When one thinks of stars, supersized egos immediately come to mind. The “me” mentality, the god complex where one thinks he cannot do anything wrong — that the entire team depends on him, and that without him, the team is nothing. The NBA has seen plenty of that this offseason, particularly in the confines of the Twin Cities.
Not in the Bay Area. Not in the two-time MVP and the greatest shooter of all time. Not in the 2013-14 MVP, the two-time Finals MVP, and perhaps the deadliest scorer the league has ever seen. Not in the former Defensive Player of the Year.
And most certainly, not in perhaps the lowest maintenance star to have ever existed in the NBA.
Klay Thompson seems like he lives in his own world for most of the time. It’s probably a world where he thinks of a variety of things: how he can improve his three-point shooting, which Instagram pictures to like, what to feed Rocco when he gets home, etc.
One thing he never seems to think about is how he’s not getting enough touches. He never complains about his struggles on the court; he never calls out teammates for not doing their part, and he has never wavered or even shown a hint of discouragement when he is in the middle of a shooting funk.
Speaking of shooting funks, Thompson was in one heck of a shooting funk to start the season off.
Thompson’s early season struggles
If there is one song title that aptly describes Thompson and his game, it would most probably be “Hot N Cold” by Katy Perry. Thompson is perhaps the most notorious streaky player in the league today, because he is probably the only star-level player with such a reputation.
klay’s cold streaks run as wild as his hot streaks— Andy Liu (@AndyKHLiu) October 27, 2018
If the preseason was any indication, Thompson was bound to have a flaming-hot start come the beginning of the regular season. He had shooting splits of .516/.552/.889, per NBA.com — he shot 16-of-29 on three-pointers. It seemed like Thompson was primed to have a record shooting season based on his preseason form.
More often than not, the preseason is just like Las Vegas — what happens there, stays there.
Thompson was abysmal to start the season. In the Warriors’ first seven games, he shot 5-of-36 from beyond the arc — a 13.9 percent clip. He had an overall field goal percentage of 39.6 percent. His preseason form clearly did not carry over.
There wasn’t anything particularly wrong with Thompson’s shooting mechanics — at least initially. He still had the same quick-release, little-to-no dip kind of shooting form that he has always had. But once the threes refused to fall, there was a noticeable change in the trajectory of his threes. They would clank in front of the rim; they would miss wide-right or wide-left; or they would overshoot the target and hit the back iron.
It was an indication that Thompson was overthinking while shooting his threes — sometimes even hesitating before pulling up. It was a testament to his mentality at that point. As all shooters do, Thompson kept on shooting, but the shots just weren’t falling.
Even so, the Warriors weren’t worried about Thompson. He has had these early season slumps before — in the 2015-16 season, he started the first three games of the season 3-of-12. In the 2016-17 season, he started the season shooting 14.3 percent from beyond the arc. In both instances, he went on to recover and post three-point shooting percentages of 41.4 percent and 44.0 percent, respectively. This was the silver lining to his shooting funk — sooner or later, Thompson will eventually break out of his slump, and he will have a game or a couple of games were he shoots the lights out. The law of averages will unsheathe its own Infinity Gauntlet and re-balance the world order, as all things should be.
Steve Kerr himself thought so, when asked about his player’s early season slump:
“It’s nothing we’re worried about, and it’s nothing Klay’s worried about ... Sometimes you go through preseason — especially if you have a great preseason —and psychologically, it’s like, ‘Wait, none of those count? I’m shooting 80 percent, and none of those count?’ So it’s a fresh slate ... A bad game or two is sort of demoralizing, then you sort of settle in ... You go, ‘We’ve got six months or so ahead of us,’ and you settle in.”
This time, all it took for Thompson to settle down was eight games into the regular season. And he did it while victimizing a hapless Chicago Bulls team.
Thompson reminds everyone who he is
It seemed like a long time ago that Thompson, courtesy of a 37-point third quarter, transformed that professional basketball team in Sacramento from Kings to peasants. It was there where Thompson’s reputation for having nights where he is absolutely unconscious materialized.
It was on that night where Thompson called on the spirit of Clint Barton — aka Hawkeye — and it seemed like his arrows couldn’t miss.
In the 2016-17 season, another case of an unconscious Thompson surfaced. On December 5, 2016, against the Indiana Pacers, Thompson scorched the Pacers with 60 points in three quarters. For one night, it seemed as if the spirit of Reggie Miller came out of retirement, dropped 60 on his former team, and proceeded to do the choke sign, as if the Pacers were channeling the spirit of Spike Lee.
On Monday night against the Bulls, Thompson transformed into FBI Special Agent Benjamin Poindexter. The ball became his weapon of choice, and the basket turned into nothing more than a bullseye.
Off of a variety of pin down actions, and even a few pull-up threes, Thompson took whatever open looks he got. Notice that on a few of the pin down actions, he would masterfully manipulate his defender by shifting directions, or even by doing something that was described in Kevin O'Connor's recent article for The Ringer:
“Thompson is obsessive about keeping his body in basketball shape, training at game speed and intensity. ‘In practices and drills, he comes off actions that you see in the game,’ DeMarco said. ‘He’s not wasting his time when he puts work in.’ Thompson likes to make his rehearsals as physical as a live game, occasionally playing the instigator. He likes to nudge his defenders into screens to create extra breathing room to unleash a shot.”
By the end of the first half, he already possessed an out-of-this-world stat line: 36 points on 12-of-16 shooting.
Of those 12, 10 were three-point shots. It was an NBA record for most three-pointers made in the first half.
In a single half, he also managed to raise his three-point field goal percentage by sixteen, as our very own Brady Klopfer pointed out:
Klay Thompson has raised his three point percentage from 13.9% to 30.0%.— Brady Klopfer (@BradyKlopferNBA) October 30, 2018
It is halftime.
By the end of the night — and with a little help and encouragement from his teammate and now previous record holder, Stephen Curry — Thompson was the new owner of the record of most three-point field goals in a single game with 14. He finished with an outstanding stat line of 52 points on 18-of-29 shooting.
And he did it all in just 27 minutes.
The Warriors’ offensive big three of Curry, Thompson, and Kevin Durant have all gone for huge explosions in the first eight games of the season — Curry with his 51 points against the Washington Wizards, Durant with his 41 points against the New York Knicks, and Thompson with his 52 points against the Bulls. All indications were that Curry and Durant would have to carry the offensive load, while allowing Thompson time to find his shooting groove.
But if anyone knew Klay Thompson at all, that groove was just right around the corner. There was absolutely no way that he would continue to shoot blanks.
He would eventually find his ammunition, load up, lock on to his target, and fire.
Unfortunately for Chicago, that target happened be them.
Eight down, 74 more to go.
Stay Golden, Dub Nation.