Klay Thompson and the Chicago Bulls have a special relationship this season.
One of the most memorable games of the season involved Thompson going absolutely nuclear while playing against the young and wayward Bulls. On the same court that was once considered the home of the greatest basketball player of all time — and a witness to the team that brought six NBA championships to the Windy City — the beloved Splash Brother dropped 52 points on 18-of-29 shooting.
But it was his shooting performance from three-point range that once again captured the awe and adulation of the NBA world — a 14-of-24 line from the three (58.3 percent) was another chapter added to the glorious and entertaining career of Thompson. Those 14 threes set a new record for the most three-point shots made in a single game, a record that was once held by Stephen Curry, his fellow Splash Brother.
As the season progressed, the magic of that game proved to be the only shining example of Thompson’s 2018-19 season for a prolonged period of time. Coming into Friday night’s game, Thompson was on track to post the lowest three-point field goal percentage of his career. At 35.6 percent from three-point range, his shooting slump was an unprecedented one — and it was a factor that contributed to the Warriors’ struggles during the first half of the season.
But if there is one thing that is consistent with Thompson — the one thing that Warriors fans can count on happening with him — it is the fact that he always finds his way back to his usual shooting form. Before Friday night, that very notion started to materialize, as evidenced by Thompson shooting 20-of-39 on threes (51.2 percent) during a five-game stretch.
Thompson had the opportunity to get in some more looks against a squad that he previously made to look like a high school basketball team. By the end of the night, he made the most out of that opportunity: 30 points on 10-of-18 shooting (55.6 percent), 7-of-11 from three (63.6 percent). This brought his three-point shooting line over a six-game stretch to 27-of-49, good for 55.1 percent.
Helped by the Bulls’ mediocre defensive effort — ranked 20th in the league in defensive rating — Thompson proceeded to show the Bulls another three-point shooting exhibition.
It took only the first possession of the game for Thompson to immediately remind the Bulls of his role as their tormentor. The Warriors let the natural flow of their motion offense translate into a Kevin Durant post-up on the right side against a much-smaller defender. Taking advantage of his newfound desire to become more of a playmaker — as evidenced by his career-high 6.1 assists per game this season — Durant finds Thompson, who uses Kevon Looney’s screen to break free from his defender and buries the catch-and-shoot jumper.
The Warriors had no reason to worry about the Bulls’ offense, which is ranked dead last in the league in offensive efficiency. Forcing a missed shot allows them to take advantage of the Bulls’ leaky defense on the other end. Thompson successfully contests Lauri Markkanen’s three, leading to another wide-open three point shot in transition — helped in big part by the Bulls’ pitiful transition defense.
Aiming to take advantage of Thompson’s hot hand, the Warriors immediately look to him in early offense. Thompson curls off of a quick screen from Looney, and the Bulls are once again caught with their pants down. Virtually uncontested, Thompson knocks down his third three of the game.
In lieu of Curry starting the second quarter, Kerr returns to his old rotation pattern of inserting Thompson in the second unit along with Draymond Green. The Warriors look to run a standard split action involving Thompson and Shaun Livingston, with Green being the low post decision maker. When the initial action is denied, the Warriors flow into plan B: a Jonas Jerebko free throw line jumper. When that option is also denied, Jerebko passes back to Green. Thompson catches his defender off guard when he relocates from the wing to the corner, breaking free to catch the hand-off from Green and knocking down his fourth three of the game.
Thompson gets off his best shots when he uses screens to curl or flare away from his defender, or when his teammates use their gravity to kick the ball out to him on the perimeter. The rule of thumb with Thompson is simple: when his dribbling is limited to a minimum amount, he tends to shoot at a much better percentage.
But on occasion, Thompson has shown that he is able to take his man one-on-one, using a few dribbles to establish a rhythm before pulling up for the jumper. In this possession, Thompson does just that.
Thompson continues to punch holes in the Bulls’ defense. In this baseline out-of-bounds sequence, Thompson catches another defender off guard, using Looney’s screen to break free and relocating to the right wing. Curry inbounds the ball directly to Thompson’s waiting hands, and another defensive lapse by the Bulls is punished.
To cap off Thompson’s three-point shooting night, Curry handles the ball and has a mismatch against Markkanen. Commanding a huge amount of attention on the left, Curry throws a skip pass to Thompson on the weak side. Notice Green simultaneously preparing to set a screen for Thompson, who uses it to dribble to his right to get another open look at the hoop.
With another dominant showing against the Bulls, Thompson proved that he is looking to put behind his early season struggles away for good. After Friday night, his three-point field goal percentage climbed from 35.6 percent to 36.6 percent. The journey to claiming another 40-percent season from beyond the arc is a long and arduous one, but not completely impossible.
In the midst of Thompson’s shooting slump, the majority of Warriors fans were concerned about the mindset and confidence of their beloved shooting guard. Other fans stayed confident and faithful in his ability to eventually find his way out of the mud.
But no one was as confident as Thompson himself.
“I’ve done things no one has ever done, so I’m not gonna worry,” Thompson said when asked about his shooting slump back in December.
“What is somebody going to tell me about my jump shot that I can’t fix? Unless it’s Reggie Miller or Ray Allen, I don’t know who I’m supposed to listen to. Larry Bird? Steve Kerr. I’ll listen to Steve. Steve shot 45 percent.”
And it turns out that he was right — he didn’t need to listen to anyone else, with the exception of his sharpshooting coach. All he needed to listen to was the voice in his head, the same voice that gives him the confidence to keep shooting his shot no matter what, and the voice that often tells him to weed out all of the outside noise that contributes little to what makes him such a great player.
Thompson is now reaping the rewards of keeping the faith in himself. The future is looking much brighter for him. And as he himself would put it, his shooting slump is looking like it’s in the past like a ponytail.
Forty-two down, 40 more to go.
Stay Golden, Dub Nation.