As the Warriors star shooting guard prepares for a return, who on the ultra-deep Dubs sacrifices minutes?
The most exciting thing that happened to the Golden State Warriors on Tuesday was a thorough beatdown of the Brooklyn Nets, on national TV, on the road. Steph Curry outplayed Kevin Durant, the Dubs looked like the clear better of the two title-contending teams, and great fun was had.
But a close second was the news that Klay Thompson has started to play five-on-five.
— Allie LaForce (@ALaForce) November 17, 2021
We’re still a long ways away from Thompson’s return; there’s no reason to think the timeline of getting back on the court in late December or sometime in January has changed.
But hearing an advancement in his progress — and looking at the calendar and seeing how much of November has somehow already slipped through the hourglass — has a lot of Dubs fans salivating at the thought of the second Splash Brother rejoining a team that is humming along at the top of the NBA standings.
There’s a problem, though. It’s a champagne problem, to be sure, but a problem nonetheless.
How does Steve Kerr make room for Thompson’s minutes?
After looking unplayable with Curry on the bench last season, the Warriors depth is almost laughable this year. They’re so deep that Juan Toscano-Anderson and Moses Moody are out of the rotation. Nemanja Bjelica is playing the fewest minutes of his career, and Otto Porter Jr. the fewest since his rookie season.
There are too many good players to go around.
Again, champagne problems. But problems that are not easy for a coach to solve.
The Dubs will get to ease into solving that puzzle, as Thompson will likely be on a tight minutes restriction when he first returns to the court. But if all goes according to plan, he’ll be playing 30 minutes a night before long, and the Warriors have to find somewhere to siphon those minutes from.
Barring a trade, here are the three options as I see them.
Eliminate Damion Lee from the rotation
“Eliminate” feels like a harsh word here, but maybe that’s just because I’ve been watching Squid Game. I’m willing to listen to more pacifistic synonyms.
Lee has been spectacular this season, but his role has always been a little in flux with the Warriors. He’s currently leading the team’s reserves in minutes per night by a healthy margin, playing more than 23 each game.
He’s also a little bit of a mini-Klay. Lee’s best attributes are a willingness to play within the system, strong cutting, a good three-point shot, and solid defense. Those are also Thompson’s best attributes, albeit he does them at an All-NBA level.
Lee will remain a big part of the team, as a leader, locker room guy, and quick-offense option if needed. But he might get the JTA treatment and move to the back of the bench to accommodate Klay.
Cut back Jordan Poole’s role
Jordan Poole’s growth has been tremendous over the last year, but there are still some holes in his game. Tuesday’s 0-for-7 has him shooting just 28.9% from three-point range, and his 4.0 assists per 36 minutes are nearly matched by his 3.1 turnovers.
He’ll lose his starting role when Thompson returns, and while he’ll still be a key bench player, he could lose a bit of his role there, as well.
Could Poole slide into a 14-16 minutes per night role as a Lou Williams/Jamal Crawford-esque burst of instant offense off the bench? It doesn’t seem a very likely possibility, but the Warriors don’t have a ton of options here.
Shave a little off of everybody
We’ve already seen this plan in action. Jonathan Kuminga’s emergence as a rotation piece has managed to cut into the minutes of three different players: Toscano-Anderson, Bjelica, and Porter.
Klay’s return could do the same. It could cut back on Porter’s role further, and maybe dip into Kuminga’s. Lee would see his minutes dialed back, as would a few of the Poole, Andre Iguodala, and Gary Payton II trio. You’ll look at the stat sheet every night and see about five or six dudes that make you say, “how is he only getting that many minutes?”
It’s a pleasant change after the last few years.