first-round upset of one of the top-seeded teams in the West? It's impossible to know all that at this point, but at least the Warriors (24-11 since they were 19-24 in late January) have given themselves some chance to make it happen.

The Warriors, as Kerr noted Sunday, will almost certainly finish with a better record than 44-38 last season, which was good enough for a No. 6 seed last April; Everything has gotten worse this season because the West has too many good teams, which has pushed the Warriors to No. 10, because of the Warriors' slow start, because of Draymond Green's two suspensions, and because the Warriors' dynasty is deserved. To end anytime now.

But Kerr argues convincingly that the Warriors are truly a better team than last season — much better chemistry, deeper and younger at key spots, still led by Curry and still energized by Draymond. Oh yeah, and he still gets an important performance from Clay.

Best Records in the West (since January 28)

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These days, the Warriors don't always need huge clay nights, which is a good thing, because there are fewer of them than they did in their heyday. They've got Podziemski's all-around game. They got Kuminga's pure athleticism and ability to finish. They had Moses Moody play defense and hit 3s. They've got Gary Payton II shutout covered. They have Chris Paul manning the second unit and finding his own shots in prime time.

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Sometimes, Kerr doesn't finish matches with Clay. Even during Clay's run over the last few months, and even now that he's back in the starting lineup, there are games where Kerr will go with Paul down the stretch to keep things consistent, or to GP2 for some key stops, or to Podziemski for his energy and recovery. Klay isn't automatic anymore — even through his recent surge in shooting 41.4 percent from 3-point range since mid-February, he's still at a season-low 38.3 percent.

Which brings us to the next part of the series: It's possible that the Warriors can continue at a relatively similar level next season with or without Clay (if Kuminga, Podzemski, and Moody continue to thrive), but it's also possible that Clay can continue at a very good level. Similar individual level next season with or without the Warriors.

They were incredible together. They're probably fine apart from each other, in a way that I can't say for the Warriors without Curry or maybe Draymond without the Warriors.

One of the league's worst-kept secrets is that Orlando, loaded with young talent but not great shooters, could offer Klay a lot of money next summer. Meanwhile, Joe Lacob said the Warriors want to get rid of the luxury tax next summer, which is possible, but only if they are very disciplined about how much they are willing to pay to keep Klay (and/or CP3). ).

Frankly, Klay is the only one of the Big Three who could end up being more valuable to another team than the Warriors want to pay him. The longer he continues, the bigger the contract he will be entitled to. The Warriors should definitely try to bring him back, and not just as a sentimental gesture.

But Clay controlled the process. That's because there are several chapters left in his NBA story, and he has every right to be very proud of it all.


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

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