Discover more from Dub Nation HQ
Klay Thompson showed he can still be a star, but how can his game improve?
Recapping Klay's '23 season with an eye to his future prospects.
For many disgruntled Dub Nation members still smarting from the emphatic defeat they suffered at the hands of the Los Angeles Lakers in the playoffs, Klay Thompson’s game (and hefty contract) are worthy of scrutiny.
Just take this report from the SF Gate on Thompson’s 3-of-19 shooting dud in a devastating Game 6 loss that ended Golden State’s season, entitled “Klay Thompson's brutal series crash-landed in Warriors' Game 6 loss”.
It’s not as if the Lakers had employed some strategic genius to craft a defensive scheme that would ensure Thompson’s downfall. In fact, it was quite the opposite. Time and time again, Thompson’s relatively open looks would clank off the rim, and if the Warriors somehow secured the rebound and got the ball back to him, he’d put on an encore for his hometown crowd with another brick.
There was also no real reason for the Lakers to consider Thompson a threat by any means heading into this elimination game. He was averaging 17 points per game in the series and just 11 over the three games before Game 6. Even his impressive 3-point numbers in the first five games (43.1%) were a red herring, as he was 8-of-24 (33.3%) from 3 in his last three games.
Thompson kept forcing long-range buckets as if Game 6 Klay would break out of the phone booth in his mind and take over.Game 6 Klay was never going to happen. The backdrop of an elimination game on the round seemed like an appropriate setting, but Thompson’s abilities just weren’t there not just in this series, but for a good portion of this postseason.
And yet that frustrating performance on the last night of Warriors basketball for the 2021-2022 season doesn’t encapsulate how great of a year the younger Splash Bro had.
Klay is a bonafide basketball legend, a founding member of the Golden Empire, a 4x champion, a multiple time All-Star, and one of the greatest two-way players the game has ever seen. His ridiculous exploits include:
Scored an NBA record 37 points in a quarter.
Hit 11 three-pointers in a must win Western Conference Finals in a road Game 6 against MVP’s Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook.
52 points in 27 minutes against the Chicago Bulls, including NBA record 14 three-pointers made.
43 points on four dribbles against the New York Knicks.
He was also only one played season removed from back-to-back horrendous injuries to his ACL and Achilles. As recently as 2020 we weren’t sure if Klay would ever be a quality player again, let alone a star.
So when Klay was entering into his first full season after playing 32 games in Golden State’s championship run of 2022, it was hard to predict what to expect from him. Was that short regular season and deep playoff run enough evidence to prove he was all the way back, or should Dub Nation hold their collective breath every time Klay landed hard?
When reports trickled out that Thompson didn’t scrimmage in the offseason to preserve his body, it felt relatively understandable. But it also appeared to contribute to a slow start for Big Smokey.
Per Shayna Rubin of the Spokesman-Review, the start wasn’t too hot:
Problems with Thompson’s game cropped up early, as he was desperately trying to find success in his old ways – shooting off screens and not looking to make the extra pass. It got to a point where Green had to have a wake-up-call discussion with his longtime teammate. At the All-Star break, with Curry out the first few weeks due to injury, assistant coach Bruce Fraser urged Thompson to work on rebounding and playmaking.
And yet despite the rough beginning, Klay showed out, leading the NBA in made three-pointers with a career-high 301.
Klay played in 69 games, which is more games played than Luka Doncic (66), Damian LIllard (58), Paul George (56), and James Harden (58). AND THEY SAY AVAILABILITY IS THE BEST ABILITY! Here’s some other fun facts from his first full campaign after the horrendous injuries:
Averaged 21.9 points per game, his highest since 2017 when he averaged 22.3 PPG.
Averaged 18.1 FGA per game, his highest of his career.
Shot 41% from beyond the arc.
Averaged a career high 4.1 rebounds per game.
Averaged 10.6 3PA per game, a career high.
What we saw last season was evidence that Klay’s swagger was still high as the Himalayas as he sought to hungrily reestablish himself as one of the top wings in the game. Depending on who you are, that info might bring you great joy or make you simmer with frustration, but the Klay Experience definitely ratcheted up last season. Remember when he got ejected against the Suns for getting into it with Devin Booker?
Seeing those two clips juxtaposed together, with Klay trolling the air out of Book and then regretting it during the offseason, leads perfectly into what Klay did to the Suns on the court later that season. 33 POINTS IN A FREAKIN’ HALF!
That competitive edge is off the charts. Klay didn’t become the season leader in bombs scored without turning back the clock to Vintage Killa Klay a few times this season, like in that Phoenix game or against the Atlanta Hawks when he dropped FIFTY-FOUR! That’s his second highest scoring game of his career folks.
And as Klay reasserted himself as a top-dog on the team alongside Stephen Curry and Draymond Green, the team trusted him repeatedly in crunch time situations. Did you know that according to NBA.com’s clutch situations data, Thompson took the most three-pointers on the team (16-of-53)? He also took the second most shot attempts with 76, right beyond Curry at 79.
Honestly it got to the point where when Klay had the ball I just expected him to deliver some wild dagger, and on the occasions where he missed, they were jarring reminders that a man who makes shooting tough shots look so easy is still in fact human.
In the playoffs, Klay shot a hair under 39% on 18.5 PPG. Here’s his shot chart during the postseason:
His most memorable Klay game was probably the 30 points he lit the Lakers up with on eight three-pointers in a blowout game in Chase that made it seem like the Warriors were ready to repeat.
But as we mentioned at the top of this piece, Klay’s hot streak fizzled out when the Dubs needed him most. That got his coach Steve Kerr making an interesting comment in the conclusion of the season:
“The biggest thing for Klay is to have a great offseason,” Kerr said last week. “At 33, with two major injuries behind him, this is a time where he’s got to be more prepared than ever for the first day of training camp, not only physically handling the injuries and the strength and conditioning part of everything, but also understanding that as you get older you’ve got to get better and areas you can improve upon. You can’t rely on the same things you could rely on at 28 or 27.”
…He reverted to his worst habits when it mattered most, including throughout the Warriors’ second-round loss to the Lakers when he shot 28% from 3 over the final four games of the series. At times, it looked like the Lakers were inviting Thompson to indulge his bad habits, and it ended with a 2-for-12 shooting night from 3 in the Game 6 elimination.
Thankfully, the word on the street is Klay is back on his offseason workouts. I’m looking forward to the next level of the Splash Bro experience.