Why the Warriors shouldn’t do anything to fix Klay Thompson’s shooting slump

Klay Thompson scored 41 points on April 4 in a 14-point victory against the Minnesota Timberwolves. It was one of his finest performances of the season, as he carried the Golden State Warriors through an off-night from Stephen Curry and a night off for Kevin Durant. He shot 7-for-14 from 3-point range and looked the part of one of the best

But Thompson has gone from Splash Brother to a brick-laying only child. In 16 games, he’s shooting 36.4% from the field and 31.9% on 3s — numbers that are particularly striking because he takes more than 14 shots a game.

What happens when an All-Star shooting guard suddenly can’t shoot? Well, if you’re the 2017 Warriors, you win every game — 16-0 in those games, with Thompson actually sitting out of the only loss the Warriors have taken since mid-March. That shouldn’t come as a surprise to close observers, though. The beauty of his role on this stacked team: It’s not so much about Thompson making shots as the idea of Thompson making shots.

Thompson’s offensive role is gravitational pull. With the 11th highest 3-point percentage in NBA history, he is way too good behind the arc to be left alone even for a second. This season, he even shot a better percentage than Stephen Curry. That leads opponents to be terrified about helping off him — and even causes them to make really stupid mistakes while worried about his shooting threat.

Thompson takes a ton of shots, but it’s all within that flow, at least with the starting unit (and the “Hamptons 5” lineup). The Cavaliers couldn’t leave him alone, a lesson they learned in the 2015 and 2016 Finals: Thompson lit them up for exactly one 30-point game each time, which served as a reminder that they needed to play him honestly.

You can’t beat the Warriors when Thompson gets hot. Since Steve Kerr took over as coach before the 2014-15 season, Golden State is 13-0 when Thompson scores 30 points on 60% shooting from the field. Build a strategy around ignoring him, and that’s what you’ll get.

But the real value for Thompson isn’t on offense at all. He was a defensive monster in Game 1, erasing J.R. Smith and Kyrie Irving from the Cavaliers’ offense whenever he guarded them. Look at the effort here:

And watch how his physical attributes come into play as a lock-down defender on one of the NBA’s best isolation scorers here:

The Warriors need Thompson on the court, a lot, if only for defensive purposes. In that way, he becomes a Danny Green sort of player when he does get cold — good enough at hitting 3s to deserve respect, but mostly out there for defensive purposes.

Still, Thompson is such a big name — and perhaps overrated player in that regard — because of his status as the second Splash Brother that some people insist he must find his stroke. That is despite the Warriors’ perfect record in the playoffs, despite their blowout victory in Game 1 of the NBA Finals and despite the existence of Kevin Durant on this version of this team. On ESPN’s Around the Horn on Friday, panelist Woody Paige even went so far as to say that Thompson needs to be more aggressive in driving to the basket and getting to the free-throw line — where he only took 2.8 attempts per game all season for the NBA’s best offense.

That’s a common strain of thought when a good shooter gets cold. It’d be a worthwhile idea if the Warriors were a normal team or if Thompson were a normal All-Star shooting guard. Not many teams can afford a 22 a game scorer going cold in the postseason.

But for the Warriors, Thompson is the worst ballhandler and creator in that small-ball Hamptons 5 lineup (with Andre Iguodala in place of Zaza Pachulia). He’s also the third-best scorer. Forcing the issue would only muddle things. And even when he’s on the court with a bench unit, as he was to start the second quarter Thursday, Thompson is better off sticking to what works for him.

Thompson is capable of 60-point games, like he had against the Indiana Pacers in December. He holds the NBA record for most points in a quarter, dropping 37 on the Sacramento Kings last season. He’s one of the most dangerous scorers this league has to offer. His shot will return, in time.

For the Warriors, that’s all a bonus. They don’t need Klay Thompson to be a scorer. They just need him to be.

Check Also

These are the final three players at the 2017 World Series of Poker Main Event

freenulled The 2017 World Series of Poker Main Event, with its $8.15 million prize, is …