They were widely mocked at Las Vegas Summer League for overvaluing their own guy, for reasons I can understand. Thompson was a “nice” player, but someone who seemed to be near his ceiling. He shot 3s, played hard on defense, and there wasn’t a prevailing expectation for massive growth beyond that.
If this season is to be believed, Thompson has made huge strides, demolishing even the most optimistic projections. Bluntly put, he has been better than Love so far.
We can point to his improved numbers, but seeing the improvement is even better. What are the visual examples of his improved floor game? Below are six of Thompson’s new moves, with the rising 2-guard’s input on the process.
This recent Klay quirk might be the most enjoyable move in his arsenal. Thompson plants his pivot foot and does a full 360-degree twirl before driving. Somehow, some way, this circuitous route does the trick -- especially when it runs the defensive player right into an Andrew Bogut screen.
In Klay’s words: “It just came naturally. We work on that every day in practice, just pivoting. At first I'm like, working on these stupid pivots, like what does this do? And then you get in the game you see how important it is, basic fundamental of your pivoting. And for me, that defender, it shifts their weight a little bit. Just a little pivot goes a long way. And if they're shading you, if they're trying to force you to the left, you kind of get the front pivot, kind of shifts their whole balance and gets them back right where you want them to be. Kind of learned how to do that just this year.”
It’s often said that a player should “use a pump fake” as part of his progression. With Thompson, progress meant ditching a few pump fakes. Why? Because he’s so feared from beyond the arc that shot-faking can be a waste of time. Thompson realized that Steph Curry merely slows down in transition before scooting past defenders, and adopted the tactic.
In Klay’s words: “My second year I probably shot the ball, play at one pace, but now, you know, I learned it from Steph, too, that these defenders are so afraid of your jump shot at the 3-point line that they're going to sprint to you no matter what. You've just got to get the defender on your hip and that's all it takes. It's just a little hesitation, it doesn't take a crazy blow-by or anything.”
Thompson also has added a little off the dribble lead-up to his transition okey-doke. It doesn’t take a lot to get by the terrified defender.
This Curry move is taking the league by storm. Back in Byron Scott’s beloved old days, players would use a pump fake before dribbling past the flying defender. In this modern era, it’s smarter for many players to step sideways, where shots count for 50 percent more. Thompson has added the “Side Steph” after watching his teammate use it to such efficient effect.
In Klay's words: “Yeah, I try to learn from Steph. It’s easier going left to do that. All we need is a split second to get our shot off, and opposing teams run at us so hard, that all it takes is a little head fake and one dribble left, you got a wide-open shot. Gotta collect your balance. Something I just got from watching him a lot.”
(I asked if Curry helped him out with the move. Klay joked: “You saw he poured water on me? He doesn’t help me with anything.”)
Did you know there are people who grab Bogut and live to tell about it? It’s even encouraged in Golden State’s offensive attack. Thompson and Curry latch on and swing from the big man’s hips like a janitor's keys. The extra leverage helps them slingshot their way in directions defenders can’t track.
In Klay’s words: “Something I started to do this year, because Kyle Korver's good at doing it, J.J. Redick's doing it, those guys -- you know, not the most athletic, but they're one of the best at just hunting their shots. So I kind of learned that from Kyle this summer [at Team USA training camp]. It's something me and Steph started doing, trying to be sneaky about it."
Dribble Pass Off The Pindown
Thompson drew some criticism in prior seasons for rarely passing, but he had one pass down in particular: The Ray Allen-style pocket pass off a curl. After getting the ball, he would immediately whip a bounce pass down to his screener. This season he’s building on that. When he receives his pindown pass, he’s dribbling into the lane and using head fakes before dishing. In general, his ballhandling has improved massively this season.
In Klay’s words: “Yeah. I learned this year that all it takes is a head movement and your eyes. You just look at the rim and kind of look like you're going up, and then dump it off last second. These past few years I probably would have telegraphed that pass and now you try to keep your eyes moving all the time because it gets the big man to go with you. I tell ‘em, 'Guys, just set a screen I can just get in the lane I'm going to make the right play. Or I'm going to miss it and you're going to have a dunk because the big man's going to go with me.' ”
Pass-Fake Finger Roll
Speaking of the pindown curl, Thompson has also added another move to the routine: After receiving the pass, he’s using a ball fake that leads into an open finger roll. I went through footage of all of Thompson’s layups last season and couldn't find examples of this particular move. It’s new.
In Klay’s words: “It’s kind of recent. ‘Cause so many teams are going to jump hard on that pindown and that pick-and-roll, and that’s just Basketball 101. A simple ball fake will do wonders, and I probably need to do more of it. It just offsets the defense every time.”