The Golden State Warriors are already looking like title contenders without Klay Thompson, jumping out to a 15-2 start while he's recovering from a torn Achilles.
When Thompson does return, it looks like the Warriors will be getting a version of him at or near his former All-Star self, according to ESPN's Nick Friedell on Brian Windhorst & the Hoop Collective podcast (45:15 mark):
"When you watch him run up and down the floor and you're watching him take the shots from all over the place and knock them down, he looks like the Klay Thompson of old. And that's why the optimism that you were referring to internally is there, because the Warriors personnel are seeing the same things day by day by day. They're seeing the consistency from Klay that we're used to seeing, but everybody knows that it's going to be different once the intensity of a real NBA game starts. But all signs to this point have been very positive, and in the brief moments of time where I've been able to watch him, you wouldn't notice a difference in the way in which he's going up and down the floor."
Thompson participated in his first full practice with the Warriors on Tuesday. He's missed the last two seasons after suffering an ACL tear during the 2019 NBA Finals and a ruptured Achilles in a workout during the 2020 offseason.
The Warriors are yet to set a timetable for Thompson's return, but he's been cleared for full five-on-five work. His return is a matter of getting into game shape and a rhythm on the floor after two years away.
"I don't want to come back and be a shell of myself," Thompson told reporters. "I want to come back like I was the last time I was playing and I was one of the best players in the world."
Thompson made the All-Star team in each of his previous five seasons before being injured and was an All-Defensive selection for the first time in 2018-19. The Warriors have spent the last two years evolving so they can thrive without Thompson, with Jordan Poole stepping up as a draft steal and Andrew Wiggins seemingly finding a home as a secondary scorer and perimeter defender.
Golden State owes its start in part to a weak schedule, but getting Thompson back when the difficulty starts ratcheting up should provide enough of a boost to put the Warriors in the driver's seat for the No. 1 seed in the West.