The Klay Dilemma
The Warriors aren’t invincible, who knew?
Times are uneasy, weary and frankly perturbing of late in Warriors Ground as the team has lost three of their past four games (by an average of 14.6 points) while in the midst of their toughest stretch of games this season (11 road games in 17 days along with games against the Heat, Spurs, Clippers, Thunder and the Bulls).
The Warriors have been near perfect up to this point, really. Even with the additional talent acquired this season, not even the greatest optimists had the Warriors at 10 games over .500 through 36 games this season. We’ve gotten accustomed to a certain invincibility, a sense of power that we haven’t felt or seen from in years.
Now, as the ship is steering in a direction that we are in fact accustomed to, we’re clamoring for a scapegoat. This season isn’t over, the team isn’t rebuilding and the Warriors are as close to being playoff locks without actually being deemed so (90.1% according to John Hollinger’s Playoff Odds).
Still, the Warriors haven’t looked good lately. Their shellacking at the hands of the rival Clippers was as depressing as the ending to Million Dollar Baby (poor Maggie), their disappointing home loss to the stingy Grizzlies very easily could have been had and their latest loss against the Nuggets (I’m as glad as anyone that we’re done seeing them this season) was simply disheartening.
During this tough stretch, whilst Stephen Curry and David Lee are very much playing to their All-Star selves, while Jarrett Jack is playing through an elbow injury and while the loss of a certain Australian big man is exceedingly felt, there is one player who is taking all the heat: Klay Thompson.
Thompson is an enigma of sorts: his shooting stroke is near perfect, his size is more than adequate for his position and he’s proven to be an admirable defender. Still, especially in recent days, his play has caused many to wonder if he truly is a future star as many predicted during his impressive, tank-laden rookie campaign.
He’s easy to blame, whether fair or not. He’s made the most threes in the NBA amongst shooting guards, but has also attempted the most (249, 26 more than Kobe) while ranking 27th in the league (39%) in 3P%. His recent turnover barrage (16 in his last five games), highlighted by the Andre Iguodala stuff-dunk-throwing it out of bounds sequence Sunday night, has been discouraging to say the least.
He’s not losing games for the team, but he’s not winning them either. Does he need to? Not necessarily, but he can’t be a hindrance when he’s on the floor either. His efficiency rate is listed at 12.79 (15.00 is the league average), which is good for 31st amongst qualified shooting guards, not all guards, shooting guards alone.
His ability to shoot is both a gift and a curse. He relies on the jumper to the nth degree (84% of Thompson’s shots are jumpers this season, according to 82games.com), which for such a gifted shooter isn’t necessarily troubling, just a minor concern. At 6’7”, 205 pounds Thompson has the physical gifts to be a dual threat on the offensive end, he just chooses not to. Contested Thompson shots are better than many players open shots, but that doesn’t make them any smarter.
I’m not calling for a complete overhaul of Thompson’s offensive repertoire, just a slight change in philosophy. In the midst of his recent stretch, his offensive stubbornness is that much more visible. He’s only drawn 28 fouls this season (James Harden has drawn 156 fouls) and conversely he’s committed the fourth most amongst SGs this season (99). The more you shoot the less you’re fouled, and the offense often sputters and looks rather Washington Wizards-y with Thompson given the ultimate green light.
With that said, Thompson is an upgrade over the previous installment at that position in nearly every facet of the game (especially defense), even while some crazies still clamor for the days of he-who-shall-not-be-named. Those days are long gone, even while some insist on never letting it go. Thompson was the first draft pick under the new ownership and has earned the praise of one Jerry West especially.
“Klay Thompson’s going to be helluva player, trust me,” West said last February. “He knows what he’s doing, he knows how to play. He’ll start taking the ball to the basket more…He gives them a lot more versatility. Going forward, that’s going to be so much of a positive force for us.”
There’s no doubt that Thompson is already a helluva player as West states, the doubt now centers around whether his exceptional shooting will limit his otherwise star potential. Up to this point, he’s gotten by with being a one trick pony on the offensive end. Now, as numerous offensive talents surround him (not Jeremy Tyler, Chris Wright and Mickell Gladness), Thompson’s struggles are becoming more easily noticeable.
He’s good, but he can be better, therein lies the frustration. Thompson has the physical gifts to become a mainstay, but if his recent transgressions are any indication, that won’t be the case for much longer. The talent is there, the improvement isn’t. Fans want to see him succeed because they know he can be more. It’s still early, and while this may seem like an early proclamation for future failure, it’s in fact the opposite.
In the midst of an impressive 23-13 campaign, Thompson has received more criticism than praise. While rumors swirled around a potential Harden-for-Thompson swap pre-season and a Rudy Gay-for-Thompson/Barnes trade most recently, one wonders how untouchable he truly is if things don’t change. Still, his role is cemented on this team, and in the middle of a probable playoff season Thompson has all the ingredients to improve the entirety of his game, not just become the one-dimensional threat he’s become known to be.
He’s simply too talented to stay the same.