Keeping Klay Thompson Is About Preserving Crazy Mismatches with Steph Curry

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Keeping Klay Thompson Is About Preserving Crazy Mismatches with Steph Curry
Jesse D. Garrabrant/Getty Images

The Golden State Warriors have deemed Klay Thompson to be a keeper, and I totally understand the reasoning.

He’s been the sticking point in a potential trade for the Minnesota Timberwolves’ Kevin Love, according to ESPN.com’s Marc Stein. The San Jose Mercury News’ Tim Kawakami corroborated that information, which is a clear sign that the Dubs love what they have (no pun intended).

Thompson’s presence alongside Stephen Curry creates one of the most unconventional, and therefore lethal, backcourts in the league. Teams can’t use traditional schemes against Golden State, because they’re simply not good enough.

Although that’s mostly a product of the duo's shooting proficiency , Curry is the guy who throws everything out of order and helps turn Thompson into an assassin.

 

Human Torch

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Before every game, Curry walks through fire and throws flames at the basket in the form of three-point shots. That might sound like an exaggeration, but only slightly.

According to Basketball-Reference.com, he’s made the most three-pointers in league in back-to-back seasons, and he’s hitting a sizzling 44 percent from long range during his career.

Curry has become the scariest shooter in the league because he drills jumpers in every way possible. He connects from long range in the pick-and-roll, in spot-up situations and in straight isolations. While most shooters merely hurt you in spot-up settings, Curry does it off the bounce and off balance as well.

He’s always bending defenses to their breaking points because of a limitless shooting ability. His ball-handling wizardry allows him to gain access to spots on the floor that often seem unattainable to the average perimeter player.

Once Curry reaches his preferred destination, he has a bag of tricks at his disposal to finish over just about any defender. Curry might go to a left-handed scoop shot that bounces high off the glass or a simple floater when he’s in the lane.

If situated at the top of the arc, Curry’s flammable nature as a shooter makes him a threat before even catching the ball. Just in case that didn’t make it hard enough to cover the sharpshooter, Curry’s a stud passer who’s more than willing to spread the ball around (8.5 assists per game last year), which makes shading him with extra defenders a complicated proposal.

That remarkable package has earned him what I would happily call the “Curry Confinement Rules.”

In order to limit his production, defenses must force him to take the ball to the basket or simply send a hard trap at him in the pick-and-roll. To be clear, those are the best ways to defend Curry, and they’re not exactly ideal.

Giving him a free path to the basket means he can attract defenders and dish off to teammates at the rim or beyond the arc. That’s the worst-case scenario with this strategy. Ideally teams hope to force Curry to finish over interior players while absorbing some contact. It’s worth noting that he converted 60 percent of his shots in the restricted area last season, per NBA.com.

Still, the hope here is that Curry takes enough hits, prompting him to settle for mid-range jumpers. By the way, he drilled 48.7 percent of those during the 2013-14 campaign.

Rocky Widner/Getty Images

The last thing any team wants to give Curry is a trey or a layup, and the price to pay here is to give a shooter everything in between and stay at home on his teammates.

That sounds great in theory, but when Curry starts hitting one shot after another, defenders tasked with protecting the basket might try to close out on the sniper, and that opens up things for everybody else.

That’s why teams love to throw hard double-teams at him. It takes Curry out of the play by forcing him to give the ball up to another Warrior who must create plays. The Los Angeles Clippers relied heavily on this tactic in their seven-game series with the Dubs last season.

"It seems like they've tried to take me out my spots a lot more than any team," Curry said to the San Jose Mercury News’ Marcus Thompson III after a Game 4 first-round victory against the Clippers last season. "Which makes it easy to get assists and get guys open. But over the course of a series, I've got to find a way to have an impact."

One of the counters Golden State used against this strategy was to run a pick-and-roll early in the shot clock and then get Curry to run through a few screens for an open jumper. There were times when defenders simply forgot about him after he gave up the ball because they felt he was forced out of the play.

The other schemes were often failures because Curry shredded them. Hedging defenders give him enough of a crease to fire long-range bombs, and defenders that go underneath screens allow Curry to get off uncontested shots.

Teams have a hard enough job preparing for Curry, and that task becomes infinitely more complex when Thompson factors into the equation.

 

Splash Brothers

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The combination of Curry and Thompson can overwhelm teams because both players seemingly complement each other perfectly.

Put it this way: If Curry’s offense is an impeccably crafted song, Thompson is its chorus. The 2-guard is often the beneficiary of the attention that gets thrown at his backcourt partner, and it makes Thompson look so good.

I’ve already addressed the difficulty involved with defending Curry in the pick-and-roll, but now add this new wrinkle: Thompson is the screen setter. Yikes!

Former Golden State coach Mark Jackson liked to break out the pick-and-roll with Curry and Thompson, and it worked wonders. The optimal way for opponents to defend this action is by switching defenders when the screen is set. It ensures a minimal number of rotations and removes the threat of an open look.

On the flip side, the end result is that Thompson can head down to the block against a smaller defender, where he can easily shoot over the player guarding him.

As tough as this set is for the opponents, the tandem offers more than one headache in terms of ways in which it exploits defenses. One of the basic principles involved with defending Curry requires ball pressure at all times when he crosses half court.

This isn’t about forcing turnovers, but rather making sure he doesn’t get an easy three-point look while orchestrating the offense. Because Curry’s defender remains glued to him, it allows Thompson to curl off screens around the elbows for open jumpers.

If Curry’s defender cheats over even for a split second on a Thompson catch, the ball immediately goes back to Curry for the trey.

In order to avoid this scenario, teams will send the big man defending the screen setter over to shade on Thompson, to discourage the jumper, and then rotate back to the interior player that screened for Thompson.

Depending on the speed at which this is done, Curry has a window when he can feed the screen setter for an alley-oop, or he can hit Thompson, who will then pass directly on the catch to the screen setter for an uncontested score.

That sounds fun? Well, now imagine if Andre Iguodala has the ball at the top of the floor and the Splash Brothers are both curling around screens near the three-point line in the corners. That opens up the floor quite wide for a drive and finish.

Rocky Widner/Getty Images

The offensive synchronization between Curry and Thompson is typically a joy to watch because they always look like they “get” each other. The pair moves in concert and shifts defenses away from their teammates, all the while still finding ways to generate their own offense without a hitch.

Should Golden State jettison Thompson in a trade, I just don’t think the team would be able to find another player in the same stratosphere as him to play alongside Curry.

I’m not saying Thompson is the best 2-guard in the league; rather, he’s the best 2-guard for the Warriors.

"The fact that I haven't been traded yet makes me feel comfortable,” Thompson said, per Yahoo! Sports’ Marc J. Spears. “That speaks for itself."

Then again, one could argue that the Dubs could replace Thompson with someone like Kyle Korver of the Atlanta Hawks. He’s a credentialed shooter who could probably replicate some of what Thompson does.

The key word here being "some."

A lot of the focus on the Splash Brothers revolves around the offense, but the defensive component is where Thompson separates himself from just about most shooters in the league.

The Warriors have used him in previous seasons against high-caliber point guards because of Curry’s shortcomings, and Thompson has not disappointed.

Rocky Widner/Getty Images

At 6’7’’, Thompson is tall enough to bother guards trying to connect passes over the top, and he leverages his length to stay with quicker players. Thompson gives ball-handlers a small cushion so he doesn’t get beat off the bounce and quickly recovers when contesting shots.

Interestingly enough, the advanced metrics suggest that Thompson is mediocre on this end, but that’s mostly a product of some of the cross matches in which he’s involved. Thompson is always asked to defend a good-if-not-great player, which deflates his numbers a bit..

Sports Illustrated’s Rob Mahoney offered some insight on the matter:

In the context of the Warriors' backcourt, Thompson's work becomes all the more important. He's asked on a near-nightly basis to oppose the most dangerous guard, in many cases sliding over to defend the point so that Curry can be hidden on a lesser threat. As such, Thompson is often the first line of defense against the league's deepest position.

Mahoney also noted that Curry wears down with contact, which makes it difficult to put him on point guards, given the numerous ball screens defenders must run through when given that assignment.

Thus, even if Thompson isn’t an elite defender, his mere presence gives Curry the opportunity to conserve energy on defense and focus his efforts on offense. The synergy that exists between both players makes them a potent guard tandem, and the pairing opens doors for the rest of Golden State's players.

Thompson’s contributions make him a vital piece to the Warriors, and one can certainly see why Golden State is so fond of him.

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