If the stars line up in Oakland this year, the Warriors might just fulfill coach Mark Jackson’s promise from last season and make the NBA playoffs. The potential is ripe, as usual, but Jackson isn’t guaranteeing anything this year.
But as the 2012-13 season tips off in Phoenix tonight, Jackson is adamant about at least one thing: Klay Thompson’s rookie season wasn’t a fluke.
“He’s a big-time player,” Jackson said.
Thompson took over as the team’s starting shooting guard in March when fan favorite Monta Ellis was traded to the Milwaukee Bucks. He averaged 18.1 points per game in his 29 starts, drawing immediate comparisons to Ray Allen and Reggie Miller because of his soft touch and ability to knock down a jumper from almost anywhere on the floor.
But Jackson said Thompson’s thirst for improvement is what makes him stand out.
“I’ve seen guys have success and then shut it down,” Jackson said. “He kept it going, there’s a reason why he’s improved at such a quick rate. You don’t stumble on greatness.”
After earning All-Rookie first-team honors, Thompson spent a large chunk of his summer attacking the weakest parts of his game: rebounding, defense and attacking off of the dribble. The 22-year-old proved that he can catch and shoot last season, but he averaged only 2.5 rebounds per game while attempting a mere 1.4 free throws per contest.
Thompson honed his defensive skills this summer by guarding the likes of Kobe Bryant and Russell Westbrook as a member of the USA Select team that scrimmaged with the U.S. Olympic squad prior to the London Games.
“I learned how much practice they put into their games,” Thompson said. “They got there for a reason.”
Back in the Bay Area, Thompson worked on his ball creativity by playing two-on-two games with fellow sophomores Jeremy Tyler and Charles Jenkins.
“We put a lot of work in,” he said. “And that carried over into summer league.”
His commitment extends beyond the court, though. Thompson also made a point to change his diet this year, cutting out trips to Taco Bell, In-N-Out and Jack in the Box.
“I feel a lot better throughout the day,” he said. “You’ve got to take that seriously, as well.”
Thompson’s maturity might be a reflection of his father’s tutelage. Mychal Thompson was the NBA’s No. 1 overall pick in 1978 and he won back-to-back titles with the Los Angeles Lakers in 1987 and 1988.
“He told me one time to close my eyes and then open them. He said, ‘That’s how quick your NBA career is going to go,’” Thompson said.
The Warriors selected Thompson with the No. 11 pick in the 2011 draft convinced they’d snagged a top five-caliber player. His dedication seems to confirm their presumption.
But Thompson said it’s easy to work hard when you love your gig.
“It’s the easiest job in the world,” he said. “I get to come out here and play basketball for a living.”