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The Golden Breakdown: How Klay Thompson is compensating for his lackluster shooting with excellent defense

Klay Thompson has been cold from three-point range, but he is making up for it by taking two-pointers and displaying elite defense.

NBA: Golden State Warriors at Denver Nuggets Isaiah J. Downing-USA TODAY Sports

Klay Thompson’s quest for a 50/40/90 season isn’t off to a great start.

Four games into the 2018-19 NBA season, Thompson is shooting 37.3% from the field, and 13.6% from three-point range. He is 3-of-22 from beyond the arc — a shooting clip that belies his status as one of the best shooters in the NBA.

Should everyone sound the alarm on Thompson’s performance so far? It might be a bit premature to do so. The sample size is small, and the season is still in an extremely early stage of infancy. If the law of averages is to be believed, then there is most certainly nowhere to go but up for Thompson. The best remedy for an elite shooter like him is to just keep on shooting — the rhythm will come, and with it, the shots will start to fall.

Thompson’s focus on other aspects of his offense

Looking beyond the three-point struggles of Thompson, he has been playing well in other aspects of his offensive game, most notably his two-point shots. From inside the arc, he has posted a 19-of-37 shooting clip, good for 51.4%. Against the Phoenix Suns, he shot 5-of-8 on two-point shots.

The increase in the amount of two-point shots that he takes, especially in the mid-range, makes sense — if you can’t establish a three-point rhythm, stop taking threes, and start taking twos.

As always, he has been active off the ball, setting screens and most notably, cutting toward the basket.

While these cuts may have not led to Thompson scoring, it’s an indication that he is not letting his current three-point shooting predicament affect his ability to be effective in other ways.

Thompson’s defensive compensation

Despite being known as the best shooter in the league not named Stephen Curry, there are other aspects of his game that are acknowledged, but less celebrated — such as his defensive prowess.

Advanced statistics do not favor Thompson’s reputation as a defender — he does not stuff the stat sheet in terms of getting steals, rebounds, and blocks. So far in his career, he has never been included in any NBA All-Defensive team.

But he is often assigned to defend the opposing team’s best perimeter player, and in situations where the Warriors’ needed his defense the most, Thompson has often delivered.

Thompson has always been an exceptional one-on-one defender, mostly due to his excellent defensive fundamentals — he defends primarily with his feet instead of his hands, and he is patient, almost always staying down and not falling for fakes.

Thompson is a hound on defense, sticking with his man by fighting over screens. He manages to get into a solid defensive stance against Trevor Ariza near the basket. Thompson slightly jumps on a pump fake, but recovers enough to not bump Ariza, who is stuck with shooting a bad floater that misses.

Thompson’s height and strength allows him to switch onto bigger men, during which he can hold his own down low and force some tough shots for big men in the post. In some instances, he can even discourage some post players from making a move against him at all.

Thompson — listed at 6-feet-7-inches — gets switched onto Deandre Ayton, a legitimate 7-footer. Normally, a big man would salivate at such a size disparity, especially when he receives the ball near the basket. But to a rookie such as Ayton, Thompson’s reputation as a defender must have crossed his mind. Ayton fails to make a move on Thompson, and by the time Damian Jones comes over to double, Ayton has to pass the ball out.

On another possession by the Suns in the second quarter, Thompson again gets switched onto Ayton. This time, Ayton decides to try his luck against Thompson.

Thompson again gets into an excellent defensive stance. His feet are wide, ready to take any sort of body contact from Ayton should he decide to back Thompson down toward the basket. Instead, Ayton exposes the ball, as if he was decided on taking a jump shot. Thompson denies any notion of that by getting his hand on the ball cleanly, and forces a jump ball with the inexperienced young center.

With Ayton having the clear height advantage, he wins the jump ball and tips the ball over to TJ Warren. With only three seconds left on the shot clock, Warren immediately goes up for the shot.

But Thompson is alert and aware — he meets Warren up top and cleanly blocks his last gasp shot attempt, which leads to a Quinn Cook fastbreak and a foul.

Of course, Thompson is also an excellent perimeter defender — he is able to stay in front of his man using his feet, and his length is bothersome to players who attempt to drive past him or pull up for a jumper.

Thompson gets switched onto Devin Booker, an excellent scorer in his own right. Booker tries to take Thompson off the dribble, and Thompson welcomes the challenge of locking down the young Suns star.

Booker has trouble getting past Thompson, and instead pulls up for a fadeaway jumper. Thompson contests the shot well, and it misses.

Thompson is matched up against Booker again, this time on a post up. As usual, Thompson’s wide stance transforms him into a solid, immovable object, and Booker’s only chance is to try to bait Thompson into jumping on a fake.

But Thompson — ever the disciplined defender — doesn’t bite on the fake, which forces Booker to pass the ball out. The possession ultimately bears no fruit for the Suns.

On a sequence that precedes the final possession of the first half, Thompson is once again matched up against Booker. An attempted switch by the Suns fails to materialize, and Booker is stuck with Thompson.

Again, Booker puts the ball on the floor and tries to create space and separation, but the hounding defense of Thompson gives Booker serious trouble. As a result of Thompson’s defensive pressure, Booker bobbles his dribble out-of-bounds.

And finally, in another possession where Thompson gets matched up against Booker, he does what he does best: lock down the opposing team’s best offensive player.

Thompson denies everything from Booker — he denies the baseline, denies middle penetration, and denies the ball from ever leaving Booker’s hand for a shot. He does, however, let Booker place the ball out-of-bounds for a turnover.

At this point, Booker has to be traumatized — Thompson just won’t let him get an easy one.

Thompson’s three-point shooting will eventually come to a point where it will become consistent again, and his mid-range game will always be there to supplement his offense during those times when his threes aren’t falling. He is still one of the best players in the league when it comes to creating chaos and moving around without the ball.

One thing that the team can always count on is Thompson’s defense. As previously stated, advanced statistics do not favor him, and maybe they never will. Thompson may never be included in an NBA All-Defensive team, despite the fact that his inclusion is long overdue.

In the end, what matters is that Thompson is an elite two-way player. He is a proven winner, and he is a proven champion.

The threes will eventually come. They always do.

Four down, 78 more to go.

Stay Golden, Dub Nation.

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