The Monta Ellis* trade meant Christmas came early for Klay Thompson. Praised but barely played, Thompson impressed fans and coaches in brief glimpses, but spent most of the first few months of this season trying to find some level of comfort and consistency on a team without direction. The Warriors still aren’t winning games, but Thompson (who after only scoring in double figures three consecutive games once over his first 34 games, has scored 11 or more in his last 13) is winning respect throughout the league.
* Ellis torched the Hawks for 33 points on 15-of-24 shooting, 8 assists 17 points in the fourth quarter in Milwaukee’s 108-101 win over Atlanta tonight — in other words, also torching what I wrote about him earlier this afternoon.
Over two hours before opening tip, Kobe Bryant shot jumpers on the visiting end. He came out shortly after Matt Barnes, and both player had their own “assistant” (ballboy) feeding them passes around the perimeter. On the other side, Richard Jefferson was joined by Thompson.
After about a half hour spent warming up, Bryant walked back to the visiting locker room. On his way he stopped at the free throw line and talked for a little while with Thompson at the free throw line. This was definitely respectful, nothing comparable to Michael Jordan talking trash to instill fear. It seemed like a significant gesture, though. No offense to Dominic McGuire or Jeremy Tyler, but it didn’t seem like the kind of conversation Bryant would have gone out of his way to have with either one of those players.
Bryant’s going to come out with maniacal intensity this evening, for a couple reasons. First, it’s the Warriors and for some reason he gets off on lighting it up at Oracle. Probably the fans, usually a mixture of rowdy Warriors fans and cocky Lakers supporters dressed in purple and gold. Second, Mike Brown sat Bryant for a long period in the fourth quarter on Sunday, which of course has been completely blown out of proportion in Lakerland.
So Bryant’s definitely been studying, and Thompson’s the main guy he’s probably been watching over the last couple days on video. Thompson’s dad, Mychael, won titles with the Lakers. Klay’s game is based off strict fundamentals, and that has to garner some respect.
I don’t know what Bryant and Thompson talked about (I’ll try to ask at some point), and it could have been psychologically motivated on Bryant’s part. Prep the kid with flattery, then torch him 120 minutes later. Whatever it was that was said, Thompson was grinning ear to ear for a solid minute after Bryant left the floor and walked up the tunnel. A lot has changed in the past couple weeks for Thompson, who spoke on Saturday about still getting motivation from missing out on the Rookie/Sophomore game during All-Star Weekend. Thompson’s been a solid player all season, but March is when he truly arrived.