Warriors are scrambling as Klay Thompson’s struggles have reached elephant-in-the-room levels

Klay Thompson wasn’t happy when Charles Barkley said he’s “not the same guy” he was before sustaining devastating injuries in consecutive years, first a torn ACL and then a ruptured Achilles. Thing is, it’s true. Thompson acknowledged it himself, rhetorically asking reporters amid his Barkley rant: “Who goes through something like that and comes back [the same]?”

Thompson is one of the league’s fiercest and proudest competitors. It’s understandable that he’s frustrated with how he’s playing and the idea that people, not just Barkley, are starting to question his game, or, perhaps more accurately, reevaluate how much of what he once brought to the table can be reasonably expected to return. 

Still, these are questions begging to be asked within the context of how Thompson’s season, and the Warriors‘ season as a whole, has started. Entering play on Thursday, Thompson is making just 35 percent of the 15 shots he’s taking, on average, per game — a number that includes a 33-percent clip from 3 on almost 10 shots per game. 

As pointed out by Anthony Slater of The Athletic, Thompson’s 47.1 true-shooting percentage is fourth worst among the 164 players who have attempted at least 100 shots this season. All told, Thompson has required 185 shots this season to score a grand total of 181 points. Less than a point per shot attempt is bottom-of-the-barrel stuff.

That’s the thing: We’re not talking about a low-usage guy here. True, Thompson isn’t quite gunning at the rate that he did prior to the injuries, but relative to how infrequently the shots that he is taking — many of which are forced in what so far has been a futile pursuit of some semblance of rhythm — are going in, there’s a real opportunity cost happening. Thompson still has the greenest of lights, but the more he launches and bricks what would, for any other player not named Steph Curry, be considered hasty shots, the bigger the elephant in the room gets. 

Steve Kerr has been talking about the Warriors’ energy, their spirit, or lack thereof, for a while now, but what he’s not saying out loud is Thompson cashing momentum 3s all over the court and bringing the pressure defensively was responsible for a lot of that energy the old Warriors played with. That Thompson was infectious. He bled into the spirit, and ultimately the performance, of teammates. This Thompson is, too often, draining the same blood with quick-trigger misses. It works both ways. 

Thompson is far from Golden State’s only problem. The bench, which is a whole other story with this two-timeline thing the Warriors are trying to do, has killed them. The defense, which used to be elite in large part because of Thompson, is giving up open looks like it’s an All-Star game. Still, Thompson’s woes notwithstanding, the Warriors’ starting lineup is outscoring opponents by 21 points per 100 possessions, per Cleaning the Glass, second only to Dallas’ newest starting lineup among all five-man units that have logged at least 200 possessions together, and the best mark among all lineups north of Dallas’ 208 possessions. 

But you have to wonder how long even that lineup can stay this deep in the black if Thompson keeps playing like this. The Warriors, after all, can’t just rely on normal positive minutes from their starting lineup; they have to kill those minutes because once the bench enters the fray, things go into the tank quickly. 

Curry is doing more than his part. He’s been the best player in the league this season. He put 50 on the Suns on Wednesday, and the Warriors still lost pretty convincingly. He used to have a running partner. Steve Kerr is going to give Thompson a ton of slack, and he should. Thompson has earned that, and the Warriors, barring a trade, cannot win another championship without him. As this roster is currently constructed, he has to get it going. 

I’m still betting that he will. He’s too great a shooter. Too proud a competitor. But with the Warriors sitting at 6-9, including 0-8 on the road, in a Western Conference that boasts no fewer than eight teams likely to be fighting for a top-four seed, it has to happen pretty soon. 

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