Why Klay Thompson Works so Perfectly with Steph Curry
The Golden State Warriors have made such a dramatic turnaround as a franchise over the last two years that attributing the change to one move seems overly simple.
That being said, there is no getting around the magnitude of the Monta Ellis for Andrew Bogut swap that occurred on March 13, 2012.
At face value, this trade appears to be a steal. Sending an undersized, defensively challenged shooting guard away for an elite interior defender is a no-brainer.
But the real genius in this move lies not in the small, offensively-inclined guard that Golden State traded, but the one it kept.
The Warriors could have just as easily shipped out Stephen Curry, who's resume and injury history were both more suspect than Ellis'.
Instead, the team sent away Ellis, banking on the fact that rookie winger Klay Thompson would make a better backcourt mate for Curry.
The trade also helped ensure that the Warriors land in the lottery (Bogut was injured at the time), draft Harrison Barnes, trade for Jarrett Jack, make the 2013 playoffs and sign Andre Iguodala, sure. And of course, it gave the team a dominant big man.
Most of all, though, it gave birth to the "Splash Brothers," a backcourt that is famous for shooting but dominant for so many other reasons.
Obviously, the Floor Spacing
By now, everyone knows what head coach Mark Jackson thinks.
Whether or not Curry and Thompson will go down in history as the greatest shooting backcourt ever, it would be hard to argue that there has ever been a more deadly three-point shooting duo.
Since the beginning of the 2012-13 season, Curry has paced the NBA with 395 triples. Thompson's 336 ranks second.
The sheer number of threes these guys knock down is incredible, but these are not two guys who go out there and jack up shots from deep. Rather, Curry and Thompson help each other find high quality looks just by playing together.
With one guy who can hit 30-footers (Curry) and one who can drain them from about 27 feet out (Thompson), there are simply more spots around and behind the arc than defenses can account for.
Combine that with the fact that both are diligent cutters, that Golden State's bigs set great off-ball screens and that almost every starter is a well-above-average passer, and it becomes impossible to deny both Curry and Thompson quality looks from deep.
Considering that Curry's career three-point percentage is 43.7 and Thompson's is 40.9, giving up said quality looks is as ill-advised as it is unavoidable.
Different Offensive Games
Curry and Thompson may be known as the "Splash Brothers" (and national TV broadcasters sometimes confuse the two due to what I suppose is a fairly similar look), but they have distinctly different games.
Curry has a reputation as a shoot-first, score-second, pass-third point guard, but this season he has been the exact opposite. Of all his eye-popping numbers, Curry's best stat this season is his 9.2 assists per game—good for second in the NBA.
This is not only because he is a phenomenal passer with either hand, it is also due to his elite ball-handling and penetration abilities. Curry can break down just about any defender in the game one-on-one, and once he gets into the lane, defenses have no choice but to collapse due to his absurd array of high-percentage finishes.
Even if Curry fails to get around his defender, his ultra-quick release and ability to drain shots off the dribble mean he's often double-teamed and always matched up against the opposition's best perimeter defender.
Thompson, meanwhile, is much more of a catch-and-shoot player. He is excellent at not only getting open but squaring up to the basket immediately once the ball arrives. Naturally, this fits well with Curry's aforementioned passing acumen.
Thompson also is one of the better post-up guards in the league, and the mismatches and switching that Curry creates allows Thompson to consistently dominate point guards on the block.
Complementary Defensive Games
No one is going to mistake Golden State's backcourt for Mike Conley and Tony Allen or George Hill and Lance Stephenson. Neither Curry nor Thompson is an All-NBA level defender, and of the two only Thompson can be considered strong on that end.
Even so, the Splash Brothers comprise one of the 10 best starting defensive backcourts in the league.
While this may sound like a stretch, it's barely even a question. Curry is often pegged an incompetent defender, but this is only relative to other star point guards such as Russell Westbrook, Chris Paul and Rajon Rondo.
When looking at all the starting point guards in the association, Curry falls firmly between No. 15 and 20 in terms of defensive skills. What he (sorely) lacks in agility and strength, he makes up for in decision-making (such as forcing a driver into the defense), fighting through screens, steals (1.9 per game) and rebounding (4.0 defensive boards per game).
Then there's Thompson, who places somewhere between No. 5 and No. 10 amongst the league's best defensive starting 2-guards. Thompson is somewhat laterally challenged as well, but he has the length, strength and anticipation to stay with players off the dribble.
Where Thompson really excels is in the post, where there's hardly a shooting guard in the league who can score on him. He's also an underrated shot-blocker (0.5 per game).
The beauty of this is that Thompson's ability to guard the best opposing backcourt player on any given night allows the Warriors to consistently hide Curry on weaker offensive players. This frees him up to pick pockets and play passing lanes.
Humble. Unselfish. Confident. Committed. Clutch.
These are terms that every basketball player would love to have attached to their names. Rarely do they all apply. The unselfish player is often less confident; the humble player is often less clutch.
Curry and Thompson both embody all of these terms, and that is a bigger edge than being the greatest shooting backcourt in the history of the game.
Both players are incredibly hard workers, which allows them to play the most (Thompson) and 10th-most (Curry) minutes in the league.
Jackson has given the duo complete discretion as to when to shoot the ball. This leads to ugly shooting lines on some nights, but it also means that, when the game is on the line, neither young man will hesitate for second.
Both players relish and excel in crunch time.
However, neither Curry nor Thompson bring an ego to match their confidence. They may take more threes than any other two players in the league, but neither is a ball hog or a chucker—virtually every shot is a high-percentage one.
These are truly team-first guys, in pursuit of wins far more than points per game.
Where Do They Rank?
It's impossible to argue with their shooting skills. There is no doubt that this is the sweetest combination of strokes in the league right now.
Still, many believe that the duo is limited elsewhere, partially due to the notion that two similarly skilled players do not mesh well.
Look at how Brandon Jennings and Monta Ellis clashed in Milwaukee last season or how Carmelo Anthony and Amare Stoudemire have struggled to coexist in New York.
Curry and Thompson, however, exist more in the LeBron James and Dwyane Wade realm.
That isn't to say the Warriors have two of the greatest players of all time in their backcourt, but rather that two similar players can mesh well when the similarities do not involve dominating the ball, the differences actually complement each other, and the effort and will to succeed is always present.
And when you combine that chemistry with the kind of talent these guys have, the end result is the best backcourt in the NBA.
All stats courtesy of Basketball-Reference.com
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