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Klay Thompson's rise to NBA stardom

Taking a look at how Klay Thompson became one of the most valuable players in the league this season.

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Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports

If Klay Thompson wasn't a Warrior this season, this golden season would not have happened.

If not for a final decision by Golden State's front office during the offseason, Thompson would have been traded along with other key pieces of the team to the Minnesota Timberwolves, in exchange for star power forward Kevin Love.

The Warriors ultimately held off on the deal, and as a result Thompson stayed in the Bay; Love ended up with the Cavaliers in a sign-and-trade.

Thompson could have been disgruntled in the beginning of the season. It would have been understandable, with the way his name had come up in trade rumor after trade rumor during his career, peaking with the non-trade in the offseason.

Instead, Klay came in with a different mindset. Off of a brilliant summer with Team USA, Thompson has played like a man possessed this season.

In an exclusive interview with Golden State of Mind, Thompson said, "I had a chip on my shoulder coming in. I felt underappreciated, when [I'm] putting in all this work and when people just start thinking of [me] as just a trade piece. You work with your teammates to have all this success, and then you're just 'trade bait', you know?

"So [I] did come in and wanted to prove people wrong this season."

After nearly trading him over the offseason, Golden State bestowed a $69 million, four-year extension to their shooting guard on October 31. And has it worked out for both sides.

So far this year, Thompson has exploded into one of the most valuable two-way players in the NBA, if not the best two-way shooting guard in the league. He is on pace to set career-highs in nearly every category, scored a record-setting 37 points in a quarter, and was named Player of the Week twice. He was voted to the Western Conference All-Star Team for the first time -- starting the game along with Stephen Curry -- and is a top candidate for the Most Improved Player award.

Yet it was another decision by the Warriors front office, this an actual move by Lacob and Co., changed not only the fate of the team but, specifically, Thompson's fate as well. Golden State fired Mark Jackson -- even after back-to-back playoff appearances and a 51-win season -- and replaced him with Steve Kerr.

While religion is a very touchy subject, Jackson was outspoken and unapologetic about his Christian beliefs in an organization with the first openly gay senior executive in sports, Warriors Team President and COO Rick Welts. Among other things, David Aldrige of wrote that "Jackson's less-than-complete embrace of Jason Collins after Collins disclosed he was gay last year may have been taken badly within the organization." Religion was likely an issue that affected his relationship and may have in some way caused his firing.

He also sparred with the organization's higher-ups and with his assistants. Relying mostly on inefficient isolations and post-ups, Jackson did not truly embrace smallball, which the Warriors clearly excelled at. He thrust Harrison Barnes to the bench, which stagnated his development, and infamously clashed with center Andrew Bogut, resulting in a permanently broken relationship. And Klay, a shining shooter, did not really improve much under Jackson on the offensive end.

"Last year I was nowhere near where I could play at," Thompson told me.

Now, under Steve Kerr, Barnes, Iguodala, Bogut and Thompson are much more involved in the offense and satisfied with their roles. Kerr made it a priority for the Warriors to hire top-tier assistants, defensive guru Ron Adams -- who has helped improve Thompson's defense on star wings like Kevin Durant -- and the offensive-minded Alvin Gentry. Kerr and Gentry have instilled a much more free-flowing offense based at a fast pace with lots of ball movement, and Thompson has flourished, becoming a much-improved playmaker.

"Give credit to the coaches, they've really put me in great positions to succeed and really improve my weaknesses this season," Thompson told me.

Thompson is averaging nearly three assists per game, which represents a career-high by nearly a full assist. He is also attacking the rim more and drawing more fouls -- he has nearly doubled his free throws per game; and his free throw rate, about 9.7% for his first three years, has ballooned to over 14% of his points, per He is decreasing the number of inefficient mid-range shots, and increased the number of shots he's taking within ten feet of the rim -- shooting a career-high percentage, per Thompson has already matched the number of field goals made at the rim while posting a career-best efficiency in the paint, per

"I've always thought I was going to get better and better, and I have," Thompson told Golden State of Mind. "I knew I would make a jump like this. Just working hard. Playing on Team USA, winning a gold medal, that whole experience just helped give me a lot of confidence going into this season that I'm one of the best."

The Warriors this year have jumped to second in offensive rating -- after infamously finishing twelfth in that category under Mark Jackson last season -- and have the best defense in the NBA. Golden State has been creaming teams all year when healthy; the Warriors have lost merely twice with Curry, Thompson, and Bogut on the floor. Golden State features the league's best net rating (+12.0), the highest since Kerr's (okay, fine, Michael Jordan's) 72-win Bulls in 1995-96 and nearly double that of the second-place Los Angeles Clippers.  In fact, the Warriors' gap of +5.5 over the Clippers is larger than the gap between the Clippers and the 15th-place Phoenix Suns. The Warriors are second in the NBA in assist-turnover ratio, and lead the league in assists per game.

"We have such a great core group of guys, a mix of young guys and veterans," Thompson said to me. "I feel like I'm in the perfect situation with this team. Our chemistry has been developing over the last three years. We're all so familiar with each other now. It's awesome, man, and it really shows on the court."

All of his improvement has helped the Warriors to the best record at this point. But Klay Thompson isn't satisfied with what happens in the regular season now. After "years of losing and not making the postseason," Thompson said, he and the Warriors are reaching for higher goals.

"We still have big, big, big aspirations," he said. "We're not satisfied with where we are right now. We want to be there at the end."

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