Not much has gone wrong for the 27-7 Golden State Warriors. As they enter the new year sitting atop the Western Conference, the Warriors will soon be getting reinforcements in the form of 3-point marksman Klay Thompson. Thompson, who hasn’t played since the 2019 NBA Finals, apparently won’t have to wait long before playing side-by-side with fellow Splash Brother Stephen Curry. However, Klay’s return comes at the expense of Jordan Poole, one of Golden State’s most surprising and effective players.
Head coach Steve Kerr announced his future starting lineup plans
It’s been a long road back for Thompson. The 31-year-old tore his ACL during Game 6 of the 2019 Finals between the Warriors and Toronto Raptors. Then, just weeks before the start of the 2020-21 season, the sharpshooter suffered a torn right Achilles during an offseason workout. Now, it appears Klay is close to returning after a 30-month absence.
In the wake of Thursday’s game against the Denver Nuggets getting postponed due to COVID-19 issues, Thompson participated in a scrimmage with Curry, Andrew Wiggins, and the rest of Golden State’s prominent players. It was the first time the five-time All-Star has scrimmaged with the team during his lengthy rehabilitation period.
“We had a great scrimmage,” head coach Steve Kerr said courtesy of NBC Sports Bay Area. “That’s the first time Klay has scrimmaged with our first group. So that was really fun to watch and helpful for Klay and our team. We got to work on some of our execution that we’ve been struggling with recently. So we turned it into a positive. It was a good practice.”
Kerr also lent some insight into his starting lineup plans once Thompson returns to the court. And it looks like the three-time champion coach is wasting no time getting his star back in the lineup.
“Klay’s going to start when he comes back,” Kerr said. “I’m not going to mess around and bring him off the bench for a period of time. I’m not doing any of that. He’s going to start. We’ll see what that means in terms of the rest of the rotation. I know one thing. We’ve got a whole lot of guys who are capable of playing and being in the rotation and helping us win games.”
Klay Thompson re-entering the lineup means the end of Jordan Poole starting
Despite the long layover on injured reserve, Thompson is set to take his old spot next to Curry in the backcourt. Though his return will be celebrated by many, Poole is about to become the biggest loser.
Through no fault of his own, the 6-foot-4 Poole plays the same position as Thompson, the experienced All-Star Golden State has been waiting for for over two years. While some experts have voiced their take on easing Klay back in, Kerr feels he’ll be ready to start immediately. And simply put, that means Poole may have to impact games coming off the bench instead.
The ascension of Poole started last year and continued on through the preseason. As Golden State’s starting shooting guard, the 22-year-old is averaging a career-best 17.9 points on 44.2% shooting. While he’s not the 3-point shooter that Klay is, making just 33.8% of his long-range attempts, the third-year guard is averaging around the same number of points Thompson did in his third season (18.4) despite 1.5 fewer shots and five fewer minutes per game.
Poole has maintained a steady spot in Kerr’s starting five this season, save for a recent six-game absence while in health and safety protocols. But even though the 2019 first-round pick out of Michigan is having a career year, his time as a starter looks to be coming to an end.
Poole should still play a big role in the Golden State Warriors’ season
While nothing is official, Poole will likely be on the outs once Klay returns. Steph, Wiggins, and Draymond Green are locked into the lineup, while center Kevon Looney has started all 34 games for Golden State. But you can expect the talented guard to still have a sizable role with the team moving forward.
Poole, Curry, and Wiggins are the only players averaging double figures for the Warriors, let alone 17 points or more. The 22-year-old is also one of four players seeing 30 or more minutes a night. So don’t think Kerr will completely zap Poole’s playing time and bestow it all upon Thompson.
That said, the veteran coach did admit that finding playing time for everyone when Klay returns will be a challenge.
“So it’s not going to be easy,” Kerr told NBC Sports Bay Area. “On the other hand, it’s way better than the alternative. So I’ve got a lot of options. But there’s not enough playing time to go around, so it’ll be tricky, but it’s a good problem to have.”
Thompson’s inevitable return to action won’t ultimately affect just Poole. Damion Lee, Otto Porter Jr., and Gary Payton II are a few key role players in line to see less playing time. Klay, at his best, is an upgrade over all of them. But who knows how long it will take to see him at his best coming off of two major leg injuries?
Maybe the answer lies in Thompson starting games but Poole still getting the lion’s share of shooting guard minutes, at least to start. Either way, Kerr is right in saying this will be a tricky situation to navigate.
All statistics courtesy of Basketball Reference.