Strange as it is to say, the Golden State Warriors have been kind of a non-story this season. At 20-6, they haven't been dominant enough to demand our attention, yet at the same time, with an elite 11.4 point differential, they certainly aren't struggling in the way Cleveland or the Thunder have for stretches. They're just kind of cruising along, under the historic bar they've set for themselves but above any kind of concern, winning games and scoring points in relatively bland fashion.
And if the Warriors have become a kind of background noise, you know the already-attention-averse Klay Thompson isn't getting much love -- which is too bad, because he's quietly having the best season of his career, well within range of joining the exclusive 50-40-90 club -- 50 percent from the field, 40 percent from three, 90 percent from the line for a season.
"It's a pace I would love to sustain over 82 games, but it'd be very hard," Thompson said in Miami last week. "There's a reason only nine guys have hit that club."
Klay's right. With the qualifier of having played at least 150 minutes, only nine players have shot 50-40-90 for a season, and they are some of the greatest shooters to ever play: Stephen Curry, Larry Bird (twice), Kevin Durant, Mark Price, Steve Nash (four times!), Reggie Miller, Jose Calderon, Steve Kerr and Dirk Nowitzki. Given Thompson's volume and efficiency, you could already make the case he's the second-greatest 3-point shooter ever, behind his teammate Curry. Barring injury, he'll go down as one of the deadliest shooters, of any kind, in NBA history.
So to say he's having his best season is really saying something. Entering Friday, Thompson is putting up career highs from the field (51 percent) and 3-point range (47.4 percent), which add up to a career-high 61.9 eFG. His free throw percentage fell to 86 percent after he went 2 for 3 from the stripe on Monday at New Orleans, but that number is going to fluctuate heavily, at least for the time being, given how little he's gone to line this season (1.1 attempts per game), which is about the only possible knock on his game thus far.
"He's probably in his prime [right now]," Kerr said of Thompson. "Mentally, physically, he knows the league better than he ever has."
Kerr noted that he likes the way Thompson -- a catch-and-shoot machine if there ever was one -- has been putting the ball on the floor more this season. The difference is very subtle. Entering Thursday, his 1.46 dribbles per touch was the sixth-lowest mark among guards, but that number is up from the 1.33 dribbles per touch he posted last season. When he does put it on the floor, he's making it count by shooting a solid 41 percent on jumpers off the dribble. You're seeing a lot of this:
On shots like that -- the dreaded long two -- Klay is connecting almost 57 percent of the time, which puts him in the 95th percentile, via Synergy. Kerr is not an old-school coach when it comes to analytics. He believes in numbers. But he also loves that shot you just saw Klay take. He noted that Curry is doing more of it, too, these terrifying shooters using the threat of their 3-pointer to draw defenders before stepping in for an in-rhythm two.
"Pump fake, put it on the floor, wide open, that's a great shot," Kerr said.
It wasn't that long ago that watching Klay try to create for himself off the bounce was a white-knuckle situation. He's still not the ball handler that some of the other elite 2-guards in the league are, guys like CJ McCollum and Bradley Beal, but he doesn't try to be. He's a minimalist. Just enough dribbles to get from A to B.
"I'm just trying to make the right read," Thompson said. "Off the bounce, it's either going to be a pull-up, layup, or throw it out to another guy. It's that simple."
Indeed, Klay doesn't complicate much on the court -- or off the court, for that matter. He knows his game, and plays to it, as well as anyone, almost never getting outside himself anymore, never forcing an action that isn't there. He talked about his improved patience, saying, "In my seventh year, I just know how to play in this offense at a very efficient pace."
With Curry and his magic acts and Durant's ability to create for himself in so many ways, the Warriors' offense can feel pretty free-wheeling at times. But Klay's shots, particularly in the half court, are like clockwork. The threes we know about, but the twos are what is rounding out his game so much. He curls off screens for 15-footers. He continues downhill on dribble hand-offs. He's old school in that he'll pump fake, jump stop, pivot, go off one foot, whatever he needs to do to get just a little bit of space, which is all he needs.
And his footwork, which wasn't always this good, or certainly this smooth, is the lost art for which basketball purists long. That is something you rarely hear anyone talk about with Klay, but it is one of the real building blocks of what his game has become. There was a time when Klay simple didn't possess the creative instinct and fluid footwork to buckle a defender like this with such ease:
For a long time, people loved to chalk up much of Klay's success to the Warriors' system, and specifically to playing alongside Curry. There's no doubt he benefits from both. But so what? Everyone on the Warriors is better because of Curry. Just look at the on-off numbers. What Klay has become, not just this season, but really over the last two or three, is a star in this league on his own. Not a superstar, but a legitimate star -- on both ends. To that point, we've yet to even mention his defense. We don't have to. It's a rock, and it never wavers whether he's making his shots or not. It just so happens that this year, he's making even more than normal.