In what has turned into an extremely up-and-down season for the Warriors as a whole, there’s only a short list of things that are killing them. One is the unreliability of the centers on the roster, with two being injured and Jordan Bell not earning Kerr’s trust. Another is how defenses are treating Draymond Green when he tries to navigate the offense at the top of the key, choosing to send extra help to the famous off-ball motion while Green gets into his own head.
The other — and perhaps the most damaging during the regular-season grind — is Klay Thompson going through extensive struggles.
With 36 games down, Thompson has shot just 33.3 percent from beyond the arc — 11 full percentage points below his 2017-18 season efficiency. Even if it’s slightly less than a half-season worth of sample, you won’t find a larger dropoff in less than a year span throughout NBA history. Not for a player with this type of volume and Hall of Fame shooting reputation.
Thompson has gone through mild shooting slumps in the past. During Kevin Durant’s first season in Oakland (2016-17), there was a nine-game stretch to begin the season where Thompson shot 18-of-64 (28.1 percent) from long-range. However, he proceeded to drill over 43 percent of his next 579 triples the rest of the year.
A slump lasting over two months, with the exception of a couple moments, is unprecedented for the younger Splash Brother. The most staggering component of this nightmare is that Thompson is scoring at a career-high rate near the basket. When he cuts or finds the rare opportunity to beat his defender off the dribble, he scores when he’s at the rim.
In fact, he’s shooting 77.8 percent within three feet of the rim. That would put him in the 100th percentile out of all combo guards, per Cleaning The Glass. Most of Thompson’s areas of attack (from inside the arc) are giving him similar success to last season. It’s just his corner and above-the-break 3s giving him the worst migraines:
Last season, Thompson shot nearly 49 percent on corner treys. That’s not the case right now, and it’s severely holding back Golden State’s offense from taking off and leaving the pack in the dust. While 37.3 percent from anywhere beyond the arc seems ideal, any team can feel the negative impact whenever they’re used to a much higher percentage of those dropping. Most of the time, corner 3s generated by Golden State’s dribble penetration or dummy-screen action (especially when the shooters are Curry and Thompson) are essentially automatic points.
In Thompson’s last eight games, his corner touch has experienced such a funk that it feels like everyone in the arena holds their breath when the ball is in the air. There are hardly any premature celebrations anymore because Thompson has swung so far in the opposite direction. He’s only 3-of-13 (23.1 percent) on corner triples in his last eight games, and 7-of-35 (20 percent) from the wings and top of the key.
Throughout another rough outing versus Portland on Thursday, in which he shot 6-of-19 from the field and 2-of-9 from deep, every miss simply felt cringeworthy. This entire slump has featured Thompson trying to shoot his way out of it, not shying away from hoisting up everything he can, and the Warriors racking up the wasted possessions because of it.
Nevertheless, a ton of these are wide open and not terrible misses. That can be equally as discouraging:
On wide-open triples this season (defenders at least six feet away), Thompson is just 23-of-77. That’s 29.9 percent for what some may label as the second- or third-best shooter they’ve ever seen. Out of 103 players with at least 60 wide-open 3-point attempts this year, only six have a worse percentage than Thompson. Weird isn’t strong enough to describe it.
So far, Thompson has dropped from a 97th percentile shooter for his position (solely off percentage, not considering volume) last season, to the 37th percentile midway through this year. When you factor in that he’s someone who’s supposed to be a high-volume shooter and typically finishes 25 percent of his team’s possessions with a shot attempt, turnover, or foul, that’s a recipe for disaster.
Luckily, the Warriors have two guys with combined usage ratings of 60 percent who happen to be some of the most efficient scorers ever. So, Curry and Durant are able to guide the offense to the first overall spot in points per 100 possessions, currently tied at 112.5 with Houston.
It’s easy to claim Golden State’s offense should be terrorizing no matter what type of shooting struggle one player goes through.
You hear it all the time. “How much help do the Warriors need?”
But the fact of the matter is, when a player taking 7.4 outside shots per game is coming up empty, it creates a major drag on the offense. Players get a bit more disinterested defensively once they’re stringing together stops and they lead to consecutive misses. It eliminates a lot of the margin for error they usually work with, and puts a lot of pressure on Durant, Curry, and Green to be nearly perfect the rest of the way.
If this was a low-volume shooter going through a rough patch, nobody would really bat an eye. But Thompson is a large part of what makes Golden State click, especially in transition when he’s sprinting to the corners and giving the defense a lose-lose situation. When those aren’t falling, it’s bailing the defense out.
The list of players to launch at least seven 3-pointers per game and make less than 34 percent of them is only 10 deep. One of those is Kobe Bryant in 2015-16, his retirement season that was one of the most inefficient in history. Three players are currently doing it this season: Thompson, Devin Booker, and Eric Gordon. While Thompson isn’t quite to the horrific level of Gordon’s 30 percent on 8.6 attempts per night, it’s still not amazing to be in the same discussion.
Half of the equation is Thompson missing treys he’s supposed to make.
The other half is the shot selection he’s forcing the Warriors to digest when he’s not open for 3.
It’s becoming a running joke at this point, but Thompson’s newfound admiration for mid-range jumpers is very head-scratching. One glance at his shot chart for this season (per Austin Clemens’ Swish 2.0) will unravel a huge difference from his previous years:
Notice all of the large squares in the middle of the floor? That’s a large dosage of mid-range shots, most of which are contested. Compare it to Thompson’s 2017-18 and 2016-17 seasons, the first two with Durant joining the team:
This is much stranger and perhaps more of a problem than his 3-point inaccuracy. For some reason, Klay Thompson has taken it upon himself to bring DeMar DeRozan to The Bay.
Last season, Thompson attempted 5.5 mid-range jumpers per game. To his credit, he did connect on 49.1 percent of them, making him one of the best mid-range shooters in the league among those who averaged at least four attempts. He ranked eighth in mid-rangers per game, notably behind DeRozan, Durant, Russell Westbrook, LaMarcus Aldridge, and Khris Middleton.
This year, it’s a different story. He’s up to 7.3 shots per game from the NBA’s least efficient territory, tied for first in the league with … DeRozan. Part of the reason Thompson would argue you shouldn’t criticize him for this is because he’s still shooting a respectable efficiency from in-between. Among all 19 players taking at least four per game, Thompson’s 46.6 percent success rate ranks sixth. It’s higher than DeRozan and slightly better than Kawhi Leonard. Given how ugly the last two weeks have been, that’s insanely surprising.
Still, he’s clearly hunting more looks from 15 to 22 feet. And the Warriors run various sets to get him curls from that distance, too. It’s just not conducive to the offense, and it’s unclear if Thompson is only increasing his mid-range volume to help him snap out of the slump, or if he’s trying to channel a new part of his game.
Even with the acceptable efficiency overall, he’s only 20-of-48 (41.7 percent) from the mid-range over the last eight games. A lot of his misses are barely hitting the front rim. Some are right on line, just rimming out. Majority are off-balanced, in traffic, and often one-legged:
While pointing out the awkwardness and inconsistency of his season, what’s also important to understand is that these ugly stretches should be temporary. At least, theoretically, when it’s involving a shooter with this historical level of greatness. Plus, perspective is key. This is easily Thompson’s worst season since his rookie and sophomore campaigns, but his shooting splits are still 50.4 percent on 2-pointers, 33.3 percent on 3-pointers, and 80.4 percent at the foul line. A lot of players would beg for that type of production in a down year.
For Thompson, though, 52.6 percent true shooting (a career-worst mark) mixed with 18.7 shots per game (a career-high mark) is a destructive combination. The most concerning number out of those two is easily the 18.7 field goal attempts.
Curry did miss nearly a month of games, which required Thompson to pick up the slack with Durant having no other offensive weapons around him. So that did inflate the volume quite a bit. Nevertheless, Thompson taking this many shots and possessions when Durant and Curry are active is a bit confusing.
Then you remember he’s in a contract year.
Is he really trying to prove something with the amount of off-the-dribble jumpers, contested floaters, and turnaround jumpers in the post? Does he believe he’s auditioning for other teams, doing all he can to illustrate his ability to create his own shots? Is he tired of sacrificing for two superstars who usually get all of the credit?
That’s the thing: With Klay, it’s impossible to know. He has always been about winning first and setting his ego aside. But maybe he doesn’t think it’s an automatic that he’ll receive multiple max offers, including from the Warriors. He’s sick of discussing his shooting struggles and has routinely shown his irritation to the media this month.
Someone close to him clearly needs to let him know that his max money will 100 percent come if he just continues to give the same impact he did throughout the last two championship runs. That includes his defensive efforts, which are now overlooked during this shooting slump. How he defended the Trail Blazers’ backcourt in the fourth quarter and part of overtime on Thursday was feisty and spectacular.
The shots will eventually drop. He isn’t magically turning into Marcus Smart, or losing his outside powers like Draymond Green suddenly has. Regression to the mean is what shooters live for during these hard times.
When that time comes and Klay Thompson causes a flood, his shot selection should change significantly. If it doesn’t, that is a bigger deal to monitor than anything during this team’s quest for a three-peat.