By John Krolik
Special to The Examiner
It’s not going great for Klay Thompson. Nobody expected him to come back at 100% after sitting out two-and-a-half seasons with ACL and Achilles injuries. However, the Warriors have less time for Klay’s rehabilitation than they expected to have earlier in the season. The Warriors are now struggling. They’re now the No. 3 seed in the Western Conference behind the Memphis Grizzlies, which means their first-round opponent may not come from the play-in tournament.
The Warriors’ struggles aren’t all Thompson’s fault, or even mostly his fault. The Warriors are still feeling the effects of Draymond Green’s injury on both sides of the floor. Their energy level in general has dropped off from where it was earlier in the season. Still, it’s worth taking a close look at Thompson’s play so far this season and figuring out why he hasn’t been as effective as he has been throughout his Hall of Fame career.
The eye test tells a fairly simple story about why Thompson is struggling. He seems bulkier than he did back in 2019. With no Draymond Green conducting the offense, Thompson is less able to play his natural game, which involves flying around screens and cutting for spot-up threes and layups with Klay rarely letting the ball touch the floor. He seems to be pressing. When he misses a three, he’ll often try and get himself right back on the board by forcing a contested three instead of staying in the flow of the game and waiting for an open look to come. He’s never been the most explosive athlete, but he seems to have lost some of his lift. His attempt to add a mid-range game to his arsenal was well-intentioned, but the results have not been there.
The numbers bear this out. The most concerning change to Thompson’s game is that he’s trying to create his own shot too much. He is at his best when he’s flying around the court, looking for slivers of space and putting a quick-trigger three through the net when he gets one. (And if he catches his defender cheating to the three-point line, Klay is an expert at punishing him with a cut for an easy layup.) In 2018-19, 74.6% of Thompson’s two-point baskets were assisted. This season, only 60.7% of his shots from inside the arc have come off of an assist. The only season in his career where he created more of his two-point shots was the 2014-15 campaign.
Over his career, 93.1% of Klay’s three-point attempts have been assisted. In 2018-19, 91.7% of his threes were assisted. This season, that number has plummeted to 83%, a career low. Thompson is capable of hitting pull-up threes. In fact, he’s shooting better on pull-up threes than catch-and-shoot threes this season. That doesn’t change the fact that Thompson has gotten away from his bread and butter, and it’s hurting his overall performance.
Another way to tell this story is to look at Thompson’s “touch time,” as tracked by the stats service Second Spectrum. In 2018-19, Thompson got rid of the ball after catching it in under two seconds on 68.6% of his possessions. That season, he only held the ball for six or more seconds on 3.8% of his possessions. This season, Klay is holding the ball for less than two seconds on 60.4% of his possessions and holding the ball for more than six seconds on 10.6% of the times when he gets the ball.
It’s the same story when we look at how often Thompson makes a play without dribbling. In 2018-19, he would get rid of the ball without dribbling it 55.4% of the time, and only dribbled the ball seven or more times 2.7% of the time. This season, those numbers have dropped and risen, respectively, to 46.2% and 5.9%.
Finally, it just hasn’t been going well for Thompson inside the arc. Only 7.6% of his shot attempts have come at the rim, which is a career low. (In 2018-19, 13.8% of Thompson’s shots came at the basket.) When he does get to the rim, he only converts 61.9% of his attempts. That’s well below where he was in 2018-19, when his field goal percentage at the rim was 71.5%.
And as I mentioned above, Thompson’s attempt to add a mid-range game has been a total failure up to this point. A career-high 15.1% of his shots have come from the 10-15 range. He’s making a career-low 30% of those shots, which is a simply unacceptable number.
It’s great to see Thompson back on the court after all this time. A lot of his struggles can be attributed to ill-advised changes in playing style instead of physical shortcomings. He’s still yet to play with Draymond Green, the teammate who helps him the most. Still, the sand is running out of the hourglass on the regular season. At some point, Steve Kerr has to start looking at starting Jordan Poole, who has been one of the pleasant surprises for the Warriors all season and has been hot lately. Klay hasn’t come off the bench since his rookie year, so I don’t envy Coach Kerr’s position, but some tough choices might need to be made sooner rather than later.
John Krolik is a freelance contributor to The Examiner.