Realistic Klay Thompson expectations with Warriors return imminent

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What are realistic expectations for Klay upon return? originally appeared on NBC Sports Bayarea

Klay Thompson's return to the court is imminent. 

Having been reportedly cleared for full participation in practice and 5-on-5 scrimmages this week, the latest update shows that Thompson should be back in game action soon. 

Thompson is itching to get out on the court. It's been two-and-a-half years since he has played in a game. When he finally gets back out there, he wants to pick up right where he left off. 

"I don’t want to come back and be a shell of myself. I want to be like I was the last time I was playing," Thompson told reporters Tuesday afternoon. 

But the reality is, he won't be. At least, not at first. 

The common phrase you'll hear regarding Thompson and what kind of player he will be, or needs to be, for the Warriors has been "if he's just 80 percent of himself..." But even getting to 80 percent of what he was doing in 2019 will take some time. 

"I keep repeating this two-and-a-half years thing as often as I can," Warriors coach Steve Kerr said. "You know, even if Klay didn’t have this injury, didn’t have an ACL, didn’t have an Achilles, he just put the ball down for two-and-a-half years and we handed him the ball, it would take him a while to find a rhythm ... We just have to preach patience and allow him the space he needs to be able to build his endurance, build his rhythm."

Endurance will be the one thing that takes the most time for Thompson to get back. He's been practicing his shot for months, and it appears to be back. He says his defense is there and doesn't anticipate being a liability on that end of the floor. He's been working with Leandro Barbosa -- who Thompson called one of the best slashers in the league when he was playing -- to make sure his two-way reputation is still intact. 

But the thing that can't be replicated in any practice or scrimmage is the speed of the game. And according to Kerr, fatigue has been setting in for Thompson far quicker. 

"The hardest part is just simulating a game and the conditioning that goes with being a great NBA player, it’s hard," Thompson said. "It’s definitely a thing that takes time."

According to Kerr, the plan is to let Thompson build up his endurance and conditioning even more. 

It has been reported that Dec. 20 or Dec. 23 have been circled as possible games, but Kerr refuted that. 

So, whenever Thompson does return, what are fair expectations?

It's fair to expect him to have a beautiful shooting form, a two-way presence and the ability to be a floor-spacer because of the respect he demands from defenses. But, you can't expect him to be exactly who he was before. 

Thompson knows this. And because of that, he's changing the way he views his own game and the ways he measures personal success. 

"I was a numbers guy before. I always wanted to shoot a certain percentage or average a certain amount of points but now coming back after two tough injuries, I kind of scratched that," Thompson said. "I have an open canvas of what could happen. I just want to be efficient. I don’t care what my numbers are, as long as I’m shooting and playing efficiently. I know when it’s time, whether it's toward the end of this year, come playoff time or next year, my numbers will be great again."

In Kerr's eyes, it's all about getting Thompson to that "80 percent of himself" by the postseason. Owning a league-best 15-2 record, the Warriors aren't currently depending on Thompson to make them good. They're getting enough from Steph Curry, Draymond Green, Andrew Wiggins, Jordan Poole, and their incredibly deep bench

But, when the playoffs roll around, the Warriors want -- and need -- the extra punch Thompson's skillset gives them. 

RELATED: Klay eyes return with 'championship or bust' mentality

Up until that point, they are not putting pressure on Thompson to make a big impact. When he returns, he will be on a strict minutes restriction, and then that will slowly loosen as they head into the latter portion of the season. 

The Warriors are forcing themselves to be patient. Of course, that's easier said than done. Especially because of how great Thompson says he feels. 

Every cut, every pass, every shot that Thompson takes, he says feels like it used to. The other day, he knocked down several threes in about 45 seconds. But he's trying to stay grounded. 

"You’ve got to have realistic expectations of yourself," he said.

"Just two years not playing in an NBA game, you got to taper down big expectations of scoring 37 points in a quarter or 14 threes in a game. I plan on going the again. But who knows when. It’s tough to say."

At the same time, Thompson can't help but dream up scenarios of how his return will be, and what he will be able to accomplish right out of the gate. "Hopefully I do that when I come back the first game," Thompson said, thinking of the barrage of threes he hit the other day. "That would be nice."

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