The Up and Down Season of Klay Alexander Thompson

Last season, Klay Thompson had a rather slow start. His numerous missed jump shots (something that was supposed to be a strong suit) were a bit uncomfortable to watch. Through pre-season and the first few games of the year, he couldn’t get much of anything to fall, inside or outside the 3-point line. It was so obvious, so quickly, that it earned him a few slightly-less-than-loving monikers from Warrior fans. While still affectionate, “Klaynk” and “Klay Bricks” are obviously not nicknames you want associated with a shooter. Those names were admittedly unfair. You never really want to see a rookie struggle right off the bat, but it happens all the time.

It took Klay most of last-season to defeat his cold start, even when he was shooting better than 45% from 3-point distance at one point before the All-Star Break. Even with some of the strongest support for a rookie I’ve ever seen from a coach. A lot of people despite his success soon after, had lost a lot of faith in him very early on. Whether it be the blank facial expressions or “lack of fire” he showed, the cold start, or questionably decision-making, a lot of people were turned off quickly. Again, this was unfair. As the season went on and eventually hit the tank, Klay ended being the best Warrior still on the floor, putting up solid scoring numbers night in and night.

But even for all the positivity and hope for him becoming the next Reggie Miller or “Klay Allen,” a lot of the original concerns and criticisms lingered, carrying over from his very first games as a rookie into this season. I assume a lot of this has to do with him being Monta’s replacement. As a big Monta fan and a regular critic of Klay, I often find myself looking for Thompson to live up to the things Ellis did well, while not offering enough praise for the things he has him beat on.

For instance, even with the terrible shooting start to the season Klay had, he’s now out-shooting Mont’s best season ever from behind the arc. But rather than be happy about that, I’ve spent much time during my game-watching cursing the quick, defended 3s that he’s been launching all season long. In my mind, he’s often no more reliable than Monta, who was always quick to put up a shot in the tiniest of openings.

I guess the problem I’ve had most with Klay, are that many of things he was touted for doing better than Monta, specifically in the field of decision making, have just not been there. The clueless-looking turnovers, forcing bad attempts at the rim. The well-defended, unnecessarily long shots I’ve already mentioned. For MOST of this season, I’ve seen a good spot-up shooter clearly overstepping the boundaries of his role.

However, all along I’ve known there was more there. From the times he drives the lane and makes the right pass, the pump fake to a wide open jumper, there’s so much more going on in Klay’s head than the “shoot, shoot, shoot” mentality that often seems to dominate his play.

And that’s why his poor play has been so shocking. Michael Thompson, Klay’s father, has been mocked when suggesting his son handle a larger share of handling duties. While Klay has yet to earn those duties, I definitely agree that Klay is capable. The IQ is there. The skill-set is there. The ability is there. And yet, the full-package really hasn’t come into play this year.

Don’t get me wrong, though, Klay’s a scorer. A perimeter-oriented shooter who has one of the better jump shots in the NBA. While his 38.9% from deep shooting isn’t an especially high number, remember how difficult many of the 3s he’s been taking this year are. Remember that he shoots nearly 7 of them every game. Of players in the top 20 in attempts per game, just Stephen Curry, Carmelo Anthony, and Kyle Korver are shooting above 40% from deep. Just 5 of the 20 are at higher percentages overall. So Klay, for all his struggles this season, is still one of the top shooters the NBA has.

But it’s on nights that Klay is making better use of the rest of his skills that he looks his best. Games like the one vs Memphis at Oracle Arena earlier this month. Though it was a loss, Klay posted a season high in assists while getting to the line 6 times and being forced into just 1 turnover. Easily, it was his best individual game of the season. And all of those good things that happened were because of shots he DIDN’T take. Instead he drove the lane and got fouled, made the extra pass, didn’t force anything. And it was impressive to watch.

Klay has had a few games like that this season. Even if he’s not picking up assists, his aggressiveness getting to the rim benefits all the Warriors. Golden State, as well as they’ve played so far, could still use more balance, more of threat to attack the basket. And Klay Thompson has the ability to give that to them. On nights that he does, it’s hard to get mad at him even when he puts up the occasional errant 3-pointer.

But it’s the regular application of all of his talents that is lacking. At times this season, it has seemed like Klay has made no effort to expand his game at all. Nights where he posts numerous shot attempts, 1 assist and no FTs. For me, that’s been the most frustrating thing about the Warriors this season. Despite Harrison Barnes’ rookie struggles, it has always seemed clear to me that one of his goals is to prove to everyone that he can do a little of everything. People said he didn’t have any dribble moves, so it was the first thing he did this year. People said he could rebound, so he put up multiple 10+ rebound nights. People said he couldn’t defend, so he stepped to the challenge of defending superstars like Kobe Bryant and Kevin Durant. Most nights, there’s something about Barnes’ game that shouts: “I told you so.”

More of that from Klay would be a wonderful thing. I have all the belief in the world in him. So, clearly, does Mark Jackson. I think he can be a really big part of this team going forward and that he does have the potential to be one of the best shooting guards in the entire NBA. But he has do more than just shoot the ball. And it’s not that he hasn’t.  Just last night he had a few great defensive plays on Durant as well. It’s not that he can’t. He’s shown time and again he can. It’s just me wanting to see him do it more. In his second season, and with his shooting ability a proven commodity, I feel like it’s a necessity to improve in the other areas. It certainly would help balance out the many highs and lows he’s had this season. And maybe, it’s just what he needs.

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