Basketball

Can the Warriors Get Klay Thompson Going?

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Klay Thompson is undoubtedly one of the greatest shooters of all time. Some of the most prolific, explosive shooting performances in NBA history have come from Thompson’s behalf.

We’ve seen Thompson score 37 points in a single quarter, we’ve seen him tie the playoff record for 11 three-pointers in a single game, we’ve seen him set the NBA record for most three-pointers in a single game with 14, and we’ve even seen him score 60 points in just 29 minutes.

Thompson’s running mate, Stephen Curry, might be the only other shooter in NBA history with that type of game-breaking stroke.

Through the first two games of the 2022 NBA Finals, that version of Klay Thompson has been nowhere to be found. And the Warriors don’t need that version of Thompson. They don’t need him to go for 37 points in a quarter, but they will need some semblance of that Thompson during this series. He doesn’t need to be great but he needs to be good.

Shooting Inconsistencies

In round one against Denver, Thompson came out guns blazing – he looked like the Thompson of old. The one the whole league fell in love with. But since then, he’s been mightily inconsistent shooting the basketball.

Through the first four games of the Memphis series, he had just one game where he shot greater than 31.6% from the floor, and through the first five games of that series, he shot just 12/41 on 3PA’s (29.3%). He followed that up with a classic “game six Klay” game, where he went 8-14 from distance on his way to 30 points.

In the Western Conference Finals versus Dallas, he shot just 7/24 from three (29.2%) through the first four games before erupting in game five, going 8/16 from beyond the arc while putting up 32 points and ultimately putting Dallas away for good.

Is this just who Thompson is now?

Thompson’s three-point shooting has been relatively inconsistent all year long; he shot 32.9% in the month of January, 45.6% in seven games in February, and then 34.4% in March before going nuclear in three regular-season games in April where he shot 51.2% from three. He really has been hit or miss all season long and while that may not be who he is for the rest of his career, it’s who he is right now.

For the Warriors to outlast Boston as the final team standing, they’re more than likely going to need Thompson to play better than he has through the first two games of this series. So, what can the rest of the Warriors do to help get him going?

Generating Easier Looks

Don’t get it twisted, Thompson is mostly shooting shots he’s routinely hit throughout his career, he’s just not hitting them at the same rate everyone is used to him hitting at.

When watching the first two games of this series, it initially felt like he was forcing a good amount of shots but he’s really not. Yes, he inevitably takes a couple of ill-advised shots just about every game but the quality of looks hasn’t been the issue.

The Splash Brother has played heavy minutes dating back to March and I think it’s possible he just doesn’t have the legs to consistently hit from outside right now.

There is one fascinating tidbit when looking at his playoff numbers this year – he’s shooting the best 2P% of his playoff career at exactly 50%. Part of the fascination comes from the contrast of that number compared to his 2P% in the 2021-22 regular season where he shot 47.7%, which is the lowest that number has been since 2013-14.

One thing that could help the Los Angeles native get it going in Boston is creating more looks for him inside the arc. The first shot he saw go through the hoop on Sunday night in game two was a seven-foot fadeaway. A lot of his shots, even inside the arc, are coming up short. This could be a fatigue thing, it could be a mechanical issue and it could also just be a coincidence.

Golden State shouldn’t change where he’s getting his looks from completely, but Thompson is reacting to the result of each and every one of his shots. He’s clearly pressing on the issue and it could help to get him some open looks in the mid-range or get him a layup or two early on in games to let him see that ball go through the hoop.

In game two, he may have just been off for some reason or another. I mean, he smoked a point-blank layup early on in that game and he even air-balled a shot versus Payton Pritchard in the post, which has always been a quality part of Thompson’s game.

All in all, there’s not a ton Golden State can do to get Thompson going. He’s getting quality looks, he just has to hit them.

The Warriors are 5-1 when Klay hits four or more three-pointers in the 2022 postseason. One way or another, Klay should start hitting shots and the Dubs will be that much tougher for Boston to beat.

Don’t Be Afraid to Pull the Plug

If Thompson doesn’t have it going on any given night, Steve Kerr cannot keep blindly playing him major minutes.

Thompson found ways to affect the game in other ways at times in game two, such as sliding over from the weak side and preventing a momentum-swinging dunk from Jaylen Brown in the first quarter. But he doesn’t make enough of those plays to justify playing him upwards of 30 minutes when his shot isn’t falling.

Jordan Poole is similar in that way, so who should Kerr look to if Thompson doesn’t have it? Gary Payton II.

Thompson and Poole are scorers and there’s nothing wrong with that. They’ve made a living on putting the ball in the basket for a reason, but what GPII brings to the table is essential to beating Boston, and the more minutes he can get, the better.

Payton is one of the best disruptors at the guard position across the entire NBA and he’s Golden State’s best on-ball perimeter defender, but his contributions don’t end on the defensive end.

He’s not a prolific shooter like Thompson or Poole but he’s a smart and timely cutter, a good finisher at the rim and he’s a career 37.1% shooter on corner 3’s and 40.3% on corner threes this season. Payton knows his role on both ends of the court and he won’t take ill-advised shots like Thompson or Poole.

The Warriors need Thompson and Poole’s shooting/scoring, but they have to recognize when those guys don’t have it. Plus, they need GPII’s defense on the floor as much as possible anyway.

Everything Payton does on the court can’t be accounted for in the stat sheet, and plus-minus can be a misleading statistic, but he wasn’t a +15 in game two by coincidence.

So can the Warriors get Thompson going? Yes, and he more than likely will have a game or two in this series where it feels like he just can’t miss. But when Thompson doesn’t have it going, Kerr needs to recognize that and adjust accordingly.

Main Image credit: Karl Mondon/Bay Area News Group/TNS)

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