5 Critical Adjustments Klay Thompson Must Make to Shake Sophomore Slump
Klay Thompson can’t wake up.
Mired in a shooting slump that has poisoned every other aspect of his game, the Golden State Warriors’ second-year guard has turned what was sure to be a terrific 2012-13 campaign into a nightmare. Instead of breaking out, he’s broken down.
Thompson’s path to stardom seemed assured after his terrific second half last season.
Without any other offensive options, Thompson took the team over down the stretch. Obviously, the Warriors didn’t win during that period, but it wasn’t because of Thompson, who averaged 18.1 points, 3.0 assists and 3.2 rebounds on 44 percent shooting as a starter.
He followed that up with an invite to the USA Select Team, where he impressed the big boys on Team USA with his work ethic and polish. Then, of course, he dominated the Las Vegas Summer League so thoroughly that the Warriors’ coaching staff shut him down after a pair of “I’m-too-good-to-be-here” games.
All of that makes Thompson’s sputtering start even harder to understand.
We’ve got the option of dismissing Thompson’s struggles as symptoms of a typical second-year swoon. But calling this a sophomore slump might be an oversimplification. That label is usually reserved for players that the league simply “figures out” over the offseason. With Thompson, that’s definitely not the case. It’s not like opponents are simply taking away the things Klay likes to do.
There’s more going on here; the problem seems more profound. But the situation isn’t hopeless.
Let’s examine five critical adjustments Klay Thompson must make to shake his sophomore slump.
*Stats are accurate through games played Nov. 18
It’s a boring, clichéd adage, but Klay Thompson has to let the game come to him. In the early going, it’s been clear that Thompson is aware of the hype surrounding him, and the weight of those expectations has Thompson pressing.
For a shooter, there are few things worse than that.
There have been multiple occasions this season that featured Thompson curling off of a pin-down screen (an entirely predictable staple of the Warriors’ offense, which is part of the problem) with the decision to shoot firmly in his mind before catching the ball. Instead of reading the situation and reacting, Thompson’s frustration has him trying to force his way out of his slump.
Naturally, Thompson hasn’t made many of those forced shots. It’s admirable that he’s attacking his slump with what was supposed to be his deadliest weapon—his outside shot—but shooters need to be loose and reactionary, taking advantage of tiny openings when they appear. They can’t succeed by tightening up and forcing the issue.
There’s no question that coach Mark Jackson is planning to use Thompson as a key piece of the offense—his 145 field goal attempts are the second most on the team. Knowing that, Thompson must trust that he’ll get the good looks he needs…if he’s patient.
Two missed free throws shouldn’t define Klay Thompson’s season, but at this early juncture, the foul shots he missed against the Denver Nuggets on Nov. 10 stand out as a microcosm of his year.
Thompson had the chance to put the Denver game away in the waning moments. All he had to do was knock down a pair from the stripe. But Thompson missed both, and looked visibly tight in doing so. You can forgive Thompson, who shot 87 percent from the line last year, for missing free throws. But there’s no excuse for the complete mental shutdown that ensued.
With the Warriors still up two, Thompson’s brain locked up. He inexplicably failed to hack Danilo Gallinari, despite everyone on the planet knowing the Warriors had a foul to give. Even worse than that, Thompson simply allowed Gallinari to drive right around him for the game-tying dunk.
The Warriors would go on to lose in double overtime.
Thompson ducked the media after the game, but eventually said all the right things the next day. As an isolated incident, Thompson has to forget about Denver. He can’t let it derail his season. And on a larger scale, Thompson’s got to have a shorter memory. He can’t let mistakes or missed shots affect his overall focus in any contest.
There'll be plenty of chances for redemption down the road, so for now, Thompson's got to forget about Denver.
Ditch the Attitude
Thompson’s “Denver Mistake” was a specific situation, but he’s had issues with attitude throughout his career. No, he hasn’t gotten into any trouble, and it’s hard to even remember an instance when he complained about a bad call. But Thompson has a nasty habit of sulking when things aren’t going right.
Whenever he comes off the floor after a rough stretch (which has happened frequently this year), you could time his route from the court to the bench with a sun dial. The guy hangs his head, mutters to himself and slowly shuffles to his seat with a disgusted, frustrated, down-on-himself expression. It takes forever.
Coach Mark Jackson has been on Thompson in the past for his outward displays of negativity, but when so much is going wrong, it’s seemingly impossible for Thompson to hide his emotions.
Everyone understands that Thompson is just angry with himself, but he’s got to find another way to deal with his frustration. At this point, it’s only compounding his poor play and it tends to alienate him from the team. Put another way, it’s impossible to pick up your teammates when you don’t seem interested in staying positive about yourself.
Thompson can snap out of his slump on the floor, but he’s got to ditch the attitude first.
Do the Little Things
Despite an ice-cold shooting slump that has Thompson putting up the worst per-minute numbers of his career, he is, at least, showing some growth in other areas.
It’s a minimal increase, but Thompson’s per-game rebounding average has increased from 2.5 to 4.3 since last season. For a player struggling to impact the game on offense, it’s critical for Thompson to continue to contribute in other ways.
Besides his board work, Thompson has also looked like a much-improved defender (for the most part) this season. He’s been prone to turning his head and getting lost in help situations, but that has been par for the course in his overall slump.
Admittedly, Thompson allowed opposing shooting guards a PER of 11.4 last year, which was better than the 13.5 he’s permitting this season. But the “small sample size” defense applies here. Any casual observer can see that he’s improved his footwork and has done a much better job of challenging offensive players with his length and smarts. The numbers will catch up.
We also can’t forget that Thompson has typically drawn the toughest wing assignments this year, as Harrison Barnes hasn’t shown his readiness for marquee defensive matchups.
Thompson can affect the game without scoring, just as any player can. So the easiest way out of his slump might actually be to forget about shooting and focus on doing the little things instead.
Get to the Bucket
As much as Thompson can help himself by defending and rebounding, we all know he’s still got to score. The Warriors currently sit in the league’s bottom third in offensive efficiency, due in large part to Thompson’s struggles from the perimeter.
When he’s not forcing it, Thompson is still getting a handful of good perimeter looks per game. For the most part, even those open shots aren’t falling. So maybe the quickest way to shake his slump is to start attacking the basket.
From a strategic perspective, defenses are overplaying Thompson on virtually every catch he makes off of screens. They’re obviously crowding him because he’s got the reputation as a great shooter. But defenses also take up space against him because he’s not an accomplished penetrator. Coming off of curl screens, which Thompson does about 20 times a game, provides the perfect opportunity for Klay to get to the basket.
As defenders trail over the top of the screen behind Thompson (because they can’t shoot the gap for fear of Thompson simply flaring out behind the pick for an easy look), they’re often out of position when Thompson elects to put the ball on the floor immediately. He doesn’t have to be lightning quick to get into the lane in these situations; he just has to be decisive.
If a few layups and runners can get Thompson going, he’ll be able to return to his sharpshooting ways sooner than later. Plus, a little practice from the free-throw line couldn’t hurt.