What Klay Thompson version will Warriors get when he returns?

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Warriors burning question: What version of Klay will return? originally appeared on NBC Sports Bayarea

A lot of the questions surrounding the Warriors heading into the 2021-22 NBA season come down to one guy: Klay Thompson

Did the Warriors add a game-changing player during the offseason? No. But Thompson will be a game-changer when he returns after missing the last two seasons. Do they have enough depth and floor spacing? Just having Thompson available will address that. Will they be contenders? Yes, once Thompson is back. 

But, for how often Thompson is the answer to the big-picture questions, there are just as many questions about him. The first is as simple as when will he return? The answer is still unclear, but he should be expected back in December or January. 

But even after he gets back, there are more questions.

Burning question

What version of Thompson will he be when he returns?

Thompson is one of the best players currently in the NBA and one of the best shooters to have ever played. The game comes naturally to him. But, it's been two years since he's played basketball, so it's unfair to assume that he will be exactly who he was when he tore his ACL during Game 6 of the 2019 NBA Finals. 

“But I was playing the best basketball of my life in 2019 when I get hurt," Thompson told Sirius XM radio a week ago. "I expect to get back there. Not right away just because that was 100 games worth of work and incredible shape. But when I step back on the floor I’m gonna be a very effective player. Maybe not what I was doing shooting the ball like I was, but I will still be really good. And I will just keep going up – and I really believe that."

As Thompson said, don't expect him to be 100 percent himself right away. He has a lot of conditioning to get back, in addition to some kinks of his game to work out. 

As a shooter, Thompson shouldn't have too much of an issue getting his form back. It's something he will never forget how to do. The biggest question mark in terms of his game will be as a defender.

Thompson's greatest attribute was how lethal he was as a two-way player. At media day, Thompson said his defensive sliding was there, but his reaction time wasn't. That, in addition to working on his lateral movement and quick footwork, will be key to get him back to the level of defense he had which allowed him to shut down the likes of James Harden and other elite guards and wings.

For the Warriors to contend...

The popular saying has been "if Klay is just 80 percent of who he was, the Warriors will be in great shape."

Of course, this is true. If Thompson can be a reliable scorer and shooter again, and maybe just help out on defense, yes, the Warriors will be fine. They will be a competitive team in the Western Conference. 

But is it fair? Is it realistic? There is no answer to the latter question yet. But for the former, my answer is no, it's not fair to put all of the Warriors' success -- or lack thereof -- on Thompson's shoulders. The team should not, and cannot, assume that as soon as he returns they'll all of a sudden become elite again.

RELATED: Warriors burning question: Will Draymond provide additional scoring?

So, they need to operate in such a manner. The Warriors need to start the season out strong before Thompson gets back. They need to continue to use Otto Porter Jr., Nemanja Bjelica and Jordan Poole to spread the floor and work on having a top-10 defense again. 

In order to contend, they need Thompson to be the cherry on top, not the only thing that will make them good.

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