Warriors’ Thompson faces crossroads amid shooting struggles originally appeared on NBC Sports Bay Area
SAN FRANCISCO – A growing segment of the fan base is grumbling, some on the sports-talk shows are suggesting his time has passed and Klay Thompson, 13 games into his 10th active season, has not been able to silence the noise.
The long wait for Klay continues, and it has reached the painful stage for the Warriors and the longtime deep-shooting ace, who is approaching his 34th birthday and is in the final season of his contract.
They can only hope it hit rock-bottom Thursday night at Chase Center.
Thompson totaled five points on 1-of-10 shooting from the field, including 1 of 6 from deep in a 128-109 loss to the Oklahoma City Thunder. He had trouble defending players of similar size. More alarming, he had difficulty creating space for his trademark jumper.
“Klay has frequently started out seasons very cold, for whatever reason,” coach Steve Kerr said Friday after practice. “If you go back and look at his career, more often than not, he has started slowly.
“What’s happening this year, with the losing, when you combine a losing streak with a cold streak, that’s especially demoralizing for a competitor like Klay.”
Thompson is averaging 13.8 points per game, shooting 40.1 percent overall and 32.9 from distance over 12 games this season. All three numbers are below his norm. There is no distinct pattern to his early season shooting. Here is a look at his October/November percentages in each of the previous five seasons:
2021-22 (returning after a 941-day layoff): 42.3/38.5.
Klay’s percentages so far this season are at or below those of each of the previous five. Golden State’s recent tailspin results in a brighter spotlight. Thompson’s age and the physical toll on his body – he was an iron man until sustaining a torn right ACL and ruptured left Achilles’ tendon in back-to-back years – has that spotlight getting hotter.
“That’s the nature of the beast with what we do,” Kevon Looney, Thompson’s teammate since 2015, said of the chatter from outside observers. “It’s not the first time they’ve done it to Klay. He’s accustomed to it. I’ve seen him struggle before. He always finds his way out.”
Thompson, a five-time All-Star, has not dipped so severely since his first appearance in the annual classic. And, yes, it has become more pronounced during the team’s losing streak: 10 points per game, 29.1 percent (16 of 55) from the field, including 26.7 percent (8 of 30) from distance.
But Thursday was the first time this season that Thompson put only one shot through the rim. That, naturally, led to a rising level of distress among fans.
Then there is this: With Stephen Curry out of the lineup, Klay’s ineffectiveness is magnified. It did not go unnoticed that he was the only Golden State starter not to score in double figures on Thursday.
“The guy lives and breathes for winning, so this has been especially frustrating,” Kerr said. “These last five games, losing and struggling to knock down shots. And with Steph and Draymond (Green) out, we’re not generating as many good looks for Klay.”
Klay is, in some ways, at least a temporary victim of the Curry offensive system, which rarely thrives without its catalyst. With Curry sidelined, the team is scouring for buckets and finding them in short supply.
Steph and Klay are the best-ever offensive backcourt for many reasons, the first being that Curry’s presence puts defenses in a tizzy. His constant motion warps the floor, with defenders either chasing or leaning his way.
Golden State’s offense is largely predicated on his movement pulling the defense away from his teammates. No one has prospered more than Klay, who has a Hall of Fame resumé.
But Klay’s scoring also was a by-product of his own work ethic and off-ball movement. The Reggie Miller of this era, flitting around screens, dashing from one area to another, running defenders out of breath.
Is that guy somewhere inside Klay?
The excessive energy of yesteryear is getting harder to summon. And, boy, is he trying. Klay’s body language often makes it obvious he is beyond irritated that he isn’t playing at a level acceptable to him, much less anyone else.
Then, too, his unsettled contract status beyond this season could be weighing on his mind.
“The biggest thing, message-wise, for him is just he’s got this long track record,” Kerr said. “He’s in good shape. We know what he’s capable of. We have to find our identity as a team offensively and that will in turn help Klay.
“But every season of his career, when he’s gotten off to a slow start, he has found it. There’s no doubt that he’s going to find it.”
There is no expressed doubt, that is, because Klay’s history suggests he can ease minds in and around Dub Nation with a single white-hot performance.
That’s what the people want to see. But if the wait drags on, the noise will get louder and the spotlight hotter.
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