Klay Thompson has been an elite NBA shooter since he entered the league. He shot 41 percent from 3-point range during his rookie year with the Golden State Warriors, and he shot north of 40 percent every year despite increased volume. He became a household name in 2012-13 when the Splash Brothers phenomenon took off, followed by All-Star status in 2014-15, when the Warriors swapped out Mark Jackson for Steve Kerr as coach.
This year, Thompson has climbed to new shooting heights and is more efficient than ever. Through 13 games, the 6-foot-7 marksman is posting career-highs in field goal percentage (51.4 percent) 3-point percentage (47.1), true shooting percentage (63.3) and effective field goal percentage (62.9). Those are piping-hot numbers for someone who’s taking 18.0 field goal attempts per 36 minutes, including 8.6 3-point attempts.
His sizzling start is largely a product of the Warriors’ ultra-talented lineup continuing to build chemistry. In their second year together, the Dubs’ starting unit of Thompson, Stephen Curry, Kevin Durant, Draymond Green and Zaza Pachulia is posting an offensive rating of 119.1. That’s easily the best rating for any lineup that’s spent more than 100 minutes together this season. Golden State’s small-ball death lineup that includes Andre Iguodala (instead of Pachulia) has a 124.9 rating. Kerr’s collection of stars is improving its ball movement and in-game adjustments to exploit opponents more frequently.
Thompson has always been a dangerous weapon in transition because he can catch and fire accurately on the move. This season, his teammates are making an extra effort to find him on the break and in unsettled situations. He’s rewarding them for their look-ahead vision with an effective field goal percentage of 77.3 in transition and 1.51 points per possession in those situations.
When opponents clank missed shots or commit turnovers, it’s easy pickings for the Warriors to get Thompson open looks. But even after foes score, Golden State hunts for quick 3-point opportunities. Here’s an example when Curry and Thompson caught Minnesota dawdling after a Timbewolves’ made basket. Thompson burned them for a trey:
That’s the beauty of Thompson’s jump shot: He barely needs any time or space to fire away. If opponents jog instead of sprint, or if they’re complacent for a split-second, he will get off an in-rhythm attempt.
Kerr has done a superb job setting up Thomson all over the floor. The Warriors set screens for him along the baseline, curl screens at the elbow and flare screens on the wing. When opposing defenses overcommit to stopping Curry and Durant, distributors like Green and Iguodala have mastered how to make them pay by finding Thompson.
Thompson’s knack for filling up the hoop from any spot is illustrated in this green-dominated shot chart. He’s well above the league average in 12 of the 14 shooting areas (not including half-court heaves). His efficiency on both corner 3-pointers and short-corner 2-pointers is particularly striking:
One of Thompson’s best counter-moves is using opponents’ fear of 3-point barrages against them. Sometimes defenders will anticipate him coming off a screen for a catch-and-shoot triple, and they’ll overplay him on the perimeter. Thompson then makes a cagey move the opposite way or a cut toward the rim, making them pay for cheating on the 3-point screen. That’s how he gets many of his high-percentage looks near the basket.
Here are a couple of recent examples of his backdoor-cut trickery. Thompson foiled both Kyle Anderson of the San Antonio Spurs and Justin Anderson of the Philadelphia 76ers; both Andersons thought he’d use a screen from Green for a trey, but he darted backdoor instead for catch-and-score buckets:
Thompson also made a similar move later in the Spurs game when Danny Green thought he’d use a flare screen. He’s brilliantly leveraging his 3-point talent to find open space for layups and mid-range attempts.
Better footwork is another aspect of Thompson’s game that’s fueling his unprecedented efficiency. Kevin O’Connor of The Ringer explained that Thompson’s upgraded footwork and body control have yielded easier buckets on the perimeter and in the post.
“It’s clear Thompson developed smoother footwork while also keeping the ball on a string,” O’Connor writes. “It’s most noticeable when he attacks closeouts or operates in the pick-and-roll, but it has also manifested in his post game. At 6-foot-7, he’s able to simply launch over tiny defenders.”
Scoring adjustments like these are part of the reason why the Warriors’ offense is historically prolific. Thompson is nearly unstoppable when he gets in a rhythm, yet he’s just the team’s third-best offensive weapon and fourth-best all-around player.
Will he keep up the blistering scoring efficiency, including the 47 percent clip from deep? His numbers may come back down to earth a little bit, but he has the shooting mechanics and offensive environment to potentially finish the year north of 45 percent.
Prior to this year, we had already acknowledged that he’s one of the best shooters of all time. This season, he’s proving that we don’t yet know where his peak really is.
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