Will Klay Thompson Play at His Peak Again? This Study Thinks So

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A basketball player in a dark uniform that says "the Town" drives past another player in a red uniform that says "raptors."
Klay Thompson of the Golden State Warriors is defended by Kyle Lowry of the Toronto Raptors in the second half during Game Six of the 2019 NBA Finals at Oracle Arena on June 13, 2019, in Oakland, California.  (Photo by Lachlan Cunningham/Getty Images)

Now that Steph Curry set the NBA career record for 3-pointers, all eyes are back on Klay Thompson.

During the 2019 NBA Finals, Thompson suffered a torn anterior cruciate ligament, or ACL, in his left knee. The ACL is a strip of tissue that runs through the middle of a knee and acts as a stabilizer. A year later, he tore his right Achilles tendon.

Many Warriors fans are wondering when the team's sharp-shooting guard could be ready to hit the court.

Find hope in a recent Stanford study that links NBA playing styles and their impact on certain knee injuries, like ACL tears. Basketball players who often drive to the hoop are more likely to suffer a tear, but also more likely to make a full recovery, researchers found.

“It always takes a little bit of time to ease back into things. But in general, from our study, that's what we found," said Kevin Thomas, a lead author on the study and a graduate student at Stanford, studying medicine and biomedical informatics. "[And that's] we can hopefully expect from players like him over the long run.”


KQED morning host Brian Watt talked about this research with Thomas, who said he and his team looked at four decades of data and media reports on NBA players.

This interview has been edited for brevity and clarity.

Brian Watt: What did your study conclude about the ACL injury?

Kevin Thomas: We were interested in identifying how a basketball player's style of play, or their way of scoring points, affects their risk of getting an ACL tear. And we also wanted to know when ACL tears do happen in players — whether they're able to make a full recovery and play at the same level of play that you'd expect them to have if they didn't get injured.

So this comes down to whether a player drives, penetrates through the lane or has to weave through defenders. Is that what we're talking about?

That's right. We identified that for players who frequently drive the ball to the basket in order to score their points, they typically have a higher risk of ACL tears relative to other players.

So those guys have a higher risk, and once they come back from a surgery that sort of reconstructs the ACL, they're still good. They haven't lost a step.

We found that when you take a player, just before their injury happens, and you find other similar players to them, and then you follow them over the next several years, the players that get injured and then are able to come back are playing at the same level as their peer players, who never had the injury in the first place. So they're able to make a full comeback and perform at the same level.

I have to assume you're a basketball fan. You're speaking clinically about this stuff, but I hear a fan.

You know, I'm living in the Bay Area now, but I grew up in Phoenix. I'm a Phoenix [Suns] guy. It was heartbreaking to see Dario [Saric] tear his ACL last season, but hopefully he'll be able to come back and make a full recovery.

So do you think Klay Thompson has read your study?

Well, hopefully after being on the radio with you, we might be able to get a little bit more attention from the Warriors.