Yes, Golden State Warriors fans. For about the 10,000th this summer, we’re going to talk about Klay Thompson. But unlike all those other times before when we were either shaking our heads about the Dubs not trading him for Kevin Love or defending the decision to make him off limits, this time around, we’re going to talk about something positive.
Klay Thompson is not a perfect NBA player. Though he averaged 18.4 points and converted on 41.7 percent of his 6.6 three-point attempts last season, Thompson can also be a bit of a black hole offensively. He’s an extremely effective catch-and-shoot player, but he has problems creating his own shot, he’s not a good passer and if it weren’t for his impressive defense on the other end, he’d be a pretty one-dimensional player.But for Team USA? Thompson is an ideal fit coming off the bench for the heavy favorite to win the 2014 FIBA World Cup. That’s not to say that he would be better served as a reserve on an NBA team, but in his current role with USA Basketball, Thompson has excelled and it’s no mystery why. Unlike the Warriors, where so much is expected of him as one of the team’s highest scorers and youngest promising players, Team USA only needs Thompson to come off the bench and do what he does best: shoot.
So far, that mutually beneficial relationship has made Thompson look like Team USA’s most dangerous bench player not named Derrick Rose, and that’s been the case since Team USA started playing exhibition games. In the Americans’ 59-point thrashing of Finland in their World Cup opener yesterday, Thompson led the entire team in scoring with 18 points. He went 7-of-10 from the field, 4-for-7 from downtown and posting a plus/minus differential of +31.
It’s not just the numbers that are impressive; Thompson has been passing the eye test with flying, seizure-inducing colors (in a good way). Though the Finns made the mistake of leaving one of Team USA’s deadliest shooters wide open a LOT more than gold medal contenders like Spain and Argentina will, Thompson should be commended for making them pay almost each and every time they did.
Klay Thompson in four Team USA exhibition games: 21.8 minutes, 11.0 points, 2.5 rebounds, 2.0 assists, 45.8% from three (11-of-27)
— GSWStats (@gswstats) August 26, 2014
Like Kyle Korver, Thompson is a catch-and-shoot talent capable of having whole sets run for him. Coach Mike Krzyzewski seems perfectly aware of this, as watching Thompson weave his way all over the court through a myriad of off-ball screens had the same dizzying effect as Finland’s 8,000 fans rocking ESPN’s cameras up and down.
Thompson’s mostly been a stand-in-the-corner-and-jack-up-open-corner-threes-when-the-help-defense-rotates-away-to-cover-for-penetration kind of guy (official title pending), but he also had a few nice curls off of screens that resulted in easy looks. He even nailed a triple off the dribble in transition on one possession when Finland’s defense forgot the most lethal shooter on the floor had the ball in his hands.
With the Golden State Warriors, when Stephen Curry is locked in, Klay Thompson’s weaknesses are much more noticeable. There’s the obvious reason that he’s playing much better competition in the NBA, but it also has a lot to do with his expected role and the blinders he sometimes puts on when he gets the ball in his hands. But coming off the bench for Team USA? Coach K doesn’t mind Thompson’s blinders at all. They’ve got enough distributors as it is.
It’s not that Thompson doesn’t have the green light with the Golden State Warriors. But Team USA’s biggest advantage over the rest of the world, especially in a tournament where every team will play five group stage games in six days, is their depth. The Americans want Thompson to come off the bench and jack up a high volume of threes, especially later in the tournament when Team USA faces teams with loaded frontcourts like Spain and Brazil.
In their opener today, Team USA only made six of their 18 three-point attempts (33 percent). Thompson made four of them. Without Chandler Parsons or Kyle Korver, the Americans will need to spread the floor with some sort of perimeter threat against bigger teams and they’ll definitely want to capitalize on their bench depth. Both of those play to Thompson’s strengths, and it’s one reason why he’s excelled so far with Team USA.