It’s difficult to not be a happy camper these days if you’re a Warriors fan. My guess is you’re already counting down the days until the next season starts (if for no other reason than because the local baseball and football teams are giving you nothing to be excited about). Not only did the Dubs win a chip for the first time in 40 years with one of the all-time best seasons any team has had in league history, but practically the entire squad will be back to defend its title and the core is all young, with their primes still ahead of them.
There’s a good chance the stars of the team can play better still.
Klay Thompson certainly can play better. And he has to.
On the whole it’s silly to find much fault with Thompson. He’s improved steadily in a variety of ways throughout his four seasons for the Warriors and made a dramatic leap in some others the past year. It wouldn’t at all be inaccurate to state that he made “the leap” into stardom. He did earn his first All-Star nomination, after all, and posted career-highs in virtually every statistical category. His percentages across the board were very good and his three-point shooting in particular (43.9 percent) was excellent. So please understand going in that we’re picking nits here.
Thompson put himself on the NBA map for good with a record-setting 37-point quarter on the way to a career-high 52 against the Kings on Jan. 23, and he followed that up with two more 30-point outings against the Celtics and Bulls. After that, though, he hit a rough patch and his percentages sagged a bit. After shooting 48.3 percent the first three months of the season, he shot just 43.8 percent the final three months.
The differences were more pronounced in the outcome of games. In 64 wins, Thompson shot 47.2 percent from the floor and 44.7 percent from downtown, had a net rating of 11 and an average plus/minus of +21.6, per Basketball-Reference.com. In 13 losses, he shot 42.4 percent overall and 39.6 from three, with a -14 net rating and an average plus/minus of -11.8. By contrast, Stephen Curry was more consistent throughout the season and while his numbers were also markedly different between wins and losses, the highs were higher and the lows not as bad.
The biggest thing both Thompson and Draymond Green both need to improve on is consistency. They have to show up every night if the Warriors are to repeat, because as the defending champions they’ll now have a target on their backs, with the opponent treating each game like it’s their Finals. Thompson started the playoffs well, pouring in 25 per game against the Pelicans, but then his scoring dipped in each successive series as the quality of opponent increased. He scored 34 in a narrow Game 2 loss in the Finals against the Cavaliers (it took him 28 field goal attempts to get there), but then just 40 combined over the next four games. By the end he was more of a hindrance than an asset, fouling out in just 25 minutes in the deciding Game 6.
The disappointing individual finish to the season has been a continuing theme for Thompson. He didn’t show up for Games 6 or 7 in a first-round loss to the Clippers in 2014 and was effectively silenced once the Spurs switched Kawhi Leonard onto him from Game 3 on of their semifinal series in 2013, scoring 41 points total on 33.9 percent shooting over the final four games of that series. He shot 44.6 percent overall in the playoffs, which is okay, but had a below-average 14.8 PER and finished fourth on the club in Win Shares, meaning he was less valuable in the postseason run than reserve Andre Iguodala.
There’s no need to ring any alarm bells here. Thompson is far from a finished product and anything but a liability. He continues to get better and better and was a draft coup for the Warriors as the 11th pick in 2011 (although Leonard was also there for the taking, alas). However, with Iguodala and Andrew Bogut now in their 30s, it’s more imperative then ever for Thompson, Green and Harrison Barnes to ease Curry’s burden, because the Warriors won’t be able to count on having as much help from the bench nor the standings cushion afforded them by their fast start last year.
No, Thompson doesn’t have to be the guy who scored 37 in a quarter or even the one who scores 30 per game. He does have to answer the bell every night though and figure out how to contribute in games when his shot isn’t falling, whether that means making more plays for others, figuring out a way to get to the free throw line or playing killer defense. Far too often last year, Thompson’s offense was one-dimensional and he carried his successes or failures with him to the other end of the floor and vice versa.
If the Warriors are going to need Curry to be the MVP again in the regular season or for Iguodala to carry them to the finish line, then repeating will be almost impossible. They need more from Thompson, even though he’s done plenty already.