Klay embracing Warriors bench role clear to Kerr, Steph

Klay embracing Warriors bench role clear to Kerr, Steph originally appeared on NBC Sports Bay Area

Klay Thompson's move to the Warriors' bench is four games old and has produced mixed results. But it's clear to the five-time NBA All-Star and those closest to him that he is embracing his new role.

"I never really looked at coming off the bench as a demotion considering I'm still playing 25 to 30 minutes a night," Thompson told reporters after scoring 23 points in the Warriors' 119-103 loss to the Denver Nuggets on Sunday night at Chase Center. "I've been in this league a long time and to still be contributing at a high level and playing those type of minutes, you got to be grateful for that."

Those comments were in response to Warriors coach Steve Kerr addressing Thompson's new role during his pregame press conference Sunday.

"His approach feels so much better than it was even a few weeks ago," Kerr told reporters before the game. "This has been an emotional season for him. You guys know this. He's been grappling with his mortality in some ways as an athlete. He knows how good he was six years ago and he's had a hard time reconciling everything after the injuries. And the thing we keep trying to convince him of is that he's still a hell of a player.

"But he's at his best when he's not pressing and he's not stressed out and worried about trying to be the guy he was six years ago. I think coming off the bench has maybe helped in that regard. I just notice he's more relaxed. His approach, his leadership in the locker room, it feels different, and I think he's starting to get more comfortable with the role but all the biggest picture stuff that has been bothering him."

Thompson, in the final year of his contract, is producing some of the worst numbers of his career. He's averaging just 17.1 points this season, which would be his lowest since the 2012-13 season, his second in the NBA.

One of the most prolific shooters in NBA history, Thompson is shooting a career-low 41.8 percent from the field and 37.2 percent from 3-point range.

And his once-stellar defense has been absent. All of those things, combined with how well rookie Brandin Podziemski has been playing this season, led to Kerr moving Thompson to a bench role after he had started 727 consecutive games dating back to March 11, 2012 -- his rookie season.

So far in four games, Thompson is averaging 18.5 points on 45.6 percent shooting from the field and 42.1 percent from 3-point range in 27.1 minutes, though those numbers are propped up by a remarkable 35-point performance against the Utah Jazz in the final game before the All-Star break and Sunday's 23-point effort.

In between Thompson scored just three points against the Los Angeles Lakers on Thursday and 13 points against the Charlotte Hornets on Friday.

Steph Curry, Thompson's longtime backcourt running mate, likes what he's seeing from his Splash Brother in the Sixth Man role.

"Even the game -- Was the LA game where he only had three points? -- It was one of the better all-around floor games he's had where he took what the defense gave him, took the shots he's supposed to shoot, most of them didn't go in but the way the game flows and where he gets his opportunities, he was always making the right play," Curry told reporters after Sunday's loss. "Playing great defense on whoever his matchup was. Got us some rebounds, extra possessions that way. And then tonight, it's kind of the opposite where he's hot and giving us a huge lead and huge boost the first nine minutes he was out there.

"It all comes from understanding no matter if it's a starting role, bench role, whatever it is, he's still Klay Thompson and he can come in and do exactly what he did tonight. I know he wanted to shoot better in the second half but the more reps he gets and the more confidence he has to just go out there and play basketball and don't let the narratives kind of consume him, that's when he's at his best."

For the moment, Kerr has found a starting lineup he likes with Curry and Podziemski starting with Andrew Wiggins, Jonathan Kuminga and Draymond Green. And Thompson has shown, in a small sample size, that he still can be an effective scorer off the bench.

Chris Paul's impending return from a fractured left hand also should help Thompson thrive with the second unit.

Despite the shock of Thompson's move to the bench, it's evident he's growing more comfortable with the role with each passing game.

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