Coming into his third season Golden State Warriors guard Klay Thompson was known as a jump shooter. Throughout the first part of the season he was holding true to form. However, over the last couple of weeks since the All Star Break, and specifically the Indiana Pacers game where he made the game winning shot, he has been showing elements of his game that diehard Warrior fans haven’t seen before. Is this an aberration or is this for real?
So how exactly has Thompson been evolving? For one thing, probably the most important element that is coming out is that his defense is getting better every game and he has the looks of someone who will be a shut down defender later in his career. He’s not quite there yet, but he’s really close. He’s taken some of the most talented guards, either shooting guards or point guards, out of their rhythm. He’s doing that with his size, 6’7”, and wingspan, 6’9”. His defense is an underrated aspect of his game, and is much needed as it takes pressure off of Stephen Curry.
Second, Thompson is driving to the basket much more frequently and finishing with much more authority than he ever was before. In his first couple of years in the league he hardly ever drove to the basket. When he did he would go up softly, which would usually result in missed shots and also not getting fouls called in his favor. Thompson still isn’t getting to free-throw as much as he should, but the fact that he’s driving to the basket looking to dunk the ball and finish strong is another evolution in his game that looks great moving forward.
A perfect example of this was last night’s game against the Milwaukee Bucks at Oracle Arena. Thompson scored 29 points on 11-23 shooting. Usually when you see a stat line like this from Thompson it would mean that he hit 5 or more 3’s, however he was just 3-11 from beyond the arc. He scored most of his points on drives to the basket as well as post-ups, which is something else that is becoming a bigger part of his repertoire. When he’s attacking the basket it makes him even more difficult to stop because defenders will play off him, which gives him even more space on his threes.
The next thing that he’s starting to become is a closer. He made the game winning shot in Indianapolis a couple of weeks back, made the go ahead and eventual game winning shot against the Portland Trail Blazers a few games back and made big shots in the fourth quarter to put the Bucks away as well. Thompson emerging as a closer along with his partner in crime Curry make the Warriors deadly in the fourth quarter because now there’s two guys who are capable of closing the game by making backbreaking shots.
Finally, something that was notable in the beginning of the season was Thompson’s body language when he was struggling. When he would have bad games on offense he would often hang his head and mope around and forget to play defense. However, now that he’s more focused on the defensive end it forces him to stay engaged in the game. Even if he isn’t shooting well he still has a job to do and he hasn’t been showing the bad body language that has sometimes plagued him during bad nights.
Even though he’s continuing to evolve his game, there’s never enough things that he or any player can continue to improve upon. He should become a better rebounder as he’s only averaging about 3 rebounds per game. For someone 6’7” he should be getting around 5 rebounds per game even though he’s a guard. He’s only averaging a little more than 2 assists per game for his career, which should be higher. If he continues to improve those two elements of his game as well as continuing to become a more efficient scorer he will be an All Star in the future.
The Warriors need Thompson to continue to play the way he’s been playing to secure a playoff spot as well as make a deep run in the postseason this year. He will be asked to guard the other teams’ best guards as well as be the Warriors second leading scorer. That’s a lot to ask, but Thompson is showing signs of being able to handle that role more and more as the season progresses, which bodes well for the Warriors.