Klay Thompson’s return is around the corner.
According to ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski, there is “optimism” that the five-time All-Star will make his season debut on Sunday when the Warriors face the Cavaliers. A final decision will reportedly be made on Friday when the Warriors return from their two-game road trip.
MORE: How good can Thompson be after Achilles injury?
The Warriors already have the best record in the NBA this season without Thompson having logged a single minute. With him, should they be the consensus favorite to win it all?
Members of The Sporting News staff weigh in.
Scott Rafferty (@crabdribbles): Let’s not forget that Thompson is coming off of perhaps the two worst injuries a basketball player can suffer in tearing his ACL and Achilles. Having not played in two seasons, it’s going to take him time to work his way back to being the Klay Thompson we all know and love.
Assuming, of course, Thompson can still get back to that level.
Offensively, I think he’ll be fine. Defensively is more of a question mark, though it certainly helps that the Warriors can surround him with other elite defenders. (There’s a reason Draymond Green is the front-runner for Defensive Player of the Year and Andrew Wiggins has filled in nicely as their go-to stopper on the perimeter.)
The Warriors have established themselves as a legit title contender this season without Thompson, and he should only make them better. However, there’s a little too much uncertainty for me to say they should be the consensus favorite without seeing what he looks like. I have too much respect for the Suns, Nets and Bucks (as well as a few other teams) to go there.
MORE: Four pressing questions ahead of Thompson’s return
Kyle Irving (@KyleIrv_): I’m going to side with Scott here – Thompson’s return doesn’t make the Warriors the consensus title favorite, but it obviously helps their chances.
This has nothing to do with Thompson individually and has everything to do with my respect level for the two teams who reached the Finals last year and only seem to have gotten better – the Suns and Bucks. To me, those are still the two teams to beat. The Nets are right there, too, but I would group them in with the Warriors to make an elite four-team tier that is above the rest of the league.
The Warriors are definitely title contenders and Thompson’s return only bolsters their case to make another run to the NBA Finals. I have high hopes for the five-time All-Star when he retakes the floor, even after spending two full seasons on the sidelines.
That shooting stroke isn’t going anywhere and he’s going to take plenty of pressure off of Stephen Curry on the offensive end. With Green still playing like a Defensive Player of the Year candidate and Wiggins taking on bigger assignments, I don’t think Golden State will ask as much of Thompson on the defensive end as they did during their prime dynasty days.
I can’t wait for Klay to get back out there, I have no doubt he’s going to be awesome. But his return doesn’t elevate the Warriors into a tier of their own, they’re still in the same pack as the Bucks, Suns and Nets.
MORE: Is Curry the best player in the NBA?
Gilbert McGregor (@GMcGregor21): As much as I want to be the contrarian and go against Scott and Kyle, I can’t say Thompson’s return makes Golden State the favorite before I see him in action.
Before acknowledging the other favorites, I’ll start by focusing solely on the Warriors.
In Thompson’s absence, Golden State has gotten out to an extremely hot start, receiving big contributions from the likes of Otto Porter, Jordan Poole and Wiggins, who have stepped up to do some of the things that Thompson does. Now, this is where I clarify that I don’t think that those players are better than a five-time All-Star in peak Klay, but I do worry that an exaggerated effort to re-incorporate Thompson could have an adverse effect on the players that have stepped up.
Would it be permanent? Probably not, but as easy as it should be to get Thompson back into the rotation, it won’t come without an adjustment period. That alone evens the playing field, even if it may seem as though Golden State has an abundance of riches.
Now, to factor in the other title contenders around the league, I agree that it would be unfair to use Thompson’s arrival as something that elevates the Warriors above the defending champs, the Suns or Nets. Oh, and the Bulls are coming, too.