Klay Thompson is experiencing one hell of an “aggression” to the mean.
The early part of the season proved to be the toughest stretch of the young Splash Brother’s storied career. Save for a 52-point game against the Chicago Bulls, Thompson was navigating uncharted waters by shooting below 40 percent from three-point range. The second-best shooter in the world was doing everything but shooting the ball well, and for most people, that would be an obstacle debilitating enough to cripple one’s mental state.
But Thompson is not like most people. The cliche of “shooters keep on shooting” is perhaps personified the most in him. Whether he’s on a hot streak or a slump, his singular focus remains on one object and one object only: the bottom of the net.
The almost robotic focus of Thompson on scoring served him well against the Los Angeles Lakers, where he set an NBA record by hitting all of his first 10 attempts from three-point range. While the defense gave him all sorts of leeway in hitting his shots, it was more due to Thompson’s tendency to slip into a state of shooting unconsciousness that allowed him to keep firing and hitting the mark.
Coupled with his ability to be a chaotic off-ball presence, the depleted Lakers weren’t able to quell Thompson’s offensive explosion.
Let’s dive into a few of Thompson’s notable sequences against his hometown team.
While much is made of DeMarcus Cousins being an effective partner for either Stephen Curry or Kevin Durant, he has shown the potential to have a devastating partnership with Thompson, who has been the beneficiary of a couple of Cousins’ rock-solid screens.
A simple but effective screen by Cousins nets Thompson his first points of the game. While plays like these look routine, the presence of a huge body to get their shooters free — a luxury not seen since last season with the presence of Zaza Pachulia and David West — is a luxury that the Warriors will most certainly be glad to have.
Another aspect of Cousins that the Warriors are thankful to have is his ability to be a rebounding presence, especially on the offensive end. Often the victims of second-chance points due to their relatively smaller lineup on the floor, the presence of Cousins will do much to remedy that weakness, as evidenced by this offensive rebound that eventually leads to Thompson’s first three of the night.
The Warriors go to their classic low-post split, a set in which Thompson has feasted on so many defenses that fail to communicate switches; the Lakers are a young team, and they are prone to such defensive breakdowns. Andre Iguodala sets a screen for Thompson, who elects to stroll toward the rim amid a paint devoid of rim protection. Thompson’s defender gets hampered by Iguodala’s screen, and Iguodala’s defender is caught unawares and fails to switch onto the cutting Thompson.
Keep track of Thompson in this possession. He starts from the right corner and relocates all the way to the left wing, before finally getting the ball after curling off of Cousins’ screen. This turns into a 2-man game with Cousins, who gets the ball back, hands it off to Thompson again, and re-screens to get Thompson free for a three. Again, Cousins’ ability to be a solid screen setter works to Thompson’s advantage, and their synergy is one that looks highly promising.
The Warriors run another low-post split, where Shaun Livingston sets a hard screen on Thompson’s defender. Realizing that Livingston’s defender is situated nowhere near the perimeter, Thompson goes up for the open look from three-point range, once again taking advantage of another defensive lapse from the Lakers in defending the split action.
The Warriors run yet another low-post split, but Thompson inflicts his damage from the weak side. Livingston sets the screen, but slips it at the last minute. Thompson’s defender is trailing him, while Livingston’s slip leaves the paint wide open. Thompson dives inside and receives the pass for another easy layup.
In this sequence, Thompson starts from the left corner and uses staggered screens set by Draymond Green and Cousins to break free for a catch-and-shoot three. The initial screen from Green delays Thompson’s defender by a significant amount of time, and while he tries to catch up, his desire to get to Thompson gets the better of him, resulting in pushing Cousins down for a foul and Thompson’s three being counted.
This is another reason why having Cousins as a screener for Thompson is deadly. The Lakers could have opted to have Tyson Chandler switch onto Thompson, with Josh Hart switching onto Cousins. But that would be a recipe for disaster, due to the double mismatch that can occur. Thompson can choose to outmaneuver the slower Chandler on the perimeter, or he can feed the ball to Cousins down low to work against the much smaller Hart; either option is a death sentence for the defense.
Another brand-new sight for the Warriors is their legitimate center bringing the ball down the floor. His ability to be a playmaking five allows Cousins to do such a thing, and it leads into another sequence in which he links up with Thompson. The two play hot potato, with Cousins passing the ball to Thompson, Thompson passing it back, then Cousins handing it off to Thompson again, all while Thompson uses Cousins’ imposing physical presence as a fulcrum and tether. The defender has a difficult time navigating around Cousins, which allows Thompson to bury another three.
The Lakers continue to refuse to learn from their past defensive lapses, and Thompson continues to make them pay. Watch Durant as he sets a pin down for Thompson — he gives a slight nudge to his defender, while proceeding to set a solid screen that stops Thompson’s defender in his tracks. Durant’s pin down effectively catches two defenders, allowing Thompson to go up for another three.
Off of a made basket, Thompson runs along the left side of the floor and takes advantage of a defense that is stationed way too high. He gives a small push to his defender to gain a slight advantage while diving inside, while Curry does an excellent job of passing the ball to where Thompson is going to be.
The Lakers have allowed Thompson to run roughshod over them all night long, giving him the confidence to channel his Splash Brother by pulling up from 30-plus feet and burying another three in the face of a hapless defense.
The Lakers jack up a three that misses, leading to a rebound and pass toward Thompson on the other end of the floor. With only a single defender stationed in the paint, Thompson is wide-open for another three.
Thompson’s penultimate three of the night is a result of another series of staggered screens set for him. Once again, the Lakers are hard pressed to defend this action, with Brandon Ingram opting to drop back into the paint instead of switching onto Thompson. Durant and Kevon Looney set perfect screens, and another defensive lapse is punished.
In this sequence, the Warriors run the same exact play for Thompson by having Durant and Looney set staggered screens. Looney’s screen doesn’t connect, allowing his defender to contest Thompson’s shot — but it doesn’t matter, as Thompson’s flame has ignited to a point where any sort of contest wouldn’t be enough to douse it. And thus, Thompson sets a new NBA record with his 10th three out of his first 10 attempts.
Thompson’s evisceration of the Lakers’ defense resulted in another immaculate stat line for him: 44 points while shooting 17-of-20 from the field (85.0 percent), 7-of-9 from two (77.8 percent), and 10-of-11 from three (90.9 percent). Including this game, Thompson has made the month of January his personal month of rampage by averaging 26.8 points on a shooting split of .565/.506/.778, per NBA.com.
It would seem that Thompson has finally found his rhythm, and it is a timely discovery; with the Warriors well-past the halfway mark of the season, and the playoffs being mere months away, they will need all of their core pieces to be in tip-top shape and form.
No one will know how Thompson got his shooting mojo back. It could be due to a variety of reasons, such as changing his approach, adjusting his mechanics, or simply just keeping faith in himself and trusting that his shot will eventually find its way back to consistency.
But the secret may have been this all along:
Klay took Rocco on the LA trip. This latest outburst has to be related.— Mark Medina (@MarkG_Medina) January 22, 2019
Forty-seven down, 35 more to go.
Stay Golden, Dub Nation.