Thompson Entering the Twilight Phase of His Career?


In Steve Kerr‘s exit interview after the Golden State Warriors’ disappointing end to the season, he talked about Klay Thompson‘s upcoming offseason.

“The biggest thing for Klay is to have a great offseason,” Kerr said. “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 and areas you can improve upon. You can’t rely on the same things you could rely on at 28 or 27.”

Kerr is insinuating that Thompson is entering the next phase of his career, whether he likes it or not. He isn’t getting younger, and especially after two serious lower leg injuries, his approach to the game has to be different now.

Kerr has developed a great feel on NBA stars’ career arcs. He has been around superstars throughout his many roles in the league.

Kerr was a role player with Michael Jordan, Scottie Pippen and Tim Duncan. He was the general manager of the Suns when they had Steve Nash and traded Shawn Marion for Shaquille O’Neal. He is currently the head coach of a dynastic team going through their remaining years as NBA Finals contenders with an aging core.

Thompson will have a lot of time to reflect on this previous season. Not all hope is lost, as he has a chance to still be productive and impactful on both ends of the floor.

But it’s undeniable that Thompson will have to adapt to his physical limitations and the increased competition and talent around the league.

Thompson’s Recent Playoff Struggles

In the final three games against the Lakers, Thompson scored just 27 points. He shot 9-for-42 overall and did not shoot over 30% from the field in any of the three. It was his worst three-game stretch since the final three games of the 2015 Finals against the Cavaliers, where Andre Iguodala picked up the slack and won Finals MVP.

The legend of “Game 6 Klay” has not manifested itself in the Warriors’ last three playoff series. In the 2022 Finals, he shot 5/20 in the clinching Game 6. There were many instances of him trying to hunt shots last season, but it was easy to let those moments slide. He was just coming back from major injuries, and it was his first playoffs since 2019. It was more of a glaring problem this postseason, as he was missing wide-open shots along with poor shot selection.

What Changed?

The biggest reason for Thompson’s struggles offensively has been the changes in what he is physically capable of. Referring to Kerr’s quote in his exit interview, “You can’t rely on the same things you could rely on at 28 or 27.”

Before the injuries and the lost years of his prime, Thompson was at his peak athleticism. In this video alone, one can see the differences in the base of his shot pre-injuries compared to post-return, especially in the clips of Game 6 against the Grizzlies last season.

His ability to come off screens and rise up into his shot diminished substantially. It takes a lot more effort and energy for him to do what he did pre-injuries. Kerr also alluded to Thompson’s conditioning, as he was out of shape entering training camp because he did not play pickup at all during the offseason.

Per, Thompson shot 38.8% from the field and 36.8% from three during this year’s playoffs. It gets more alarming when breaking down his percentages by shot distance.

He shot 23.5% in shots taken from 5-9 feet, and was 35.8% in shots taken from 25-29 feet. In the 2019 playoffs, these percentages were 52.6% and 43.9%, respectively. From those two distances, a player predicated on shooting still needs to be physically strong. The long-distance shots require more power from the lower body, and the short distance attempts come against taller and stronger defenders.

Defensive Responsibilities

Defensively, Thompson has struggled with players he used to be able to guard before his major injuries. He used to be a player who was able to defend the lead guard on the opposing team.

In his prime, he was shutting down Damian Lillard and Russell Westbrook. He has not been able to do that since his return, as the Warriors rely on Andrew Wiggins and Gary Payton II for those responsibilities. Thompson does not have the same lateral quickness after two major surgeries.

He is more capable guarding bigger or slower players. Thompson isn’t a defensive liability by any means, but he can do a much better job on those types of players. He did a great job against Jayson Tatum, Luka Dončić, Jalen Brunson and Desmond Bane last year. Those four players shot a combined 12-of-47 when defended by Thompson.

He can compensate for his lack of lateral quickness with more strength and a better understanding of positioning. Instead of defending guards, it’s more likely Thompson guards forwards. His defensive prowess would just shift, which would help the Warriors have more flexibility.

The Warriors’ Predicament

One item on the Warriors’ to-do list this offseason is Thompson’s contract extension. With one year and $43.2 million left on his deal, he and the organization are able to talk about an extension this offseason.

ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski reported during the series against the Kings that Thompson “has an expectation that he would be rewarded with a new max-level extension this offseason”. This report came before his meltdown against the Lakers in the second round.

His performance in that series should change how the front office views this extension. Can the Warriors find a way to find a fair contract for a possible lesser role for Thompson? They would be playing with fire considering all he has done for the organization. He has contributed to four championships and is a living legend across all Bay Area sports teams.

Thompson’s contract, what to do with Jordan Poole‘s extension kicking in and figuring out Draymond Green‘s future are all on the table. The toughest part about all of these issues is they are all connected to each other. How can the new general manager negotiate with Thompson?

Positive Perspectives

Thompson led the league in three pointers made this season. He also became only the third player in NBA history to make 300+ threes with 301. Along with those accomplishments, he had his highest scoring average for an entire month in his whole career in January with 27 PPG.

He fought back from two major injuries that would have ended other players’ careers. With Steve Kerr, Stephen Curry and Draymond Green still around, there is a path for Thompson to figure out how to improve and adapt.

In an interview with, he mentioned that he expected “to play at an All-Star level again and hopefully become an All-Star”. While that did not come to fruition, the drive and competitiveness is still very high.

With his skillset and experience, Thompson can still be a highly impactful player moving forward. Positive changes will happen if he is able to get better at picking his spots and knowing his own limitations.

The best-case scenario for him is becoming the Manu Ginobili of this Warriors team. A super role player with starter capabilities in a smaller amount of minutes per game. Ginobili’s last All-Star year was at 33 years old, Thompson’s current age.

Ginobili played another seven seasons, being a productive role player whenever he was called upon. Being a role player certainly did not change Ginobili’s legacy. He will always be known as being part of the legendary Spurs trio alongside Duncan and Tony Parker.

Even if that requires Kerr to lessen Thompson’s minutes in the future, it could pay dividends for the team’s success.

It’s hard to bet against the five-time All-Star. His days as a winning player are certainly far from over.

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About Christian Oblena

Born in San Francisco, raised in the East Bay, lifelong Bay Area sports fan. Here to give my own opinions on everything Dubs.

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