Last season, even earlier this year, Warriors second-year guard Klay Thompson never visited the training room.
THOMPSON: “I thought I was invincible. I’m thinking, ‘I’m 22, 23. I’m not getting tired.’ But, boy, I was wrong.”
Now, Thompson gets stretched before games. He’s more diligent about eating right and getting his sleep to fend off the soreness and fatigue. His youthful façade of invincibility has been shattered by big minutes in meaningful NBA games.
Don’t get him wrong, he loves it. When told he’s played the second-most minutes in the NBA since the All-Star break, his face lit up like he got a Red Ryder BB Gun for Christmas.
THOMPSON: “That’s awesome.“That’s gotta be the best stat I’ve heard in a long time.”
Thompson, a gym rat by nature, said he’s longed for the day he’d transition from promising reserve to a must-have-on-the-court starter. Sure, he’s so high on the minutes list because the Warriors have played more games than any team since the break. But he’s still experiencing, for the first time, the grind of being on a winning team in the NBA.
And guess who is the only player who’s played more minutes than Thompson? Stephen Curry.
After logging just shy of 36 minutes in Wednesday’s loss at San Antonio, Curry has an NBA-high 721 minutes since the All-Star break — 50 minutes more than Thompson.
Curry is third in minutes per game since the break (39.6), behind Milwaukee guard Monta Ellis (41.2) and Houston guard James Harden (39.7). And Curry is eighth with a 27.7 usage rate — percentage of plays involved in while on the floor — which is higher than both Ellis and Harden.
CURRY: “Recovery in between games is that much more important.”
Warriors coach Mark Jackson said Curry and Thompson will continue to get big minutes. But he said he does recognize the heavy load they carry. Both are central figures on offense. Both play with noticeable effort on defense.
Curry vacillates between guard positions and often has to carry the Warriors offense. And Thompson has become the defense stopper even while being relied on to provide steady scoring.
JACKSON: “I don’t want to kill them on both sides — in practice and during games. So it’s important for those guys to give me everything they’ve got and trust that I’ll give them time off.”
Jackson said playing his starting backcourt heavy minutes gives the Warriors the best chance to win, and both have proven durable. Even Curry, who has missed four games with two sprained right ankle injuries, said his conditioning has held up well under the weight of his minutes.
And since every game has playoff implications at this point, Jackson is finding it hard to keep them off the court.
They used to sit the final couple minutes of the first quarter and come back midway through the second. Now, it’s not rare for them to play the entire quarter, and lately they’ve been checking back in two to three minutes into the second quarter.
And though many Warriors fans would like to see more of rookie forward Harrison Barnes, Jackson has relied heavily on his three-guard lineup — Curry and Thompson with guard Jarrett Jack — in the second half of games all season.
The second-year coach wasn’t too concerned about wearing down his vital guards.
JACKSON: “With Klay, no. He’s young and he’s able, and it will be somebody else’s problem years form now when he’s out of gas. (Laughs). But with Steph, the issue is making sure he feels fine. I want to make sure he doesn’t need a breather, but there are certain games where I go in knowing he’s going to play just about every minute. And there are times when he looks at me crazy when I take him out.”