In today’s media age, millions of voices spend their days scalding each other with progressively hotter takes. Uniqueness, or, being the first to notice future trends, is what many are seeking. In that spirit, praising Klay Thompson became a very popular way for basketball fans, writers and talking heads to show that they’re REALLY PAYING ATTENTION throughout the last couple weeks.
I’m 100% guilty of this, too. And Thompson deserved the props he got from all of us after Stephen Curry got hurt. Curry himself spent a while hyping Thompson after Golden State eliminated Portland. Thompson may have been the best all-around player of the playoffs at that point, in either conference.
Before we get into the bad stuff, Thompson showed in the first two series without Curry that he could probably be the best player on a 50-win team with a good supporting cast. He performed well enough offensively against Houston while chasing James Harden around, and he torched Portland: 31.0 points per game on 49.5% shooting while making 5.6 threes per game. Those are Curry-like numbers, and Thompson produced them while doing a better job defending Damian Lillard as the series went on. He finished the series with a 13-for-17, 33-point performance that didn’t receive as much press as it would’ve normally because Curry finished the game with seven points in the last 24 seconds.
That was a transitional period for the team, as Curry returned from his knee injury in Game 4 of the semifinals and kind of felt his way back against Portland before finishing both games with devastating flourishes. Is Curry all the way back? One can probably assume that he’s still in enough pain to keep him from being as explosive as he was, say, against Memphis in the last game of the regular season. But that doesn’t matter. Curry has shown the ability to dominate for stretches against the Blazers and in Game 2 against Oklahoma City, and if he’s healthy enough to play, he’s healthy enough to lead.
Let’s take a look at the shot attempts for Thompson and Curry in Games 1, 2 and 3.
- Game 1: Curry 9-for-22, Thompson 11-for-25
- Game 2: Curry 9-for-15, Thompson 5-for-17
- Game 3: Curry 7-for-17, Thompson 8-for-19
It’s oversimplifying things to state that this is what has caused the Warriors to fall behind 2-1 in the Western Conference Finals, but I think it’s emblematic of what we’re seeing as the team tries to relocate its dominant all-around game. Curry averaged 21.3 shots per 36 minutes during the regular season, and he’s at 19.4 per 36 minutes during this series. Thompson took 18.7 shots per 36 minutes during the regular season, and that average has jumped to 23.4 shots per 36 minutes in the Western Conference Finals.
This was most obvious in Game 3, when Thompson took 19 shots in just 24 minutes. When guys like Steve Kerr, Draymond Green, Andre Iguodala and Shaun Livingston complain about “quick shots” hampering the offense AND the defense, they aren’t talking about Curry. The MVP has earned the right to take shots whenever he damn well pleases, and the Warriors would be better served to make sure the ball is in his hands more throughout the rest of this series than it’s been in the first three games. No, they’re mostly talking about Thompson, who’s gone cold from outside (7-for-24 on threes — 29.2%) against the Thunder.
Thompson’s game has evolved throughout his career. He used to have no handle, and his court vision was suspect. Now he can put it on the floor and drive, and not only that, he has some nifty pump-fakes and hesitation moves around the basket. His defense is far better now than it was a few years ago. He came into the league as an outstanding shooter, but he has even improved there, both in his midrange game and on those extra-long threes that only Curry makes more frequently.
The one area where Thompson needs to improve, however, is situational awareness. Specifically, when to back off. Like when the Warriors are up by 10 and there are two minutes remaining, maybe he shouldn’t take a three with 20 seconds left on the shot clock. Or when the offense is struggling and Curry is probably the man to bail them out (or they should simply move the ball more), maybe Thompson shouldn’t try to do it all himself.
He’s far from the only culprit in this series, as far as less-than-stellar play. Andrew Bogut hasn’t provided much punch at a very important position against this Thunder team. I thought we’d never seen Green play worse than Game 3 in Houston, but that was proven incorrect on Sunday night. Green’s teammates look to him for defense and (non-religious) spiritual guidance, and he let everything get away from him in Game 3. The Warriors need more offense from Harrison Barnes and Andre Iguodala, and some of Kerr’s rotations have been suspect. But Thompson needs to prove he can move seamlessly back to the role he played throughout the regular season. He’s the younger Splash Brother, and he needs to let the older one take charge in Game 4 tonight.