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The set play that got Klay Thompson going against the Bucks

A classic staple was the match that lit Thompson’s flame.

NBA: Milwaukee Bucks at Golden State Warriors Darren Yamashita-USA TODAY Sports

It’s been wild to see the amount of Klay Thompson disrespect going around lately.

It’s not just on social media, either. Opposing teams have been content on selling out on Stephen Curry to leave Thompson — arguably the second-greatest shooter of all time — open. That is insane.

Part of that *ignorance*, for lack of a better term, has been pretty self-inflicted. Prior to their game against the Milwaukee Bucks, Thompson was undergoing one heck of a shooting slump. Since being sidelined due to illness, his averages read more like a fringe NBA rotation player’s than a former All-Star and three-time NBA champion: 14.7 points on 34/23/80 shooting splits, with a ghastly 40.6% True Shooting mark.

In an effort to recapture his rhythm and shooting stroke, Thompson has been noticeably pressing, more so than at any point of his career. Just over half of his field goal attempts this season (54.2%) have come after dribbling at least once; compare that with his last full season (2018-19), during which 44.5% of his attempts came after dribbling at least once — a 10-percentage-point difference.

While Thompson has had bouts of tunnel vision — his shot selection has been pretty lackluster at times — one can’t help but feel that a lack of playmaking around him has contributed to that. The absence of Draymond Green has been felt, and Curry can only do so much before he draws multiple defenders onto himself. What Thompson needed was someone else to handle the on-ball decision-making reps.

The Warriors have found that player in Jordan Poole, whose ability to take the ball-handling reins has allowed Thompson to wreak havoc as an off-ball movement shooter and catch-and-shoot operator. It has also relieved Curry of some of the on-ball-playmaking burden.

In 104 minutes on the floor, the Curry-Thompson-Poole trio has outscored opponents by 40 points per 100 possessions. They’re blitzing opponents on offense (126.0 ORTG) and are more than just surviving on defense (85.8 DRTG). The numbers aren’t lying — and are probably why Steve Kerr opted to start the three of them together against the Bucks.

The ceiling of the Warriors’ offense, especially in the half court, is elevated when any combination of this trio is on the floor. The on-ball juice, coupled with the floor spacing and off-ball movement, creates plenty of scoring opportunities.

Thompson benefited from such an arrangement. Instead of spending the majority of his time trying to self-create, he could establish his rhythm through being in his own comfort zone as a spot-up spacer and movement shooter.

The one set play that got Thompson going — and lit the flame that got him extremely hot for the rest of the game against the Bucks — came on a staple Warriors action out of a timeout.

This is the Warriors “modified” three-way split action. The modification in this instance is the addition of another split-cut element, in the form of Andrew Wiggins curling around Thompson’s brush screen and diving toward the rim.

After the dive cut by Wiggins, the classic split-action maneuver is triggered. But instead of a big setting the down-screen for Thompson, it’s Poole setting the down-screen — a guard-guard screen that seemingly catches both Grayson Allen and Jrue Holiday by surprise.

With Holiday caught up in Poole’s screen and Allen failing to switch and close out, Thompson drills his first three of the night — and without any dribble required.

This after-timeout set (ATO) Kerr drew up specifically for Thompson served as the sparkplug. From then on, Thompson proceeded to go on a shooting rampage that turned a 6-point lead by the Bucks into a Warriors lead that they wouldn’t relinquish the rest of the way.

Thompson’s eighth and final three of the night exemplified the potency of his combination with Poole — a ball handler and decision maker — and why Thompson’s on-ball self-creation and ability to drill shots off the dribble should be more of a luxury rather than it being a fulcrum of the Warriors’ half-court offense.

Poole’s ability to act as a pressure point is key in the possession above. He initiates give-and-go two-man action with Nemanja Bjelica, who finds Poole cutting inside. This collapses the defense inward; Poole finds Wiggins on the weak-side wing. With the Bucks defense scrambling in rotation, Wiggins makes the extra swing pass toward Thompson at the top of the arc, and Thompson proceeds to drill the three.

That is the ideal possession: either Poole or Curry initiating and using their ability to place an enormous amount of pressure on defenses, while Thompson parks himself on valuable real estate and waits for an open look, or moves around on relocations to put even more pressure on defenses.

Thompson finished with 38 points on 24 shots (7-of-10 on twos, 8-of-14 on threes), on a highly efficient 79.2% True Shooting. His on-court combination with Curry and Poole has been a winning formula. His shooting hasn’t been the only trait of his that has benefitted from legs that are getting their strength and conditioning back — his defense also has been trending upward.

It wasn’t too long ago that Thompson was getting lots of unprecedented flack, some of which came from the Warriors fanbase. It was valid to criticize the process behind Thompson’s attempt to get out of his slump; what wasn’t valid was the calls for him to be relegated to a role that he wasn’t ready to play, and is, quite frankly, beneath him.

What wasn’t valid was calling for Thompson to play less. Coming off of two lower leg injuries that sidelined him for two-and-a-half seasons, the right approach isn’t to play him less — it’s to let him work out his warts, and trust that he’ll eventually regain his footing.

That trust paid off mightily against the Bucks — and several apologies should be in order.

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