The Evolution of Klay Thompson

Thompson's improvement is the biggest reason Golden State has been so good this season. (Photo by sfexaminer)
Thompson’s improvement is the biggest reason Golden State has been so good this season. (Photo by sfexaminer)

The Golden State Warriors are having a tremendous season. It’s been years since Bay Area fans have really had something to cheer about. The Warriors have a young nucleus sprinkled with veterans around the outside. While Steph Curry has grabbed most of the headlines, and rightfully so, Klay Thompson has quietly moved himself into the upper echelon of shooting guards in the NBA thanks to his new and improved game.

There are players who are spot-up shooters and players who have the ability to make tough shots. There is a big difference. Spot-up shooters can’t take the majority of NBA defenders off the dribble. Kyle Korver is the best spot-up shooter in the NBA. He is also excellent at coming off screens and hitting shots. Jamal Crawford makes tough shots. Players like Crawford can also take players off the dribble with regularity.

When a team gets a player who is a mix of Korver and Crawford, that team usually ends up with a pretty special player. The Warriors already had Steph Curry, and they were hoping Thompson could develop into a very good player playing with Curry. I don’t think they expected Thompson become Batman 2.0 to Curry’s Batman.

For some reason, and nobody ever knows why exactly, the light bulb turned on for Thompson. While he never had a Player Efficiency Rating higher than league average (15), Thompson is well on his way to posting a career-best this season. He currently ranks 11th in the league with a 22.7 PER.

  1. He is taking a slightly less percentage of three-pointers this season (41.6% this season compared to 42.5% last season).
  2. Eighteen percent of his field goal attempts come within three feet of the basket. Thirteen and a half percent came from that same distance last season.
  3. Thompson has stopped settling for shots between 10 feet and the three-point line. Last season, Thompson shot 32.5 percent of his shots between 10 feet and the three-point line. This season, he is shooting 28.9 percent of his shots from these same distances.
  4. Thompson is actually playing fewer minutes per game this season (32.6) compared to last season (35.4). Thanks to the depth and quality of Golden State’s roster, Thompson has the opportunity to be more efficient.

Thompson is scoring nearly four and half more points per game this season compared to last season. But he is only averaging one and half more shots per game this season. One reason is his free throw shooting is up where it should be, 85.9 percent, compared to where it was his first three seasons (82.7 percent). Making free throws is a great way to improve a player’s scoring average and efficiency.

Another reason that I think has made Thompson successful this season is Steve Kerr playing him at the small forward position. Thompson has played 50 percent of his time on the floor at shooting guard and 49 percent at small forward. Putting Thompson at the small forward spot gives him the opportunity to take advantage of the lack of league-wide defensive talent at that position, and one of them happens to be teammate Draymond Green. Which in turn, makes it easier for Thompson to take them off the dribble. So far, Thompson has attempted 129 shots at the rim this season. That puts him on pace to shoot nearly 252 shots at the rim. Last season, he shot 187 shots at the rim. He is shooting 70.5 percent at the rim this season.

I would rank Thompson right behind James Harden when it comes to top shooting guards in the NBA. He will achieve “All-Star” status this season for the first time in his career.

But Thompson is playing more like a “superstar” this season. Either way, I think he and the Warriors will take it.

¹Here is a fun fact. If Thompson was able to attempt as many field goal and free throw attempts per game as James Harden, while keeping his percentages the same, Thompson would lead the league in scoring with 28.7 points per game.

¹James Harden – Harden averages 27.6 points per game to Thompson’s 23. Harden averages 1.2 more shot attempts, .1 less three-point attempts, and 5.3 more free throw attempts per game.


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