Funny thing happened over the past week for the Golden State Warriors. No, not the thunderous booing of owner Joe Lacob during the jersey retirement ceremony of Chris Mullin (although, that was a tad humorous). Well, funny ha-ha.
What did happen was the emergence of rookie shooting guard Klay Thompson, something that nobody quite anticipated—at least not so soon.
Thrust into the starting lineup eight games ago due to the recurring injury of point guard Stephen Curry and the trade of Monta Ellis to the Milwaukee Bucks, Thompson has grabbed hold of the opportunity and exceeded all expectations.
In the seven games since Ellis was shipped to the Bucks in exchange for Andrew Bogut, on March 14th, Thompson has embraced a learn-by-doing approach.
In those seven games, the 22-year-old Thompson is averaging 21.0 points, 3.0 assists and 1.3 steals. Additionally, he’s shooting 43.4 percent from the field and 42.2 percent from three-point land and has not missed once in 22 attempts from the free-throw line.
Needless to say, in a season of tumult and tremendous volatility, Thompson is proving to be a bright spot for the Dubs, a shining star in the making. With all of the roster upheaval, injuries and unmet goals in the win column, the first-round draft pick out of Washington State is proving to be a hidden gem, making strides to being a force around the league.
A bona fide marksman in college, Thompson has shown he can take his game to the next level in the NBA. He currently ranks 10th in the league in three-point percentage (43.8). And he is as prolific as he is efficient, hitting multiple three-pointers in six out of the past eight games since being inserted into the Warriors starting lineup.
What at first seemed like a bandage to repair the starting lineup while Curry nursed his injured ankle has turned into a preview of what is yet to come. It now appears that Thompson is showcasing his skills for a permanent spot as the shooting guard for next season—which certainly wasn’t under consideration when he was chosen by Golden State last year.
As the 11th pick in the NBA draft, Thompson came with some impressive credentials. He scored 21.6 points per game in his third year with the Washington State Cougars. He was regarded as a strong shooter with unlimited range, and it was assumed that he would take a couple of years to gain some momentum and find his niche as a shooter of the bench. At least, that was the case with Ellis on the Warriors roster.
Now, with Ellis gone, and Curry likely out for the remainder of the season, Thompson is able to cement himself in the Warriors backcourt and take control of the team, taking on a significant increase in playing time and minutes.
He is seeing more opportunities to handle and distribute the ball, and he’s also making sure he gets his fair share of scoring opportunities. Since being named a starter, he’s averaging 17.6 shot attempts per game—6.25 from beyond the arc. With Ellis and Curry out of the picture, Thompson becomes Golden State’s primary backcourt scoring threat.
With 20 games left on the season, the Warriors are sitting in an awkward limbo. They currently sit in 13th place in the Western Conference, five games shy of the final playoff spot.
Much has been made of the team’s quandary of pushing for a postseason berth or tanking the rest of the way to ensure they secure their lottery pick in the upcoming draft. If the Warriors do not have one of the seven worst records this season, they could potentially lose their first-round pick to the Utah Jazz (as a condition of a previous transaction).
In essence, there is little to play for, other than to lose as many games as possible in order to protect their lottery status. However, the one positive thing to look for would be the play of Thompson.
The final 20 games will allow him to show the rest of the league that he is one of the NBA’s top young players, a potential candidate for the Rookie of the Year Award. If he’s able to continue his quiet savvy and controlled shooting efficiency, he could potentially sneak into conversation as the best rookie this season.
Not since 1989 has Golden State featured an NBA Rookie of the Year (Mitch Richmond), so it would be a notable accomplishment and a proud achievement for a team that has taken its share of lumps this season.
The leading candidate for the coveted first-year-player award, however, is the No. 1 overall pick, Kyrie Irving, of the Cleveland Cavaliers. Irving has been a starter all season, manning the point for the Cavs and posting 18.9 points and 5.7 assists per game in the process.
His numbers, across the board, are phenomenally striking, including shooting 47.2 percent from the field, 40.0 percent from three-point land and 87.0 percent at the line. Pretty remarkable.
For Thompson to overtake Irving, it’d take a couple of things to happen, not the least of which would be a miracle. But with fresh legs the rest of the way, and a pure shooting stroke from deep, Thompson will continue to put up some big numbers down the stretch, especially given the fact that the Warriors are so incredibly thin in the backcourt, with Nate Robinson injuring himself in Saturday’s contest against the Kings.
For the sake of Golden State fans, if the race for a playoff spot is out of the picture, then a race for a seasonal award would be a silver lining.
If there’s anything that would silence the boo birds, it could be the progressive dynamic play of a rookie. Who knew that Klay Thompson would be the player that all fans would be rooting for at the end of the season?
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