The Golden State Warriors should be reeling after squandering a 24-point lead against the Sacramento Kings in their NBA In-Season Tournament’s group stage exit. Yet, they’re oddly sanguine about backsliding below .500 since they launched out of the regular season gates to a 6-2 start. Klay Thompson is the most at ease despite being the Warrior with the most reason to worry. Currently, Thompson could attach an annex to the Chase Center compound with all the bricks he’s firing at the rim.
On Monday, Thompson took umbrage to a question from a reporter asking about his shooting struggles and he responded defiantly.
“You want me to bench me?” Thompson asked. When the reporter informed him that he never said that, Thompson replied. “You can suggest it, it’s fine.”
“I don’t care what people say,” Thompson added. “It’s like, they don’t do what we do. They can’t do what we do. That’s why they talk. Why would I? Like, come on. I don’t care what people say at this point in my life, ha! Next question.”
Thompson’s comments earned him derision from adjacent peers like Paul Pierce and media bloviators such as Stephen A. Smith. Pierce blamed Thompson’s defensive lapses on the inevitably of Father Time, while Smith did his usual instigating by describing his play as hot trash. Out of a sense of commitment to his brand, Stephen A. felt compelled to talk disrespectfully to Thompson, but that’s a major overreaction to a 17-game stretch. Thompson’s nonchalance about his rough start to the season might seem like arrogance run amok, but he’s got a point. November and December basketball is full of mirages. Take Thompson for example. Thompson has heard these Washed Klay questions every year since he returned from a ruptured Achilles and torn ACL. And every year, he’s beaten the washed allegations.
During his first month back after a two-and-a-half year absence, Thompson was a shell of himself in January of 2022, making only a third of his 3-point attempts in his first 10 games. After getting his legs underneath himself for a month, he found his groove and the bottom of the net, shot 40 percent from deep, and averaged 22 a night. Last season in Golden State’s first month of its title defense, Thompson was a mess and had writers — myself included — wondering if his sun was finally setting on one half of the Splash Brothers equation.
Through 18 games last season, Thompson’s average improved to 17 points a night on 40 percent shooting from the field and 39 percent from three. After the month of November, Thompson averaged 23 a night, shot over 40 percent from downtown and drained a career-high 301 triples. Sound familiar? By the end of the season, the Warriors starting lineup earned the league’s second-highest net rating for a five-man lineup despite Curry missing a chunk of the season.
This year, through 18 games Thompson is putting up 15 a night, making only 40 percent of his hoists and 36.4 percent of them from distance. I don’t know if this will pass, and neither does Klay, but we do know from very recent history that Thompson’s engine can start out a little rickety. Sometimes you’ve got to jiggle the keys a bit, but once Thompson gets cranked up, he’s proven that he can still turn on Game 6 Klay mode. Defensively, he struggles against quicker guards, but if the question is about his generational shooting ability, using his first 15, 20 games isn’t an accurate barometer to judge him on.
Is he forcing bad shots? Yes, but is Thompson why Golden State’s fallen this far? Erm, no. In the closing moments of Tuesday’s loss, Curry missed an opportunity for a Thompson redemption moment by taking a shot from beyond 30 feet while his Splash Brother was wide open. The league has caught up to them and age is as well, but their starting lineup can still hit go blow-for-blow with anyone.
Of course, there are mitigating circumstances that make this year’s Klay slump different from the last. Firstly, the fear is that these slumps are a harbinger of a permanent decline. Thompson’s 13 straight games scoring fewer than 20 points to start the season was his longest drought since his rookie year, according to ESPN.
Secondly, there’s tension around the organization about Thompson’s expiring contract. Thompson is looking for a max deal, but there’s disagreement with the front office who clearly have doubts that his play warrants paying him $60 million a year when he’s 35, 36, and 37.
If there’s anyone the Warriors should be worrying about, it’s Andrew Wiggins. We’ve seen a bounceback from Thompson before. But Wiggins has a stickier floor. Golden State brushed off the former No. 1 overall pick after his lethargic play in Minnesota had rendered him into a contract albatross. He is one of the least efficient shooters in the league right now and is comfortably anchored to the Warriors with a four-year $109 million contract.
At least the Warriors have the upper hand in regards to Thompson. Thompson’s vessel is literally and metaphorically docked in their bay. The chances of Golden State trading a Splash Brother are almost nil, and it’s way too early to abandon Klay’s ship.
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