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Klay Thompson’s Slow Start May Be his New Normal

Nhat V. Meyer/Zuma Press/Icon Sportswire

Through 11 games, just about everything has gone idyllically for the Golden State Warriors, who continue be wanton arsonists wherever they play, gleefully immolating their opposition to the tune of a 16.3 point scoring differential.

Even when they deserve to lose, which was most certainly the case the night at home to lowly Brooklyn, they survive because “old-school” Nets skipper Lionel Hollins refused to foul Draymond Green up three inside the three-point line with six seconds remaining. Instead, he watched Green toss it off to Andre Iguodala, who canned the game-tying triple. As one does. Then the Warriors performed “the five-point-palm exploding heart technique” or some such in overtime and that was that.

The one downer, besides Steve Kerr’s continued absence, of course, is that Klay Thompson has come out of the blocks cold and continues to disappoint, relative to individual expectations anyway. Thompson is averaging 15.2 points-per-game on 44.4 percent shooting from the floor and 38.6 from deep, with bad peripherals besides. He’s still the second leading scorer on the team, but averaging considerably less than half of what co-“Splash Brother” Stephen Curry is, and there no longer seems to be any credible debate about who the second best and most important player on the squad is. It’s Green, and it’s not close.

Thompson’s scoring average is his lowest since his rookie season and his PER (13.0) and his Win Shares Per-48 (.089) are both the lowest they’ve been since 2012-13, according to Basketball-Reference.com. He’s currently the 27th-ranked shooting guard in the league in PER. Among his own team, he’s 11th in offensive rating, 10th in defensive rating (his net rating is -2, which sounds impossible in that starting lineup), 12th in Win Shares Per-48 and 10th in Box Plus/Minus.

In technical terms, he’s been bad.

October 31, 2015:  New Orleans Pelicans guard Jrue Holiday (11) shoots over Golden State Warriors guard Klay Thompson (11) during the game between Golden State Warriors and New Orleans Pelicans at the Smoothie King Center in New Orleans, LA.  (Photograph by Stephen Lew/Icon Sportswire)

October 31, 2015: New Orleans Pelicans guard Jrue Holiday (11) shoots over Golden State Warriors guard Klay Thompson (11) during the game between Golden State Warriors and New Orleans Pelicans at the Smoothie King Center in New Orleans, LA. (Photograph by Stephen Lew/Icon Sportswire)

The prevailing wisdom is that Thompson is just in a slump, and it’s true enough that he’s dealing with a pesky back injury. He did miss the Nets game and likely won’t be 100 percent for a bit longer. But the question nobody seems to be asking is what if this is who Thompson really is?

Consider the evidence. He’s been mediocre for heck of a lot longer than he’s been a star. You look at his year-by-year stats, especially the “advanced stats” column, and clearly one of these is not like the other. He’s been an average-or-worse starter his first three seasons, then had a fantastic first three months last year, and then has backslid since. He started flagging in February and March, then played progressively worse in each round of the playoffs, to the point where by the time the Finals rolled around they were better off with him on the bench, as he scored 40 points on 46 shots over the last four games against the Cavs.

Thompson can get red-hot, of course. We are talking about the fellow who set the all-time record for most points in a quarter, after all. But isn’t it fair to ask by now what’s the anomaly, the 260 games worth of evidence that he’s one kind of player or the 50 games or so of him playing like a star? At least we should consider his true level is somewhere in the middle, no?

The problem with Thompson is he was lumped into Curry’s sphere thanks to a catchy nickname and shared shooting range. But he’s not in Curry’s sphere and never has been. Obviously, he represents enough of a threat that he buys Curry some room on the floor, but he also benefits tremendously from the attention Curry draws. Thompson’s percentages and efficiency numbers would suffer even more on a team where he was the number one option. Curry would be transcendent anywhere, playing with anybody.

A comp I saw for Thompson coming out the draft, kind of a best-case scenario, was Ray Allen, and that looks to be about right. Spare us the “best all-around two guard” rubbish. He’s not Jimmy Butler. He’s not Dwyane Wade. He can be the third or fourth best player on a championship team, and not just hypothetically speaking. We’ve seen him do just that. Expecting more from Thompson though, wanting him to be a guy who can carry the team on his back should something unfortunate happen to Curry, seems to be unwise. He’s a good player and surely an asset, but probably not more than that.

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