Klay Thompson's new mentality can enhance Warriors' offense

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How Klay's new mentality can enhance Warriors' offense originally appeared on NBC Sports Bayarea

SAN FRANCISCO – After scoring 21 points in 22 minutes to lead the Warriors on Tuesday night, Klay Thompson sat at the podium scanning the stat sheet and savoring the numbers next to his name.

The scoring was quite good, but Thompson was particularly proud of another number.

Assists.

“I just want to be as complete as a possibly can,” Thompson said after a 102-86 win over the Detroit Pistons. “The best players to ever play my position could do it all, score at all three levels. And I consider myself a scorer. At times, I can play-make. But I did a good job tonight as far as creating. Four assists? That’s good for myself. And a good assist-to-turnover ratio.”

Understand, Klay is not known for his dimes. He has spent most of his NBA career with teammates and coaches teasing him about his eagerness to shoot and indifference to passing. It’s practically a running gag.

This, on its surface, is a shift in mentality.

Klay Thompson, shooter supreme, is refining his game. Digging deeper into his box of skills. His handle looks better than ever, and he seemed as gratified with his four-to-one assists-to-turnovers ratio as with his most impressive shooting performance since returning on Jan. 9.

It’s conceivable that being away from the game for almost 31 months and returning to a largely remade roster, Thompson is reading the room and reacting appropriately.

“Last time he was playing, we had Kevin Durant,” coach Steve Kerr pointed out. “We had one of the ultimate shot-creators next to Klay.

“Now, there’s probably more of a need for shot-creation, with the current roster. Being able to go to Klay and post him up or clear a side, it’s absolutely a good option. He’s so big and strong, he can create his own shot and it’s usually a pretty good look.”

If Klay’s antennae for finding open teammates is as discerning as it is for finding the bottom of the net, the Warriors have themselves an entirely different weapon and become appreciably more difficult to defend.

Though shooting is Thompson’s specialty, he realizes this Warriors team lacks the All-Star depth of a few years ago but has a longer list of dangerous shooters.

He knows what Stephen Curry can do, but now he’s seeing Andrew Wiggins and Jordan Poole and Otto Porter Jr. and Nemanja Bjelica and Gary Payton II and Damion Lee – all of whom can have respectable to impressing percentages beyond the arc.

“We’ve got so many great players,” Thompson said. “Basketball is a simple game. If you’re open, shoot it. If you’re not, hit the open man and go where (the defense is) not.”

This is not to imply that there is a movement for Klay, averaging 2.3 assists in his career, to become a dribble-happy point guard, or a “point forward” in the mold of Draymond Green. Far from it, and that’s the last thing the Warriors want or expect.

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For Thompson, this is about making himself a better player by dusting off skills mostly unused at the NBA level.

“Steve was just holding me back, man,” he joked, referring to the head coach. “He didn’t let me handle the ball. The last time I handled the ball that much was in college. But in high school, I played the point a lot.

“I’ve had it in my bag. I’ve been able to put the ball on the floor since high school. It’s just, my strength is obviously catching and shooting and cutting. But now that I’m getting older, I try to use my strength, try to get to the free-throw line a little bit more."

You may recall, the wonderful Warriors of yore generally had three shot-creators in the starting lineup: Curry (career average 6.5 assists per game), Durant (5.4 as a member of the Warriors) and Green (7.1 per game with KD as a teammate). The big men were setting screens or diving to the rim. Klay’s role was to search for enough open space to get launch a clear shot.

Thompson had seven assists and eight turnovers, over 83 minutes, in his first four games. He posted four and one over 22 minutes on Tuesday.

If that’s closer to the new norm, it could open up wide new avenues for an offense that could use them.

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