HOUSTON — Warriors guard Klay Thompson was mired in a weekslong shooting slump that had become a recurring topic during a slow news cycle.
After a home shootaround in late December, with his 3-point clip down to a career-worst 33.7 percent, Thompson was forced to field variations on the same question: What’s wrong? Tired of the storyline, Thompson got uncharacteristically indignant.
“Just because I’ve had a few bad games in a row, I’m not going to worry about not shooting the ball well,” said Thompson. “I’m one of the best shooters to ever play. I don’t really care what people say.”
Although most players would be criticized for such a declaration, Thompson was widely praised for stating facts. Minutes after video of the interview surfaced on Twitter, Hall of Famer Reggie Miller quoted the tweet, saying: “SHOOTERS SHOOT!! Even I wouldn’t say anything to this man, he’s one of the best shooters to ever live, ZERO concern from my end!!”
Two days later, after hitting his fourth 3-pointer in a win over Portland, Thompson looked at his shooting hand and shouted, “I missed you!” as he walked to the team huddle. The law of averages ensured Thompson wouldn’t take long to snap out of his slump. Outside of teammate Stephen Curry, Thompson might be the greatest shooter of all-time.
With five 3-pointers in Wednesday’s win over Houston, he joined Curry as the only players in NBA history to hit at least 200 3-pointers in seven-straight seasons. Thompson is tied with Peja Stojakovic (1,760 career 3s) for 17th place on the league’s all-time 3s list (Curry is third with 2,413). If he keeps up his current pace, Thompson will pass Ray Allen — the all-time leader with 2,973 3s — in five seasons, at age 34.
And yet, as is so often the case with Thompson, the third scoring option on a loaded team, his greatness is easy to overlook. Most aspiring shooters these days want to be the next Steph Curry. But ask a shooting expert which active NBA player is most worth emulating, and the answer will undoubtedly be Thompson.
The reason is simple. Although entertaining to watch, Curry is nearly impossible to mimic. Recreating his impressionist brand of basketball requires both elite lateral quickness and hand-eye coordination. In addition to draining 30-footers and shooting from almost any release point, Curry makes plays off the dribble and seems to use his entire body to hoist shots.
Meanwhile, Thompson does something that — in theory — any diligent player is capable of mastering: stop, catch, release. What makes him so successful is his unyielding commitment to repetitive motion. No matter the circumstances, Thompson fires off shots with a balanced frame, minimal follow-through, relaxed shoulders and spread fingers.
From the waist up, his shooting form contains zero wasted motion. Warriors assistant coach Mike Brown once called it “better than textbook.” So predictable is Thompson’s shot that, in May 2017, Slate.com published an article with the headline, “Is Klay Thompson a Robot?”
When Sports Science had Thompson shoot 3s in the dark, he made 80 percent of them. In December 2016, when he scored a career-high 60 points in 29 minutes against Indiana, Thompson needed only 88.4 seconds of possession, 52 touches, 33 shots and 11 dribbles.
“I think his jump shot is about as pure as I’ve ever seen, mechanically,” Warriors head coach Steve Kerr said. “It’s just unbelievably balanced and squared. I call him ‘Iron Byron,’ if you’re a golfer. He’s a machine that just repeats the same motion over and over.”
A career 42 percent shooter from beyond the arc, Thompson owns league records for 3-pointers in a game (14) and 3-pointers in a quarter (nine) as well as the playoff record for 3s in a game (11). No one has hit more 3s in his first five years in the NBA than Thompson’s 1,060.
Only Curry has drained more than 276 threes in a season, which Thompson did in 2015-16. Asked Wednesday whether Thompson should be considered the second-best shooter in NBA history behind Curry, Warriors forward Draymond Green didn’t hesitate, saying, “100 percent.”
General manager Bob Myers agrees, which is a big reason why he is expected to give Thompson a max contract this summer.
Curry is often credited for Golden State’s dynastic rise. But if not for the well-chronicled decisions to free up playing time for Thompson by trading Monta Ellis and refuse to include Thompson in a deal for Kevin Love, the Warriors probably wouldn’t be eyeing their fourth NBA title in five years.
Asked whether Thompson, who has averaged 24.6 points on 52.7 percent shooting (47.8 percent from three) over his past 27 games, is playing the best basketball of his career, Curry understandably struggled to provide much of an answer.
“He’s playing well, and that’s what you expect,” Curry said. “I don’t know how to measure it. I’ve seen a lot of great Klay stretches.”