Klay Thompson goes nuclear in first game off bench since rookie year, and sixth man role may be his destiny



Golden State Warriors sharpshooter Klay Thompson has been incredibly open about his struggles this season, and it’s not just the poor shooting. Thompson is attempting to come to grips with his rising age and diminishing skill set on a team with minimal margin for error and continued championship aspirations. 

On Thursday night — the eve of the All-Star break — the Warriors and Thompson may have found a logical solution that makes a lot of sense moving forward.

For the first time since his rookie season in 2012, Thompson came off the bench in the Warriors’ 140-137 win over the Utah Jazz. Nobody would have blamed him for viewing the move as a demotion, which could have led to sulking and pouting throughout the game. Instead, Thompson did the opposite — looking energized and focused as he laser beamed his way to a season-high 35 points (all of which came in his first 18 minutes on the court), including 7-for-13 3-point shooting.

The move was so successful that Warriors coach Steve Kerr said after the game that he’s going to stick with Thompson off the bench, for now at least.

“Doesn’t mean it’s permanent, but as I said I like that [starting] lineup. Klay coming off the bench gives us a lot of firepower. We’ll give it a little look and we’ll see where it goes from there.”

Firepower, indeed. As we’ve seen countless times throughout his career, Thompson is as unstoppable as they come when he’s hot. Once he saw the first 3-point attempt go in with just under three minutes left in the first quarter, it was on. Thompson went on a scoring spree that carried into the second half.

“I thought he handled everything beautifully, the way he came out — determined, competitive,” Kerr said after the game. “That’s difficult, but Klay’s a champion. He’s one of the most competitive people I’ve ever met. He responded accordingly, and played a great, great game.”

The 34-year-old Thompson said during the halftime TV interview that he came off the bench to rest his legs in the second game of a back-to-back, but it makes sense for the Warriors to consider using Thompson as a sixth man on a regular basis.

There’s no way to sugar coat it — Thompson has been bad this season. He entered Thursday night averaging 17 points, but shooting just 41% from the field and 37% from 3-point range (pretty good for a mere mortal, but by far the lowest of his career). More glaring are the team’s numbers when Thompson is on the court. The Warriors have been outscored by 7.8 points per 100 possessions with Thompson on the floor, and the defensive rating is considerably worse in his minutes. Overall, Thompson entered Thursday night as a minus-55 for the season.

All of this is to say that Thompson in the starting lineup simply hasn’t been working. If you think of prototypical NBA sixth men, they’re usually of the bucket-getting variety. Tyler Herro, Lou Williams, Jamal Crawford, Jordan Clarkson. These Sixth Man of the Year winners all have something in common — they can absolutely light it up when they get going, but they all come with drawbacks, usually on the defensive side of the ball.

By moving Thompson to the bench, you can eliminate a big target for the opposing team’s best perimeter players. On Thursday, the Warriors employed a lot of zone with Thompson on the court, another tactic they may use more liberally. On the offensive side, bringing Thompson off the bench provides you with optionality. If he’s scorching, like he was against the Jazz, let it ride. But if he’s off, you can more easily pull him without messing with your rotations too much.

Not to mention that rookie Brandin Podziemski, who started in Thompson’s place, has been excellent all season including Thursday night. Once Chris Paul returns, he and Thompson can be a devastating pair off the bench — lineups featuring both of them have a net rating of plus-six this season in over 500 minutes.

“In that second group, I think we allowed to play through him and get him as many shots as we can,” Podziemski said of Thompson after the win. “And it worked wonders tonight.”

Both Kerr and Thompson himself have said multiple times that the future Hall of Famer needs to get out of his own head. He’s incredibly hard on himself, which sometimes leads to forcing shots and trying to do too much. Coming off the bench should allow Thompson the space and freedom to be himself, knowing that if he’s having an off night, the Warriors have a starting and closing unit that can function — and even thrive — without him.





Source link

About The Author

Scroll to Top