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NBA Mailbag: What stood out most in Klay Thompson’s return?

Klay Thompson showed little signs of rust in his explosive return to NBA action.

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The NBA community enjoyed a special moment on Sunday night.

Golden State Warriors guard Klay Thompson returned in a win over the Cleveland Cavaliers in what marked his first NBA game in 941 days after nursing season-ending injuries to the ACL in his left knee (2019-20) and his right Achilles tendon (2020-21). The Warriors wished this moment happened much sooner for obvious reasons. After winning three NBA titles in five consecutive Finals appearances, the Warriors spent the past two seasons in the NBA Draft lottery (2019-20) and the league’s Play-In Tournament (2020-21). Yet, Thompson’s return also came at the perfect time.

All NBA teams have faced varying challenges and frustrations with the pandemic. Players, coaches and staff members have all become vulnerable to the virus and their absences have caused roster construction and logistical challenges. Plus, there has been some overall exhaustion throughout the process.

Thompson’s return obviously doesn’t solve those issues. But he at least offered some positive energy at a time when NBA fans surely need it. He gave Warriors fans, teammates and coaches something to cheer about after nursing frustration with his injuries for 2 1/2 years. The Warriors got some feel-good moments with his impressive one-handed dunk, too. After posting 17 points while shooting 7-from-18 from the field and 3-for-8 from 3-point range in just under 20 minutes, Thompson gave the Warriors some comfort he will again become the NBA’s premier two-way player.

No surprise then that Thompson’s return prompted interest from readers for this week’s NBA mailbag.

What stuck out to you most about Klay’s performance last night?

Can I just say everything? Thompson received warm and loud receptions during the pre-game warmups, video tributes and starting lineup intros. He drove to the basket on the first play and then threw down a vicious one-handed dunk in the third quarter. Even though Thompson showed rust with his shot and on defense, he hardly shied away from either task. When Thompson left the floor, Warriors fans gave him a standing ovation and chanted his name for the next few minutes. Afterward, Thompson looked incredibly happy, reflective on his journey and candid with admitting the moment was “pretty freaking close” to when he won three NBA championships with the Warriors.

But if I had to choose just one, I would pick the pre-game warmups. Not only did Warriors fans give Thompson a loud standing ovation as if he were about to participate in a playoff game, but he overshadowed Stephen Curry in a space he usually dominates. When Curry took shots both before and during Thompson’s pre-game warmup, Warriors fans hardly paid attention. They focused more on Thompson … and Curry was fine with it. He wanted to share the moment with his backcourt mate.

Warriors fans shower Klay Thompson with cheers as he returns to the lineup at last.

How will the Lakers minimize Westbrook’s negative impact come playoff time?

The Lakers would never buy your line of questioning. They would say that Westbrook still provides a positive impact with his effort, athleticism and fast pace. They’d also insist that Westbrook will continuously improve as the season plays out with more time to iron out chemistry and for the roster to heal up.

But I buy your line of questioning, completely. I’m not sold that Westbrook’s issues with turnovers, poor shooting and defense will suddenly dissipate. So this is what I anticipate will happen: the Lakers won’t ever bench Westbrook — because he may not take the move well in kind and it provides too easy of a storyline for the media to regurgitate. Instead, the Lakers will minimize Westbrook’s negative impact in other ways. They will stagger Westbrook’s playing time equally both with and without LeBron James and Anthony Davis. They will also phase Westbrook out either early in the fourth quarter or in crunch time in case his miscues spell the difference in the game. And James and Davis will likely work more like a two-man tandem than a trio.

Overall, that’s not exactly what the Lakers envisioned when they added Westbrook. They thought he could make life easier for James and Davis, not harder. But they have seen that has been the exception, not the rule.

As the calendar turns to 2022, adjustments seem necessary for Russell Westbrook to work his game into the Lakers’ mix.

How far do you think these young Grizzlies will go this season?

Much further than what the Grizzlies showed in the past two seasons. Then, the Grizzlies fell short in the 2020 Play-In Tournament, got the No. 8 seed in the 2021 Play-In Tournament and then lost in five games to the top-seeded Jazz in the first round. This year, I think the Grizzlies will advance to the Western Conference semifinals.

They are not a championship contender yet, but that has more to do with the Golden State Warriors, Phoenix Suns and Utah Jazz than anything else. The Grizzlies are the real deal with Ja Morant, (who should be an All-Star this season) along with other good young talents in Desmond Bane, Dillon Brooks and Jaren Jackson Jr. In two years, I think they could be among the West’s best contenders.

Ja Morant dazzles and Memphis notches a dominating win over the Lakers, pushing its winning streak to 9 games.

Hoops Around the World

We all know that the NBA has become a global brand and that basketball has become a global game. But what fuels your basketball fandom?

Got a good basketball story to tell? Write it up and send it my way. We’d also love to see a photo of the hoop you play on, whether it be in your neighborhood gym or in the backyard of your driveway. Got a good image? Then pass it along.

The best essays and photos will be used in this feature throughout the season, such as this latest entry …

From Steve Cohen in Chicago:

“In 1986, a friend and I split an offered 16-game package to Bulls games. The following year, we recruited three more friends to split season tickets. Our tickets were mezzanine but what I’ll call underneath the overhang. I showed up to the first exhibition game, only to find out that someone else had our same tickets. They had sold our tickets to 41 separate buyers, so they had to reseat our season tickets. We got front-row center court first balcony seats at the old Chicago Stadium. Amazing seats for the Michael Jordan era. And a refund because new tickets cost less than our originals. Better than hitting the lottery!”

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NBA Digital Sr. Analyst Mark Medina will be answering questions each week in his NBA Mailbag.

How can you participate? Simply email your question to Mark here, or use your Twitter account and get your question to him here.

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