Sports Out West

Klay Thompson’s rise to stardom due to Steph Curry, spacing (VIDEO)

Photo Credit: Kelley L Cox/USA TODAY Sports

Golden State Warriors guard Klay Thompson is a fast-rising NBA star, and with the league on notice after a season where he finished third in the league in 3-pointers made behind teammate Stephen Curry and Ryan Anderson of the New Orleans Pelicans, he continues to thrive in an offense that allows him to get the ball in space and in transition. 

He did plenty more damage on Saturday night against the Sacramento Kings, with a stellar line of 27 points on 10-of-17 shooting, seven rebounds, two assists and a steal. When it comes to offense, he’s creating plenty. 

The former Pac-10 Player of the Year out of Washington State is on pace to shatter his player impact estimate numbers from his first two seasons, which were 7.7 and 8.3 percent. That metric, which estimates a player’s impact by showing a percentage of game events that player’s responsible for, is up to an astounding 15.3 percent in 2013-14. 

By comparison, LeBron James, the NBA’s version of a Swiss Army knife who can do just about anything he wants to on a basketball court, had a whopping 22.1 percent PIE in 2012-13, his latest MVP season. 

But Thompson is only in his third year and continues to improve. In James’ third season, the two-time NBA champion had a 12.3 percent PIE. Thompson is on a team with another player who has a tendency to dominate games offensively for the Dubs, and he plays in the same backcourt. Curry’s PIE is 15.4 percent this season. But the attention Curry draws is only a good thing in Thompson’s case. 

It effectively frees him up to to damage from just about anywhere, as evidenced by his total shot chart from this season through three games:

Shot Chart via NBA.com/stats

Shot Chart via NBA.com/stats

That’s what a blazing 65 percent from the field and equally impressive 53 percent from beyond the arc look like in living color. The bottom line is that he’s filling it up from everywhere these days, and he has the team around him to sustain most of that production for the long haul.  

Curry is the catalyst that drives the amazing space Thompson has been seeing on his outside shots. Here’s a sequence from the Warriors’ 126-115 loss to the Los Angeles Clippers on Friday: 

thompson1

Curry initiates the offense and gets a double screen from Andrew Bogut and David Lee on a high screen-and-roll between Lee and Curry:

thompson2

Chris Paul and Blake Griffin fail to commit to either switch or stay home, mostly due to the fear of Curry knocking down a long-range shot:

thompson3

Curry quickly gets the ball to Lee, who uses the space he has to penetrate the lane and make the defense commit to him, which they do as help man Jared Dudley has to leave Andre Iguodala alone in the corner in mid-range. That’s a good look on its own merit, but Klay’s is much better: 

thompson4

Thompson’s defender, J.J. Redick leaves him with plenty of space to knock down a wide open 3-pointer as Iquodala quickly recognizes the defense has collapsed on him. Redick’s back is completely turned away from a player who’s one of the best shooters in the world from distance. 

thompson5 

The obvious result? Splash. 

This is a trend, not a mirage, for Golden State this season. While the Clippers aren’t the best team defensively, it’s going to be difficult for any team to match up with these shooters. Teams will have to respect both, and that means that the spacing will be plentiful throughout the season as the Warriors try to take a major step forward in the playoffs this season. 

Curry is a known entity at this point, and while Thompson won’t sneak under the radar, teams will key in on the point guard before looking to limit Thompson. That means he’ll have plenty of room to work and break out in his third year. 

The entire sequence: 

KlayThompson

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Statistics via NBA.com/stats

Photo Credit: Kelley L Cox/USA TODAY Sports

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Michael C. Jones is the managing editor and founder of Sports Out West and a Southern California-based sports journalist. His work is also regularly featured on Yahoo! Sports and SB Nation. You can catch up with him on Twitter: @MikeJonesTweets.