The popular narrative in media and among fans in the last couple of weeks has been that Klay Thompson is going through a tough stretch and is struggling. To some extent, that is correct. After starting the month out hot, Thompson’s 3-point accuracy has dwindled to, for him, seemingly unprecedented lows. In his last 11 games, Thompson is shooting around 31% from beyond the arc and is having one of those stretches elite shooters sometimes go through. He still leads the league in 3-pointers made, two ahead of his fellow Splash Brother, but that fact has been forgotten lately. So, what can a great shooter do when his shot just isn’t falling? How about posting up?
Thompson has always done the majority of his damage on the offensive end by spotting up, coming off screens and scoring in transition. But, among all the talk about how Klay isn’t developing quite quick enough, the third-year man has shown off an improved post game this season.
Klay will continue to get most of his looks on offense through spot-up opportunities coming off screens, as he is simply too good and mobile of a shooter for Mark Jackson not to utilize his guard that way. Still, the notion of Thompson developing a consistent post game is certainly scary. Here are some stats comparing his post-up numbers from last year and this season. (via Synergy)
(PPP = Points Per Play)
Posted up a total of 45 times, equivalent to 2.8% of offensive plays.
Scored 0.91 PPP (rank 40), 50 FG%
Posted up a total of 56 times, equivalent to 9.7% of offensive plays.
Scored 0.91 PPP (rank 30), 48.8 FG%
The stats are pretty self-explanatory, but here is a quick breakdown. We are only 30 games into the season, but Thompson has already finished more plays posting up than he did all of last year. His PPP numbers are the same, although it ranks him a little higher in the league right now. Before we take a look at some film, let’s explore the potential reasons for Thompson’s increased exposure in the post.
Even though it is a relatively small sample size, the numbers suggest that Thompson was already a pretty good offensive player in the post last season, but he wasn’t getting many looks down low. There could be several reasons for that. First of all, the team dynamic was a little different. Outside of David Lee, the Warriors also had a potent weapon in the post in Carl Landry, so the team didn’t exactly have an urgent demand for another post player. This year, Golden State has really only had Lee in the post. Sure, you see Andre Iguodala down low every now and again, along with some other guys, but Jackson needs another guy who can spice up the offense as a multi-skilled threat, and Thompson could be the guy.
Here is a little video featuring some of Klay’s plays in the post so far this season.
Before going through some of the plays, here are a couple of general observations from the clips featured above and those which were not recorded.
- Thompson doesn’t go to the post on a consistent basis against just any opponent. Instead, he only does so when he has a distinct advantage against the guy who is guarding him. It would seem that Mark Jackson commands his team to sometimes force feed the ball to Thompson when he has a compelling matchup, which has its advantages and disadvantages.
- Klay isn’t a one-trick pony in the post. He has a nice supply of moves which he uses to create a shot for himself. He can muscle through and back smaller guys down and spin into either a jumper or some kind of an up-and-under layup. He is also capable of facing up and either pulling up, stepping back or driving to the basket after a pump fake or two.
- While he does have the necessary tools and physical abilities to be a great post player, he still lacks a little in the awareness department and he doesn’t really look to make plays for others.
As a reference to the third point, let’s take a look at the first clip of the film.
Thompson catches the ball relatively close to the basket and has a smaller Chris Paul on him, a matchup he likes (apologies for the tiny text in the first image).
As explained in the first screen shot, Curry starts moving further away from Thompson in order to space the floor and clear out as much space as possible. This is common procedure when you want to isolate a player in the post. Usually the player that is posting up, in this case Thompson, holds onto the ball and waits until his teammate moves further away from him before making his move.
In this instance, Klay is a little eager and starts his dribble too early. This allows Collison to come over and close off the middle of the paint while still remaining within closeout distance of Curry. You can see that DeAndre Jordan is also paying attention to what is going on and is in a position to block off the middle of the floor as well. Thompson recovers quite well by spinning towards the basket and creating space for himself.
As I mentioned previously, Thompson doesn’t have the greatest awareness in the post yet, which is normal considering he hasn’t had much exposure there in his career. He made a nice spin move to shake CP3 and even though he is a little off-balance, he gets a decent look at the basket. Unfortunately, he has been oblivious to Jordan’s position this whole time and the Clippers’ center blocks the shot.
The second clip features a similar situation against the Nuggets. Thompson licks his chops when he has Ty Lawson on him and posts him up.
This time the clearout is there and Thompson doesn’t make his move too early. However, rather than reading the play as it develops, Klay is completely infatuated with the mismatch and seemingly makes his decision to take the shot five seconds before he actually does. Wilson Chandler casually lurks towards Thompson and together with Lawson forces a bad shot.
I chose to include these two plays in the footage because they illustrate Thompson’s strengths and weaknesses as a post player. When presented with a smaller defender, Klay generally overpowers his opponent and creates enough space to either take a jumpshot or a shot close to the basket. It seems that Mark Jackson orders his team to force feed the ball to Thompson down low when they play teams such as Denver, who have Nate Robinson and Ty Lawson, which occasionally comes back to bite him. In the second clip all Thompson had to do was to stay aware and make the correct play, which was to kick it out to the perimeter.
In the third clip Thompson once again overpowers his mismatch, in this case Robinson. Curry feeds Klay the ball in semi-transition and no one is really in a good position to help Robinson, who is left on an island. Klay catches the ball so deep that all he needs is a couple of dribbles and he gets an easy layup.
The following two clips against Goran Dragic are also quite interesting. In the first one Dragic does a decent job closing down the baseline drive and, once he commits to it, Thompson steps back and knocks down the jumper over a smaller defender. In the next clip, we can see Dragic making adjustments. He is now fronting Thompson, trying to deny him the ball. Jerryd Bayless also does this in the last clip of the montage. The problem is, Thompson is stronger than both of them. After banging for a little bit he generally goes for a tiny back shove to create a passing lane over the top of the defender, as pictured in the two shots below. In both instances Thompson gets an easy layup.
All in all, Thompson is already a very good post player with room to improve. The Warriors won’t change anytime soon — they will continue to get most of their points through jumpers and threes. But having Klay operate more consistently through the post would prevent Golden State’s offense from being an open book. Early against the Clippers, the Warriors couldn’t hit a shot, and although they battled back and won the game, it highlighted just how much this team depends on knocking down their threes.
As mentioned, Thompson is mostly being fed the ball in the post against clear mismatches and most of the film only featured a handful of teams who have small guards. Klay often creates efficient looks for himself that way and putting him in the post a little more often could be beneficial for Mark Jackson’s offense.
Thompson has never been much of a playmaker, but when he attacks mismatches in the post, it’s quite common for him to get doubled. If he works on his offensive awareness and starts to read plays better, he could create great looks for others out of the post as well. And when the double doesn’t come, Klay will have an abundance of crafty moves to put to use.
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