How Will Klay Thompson's Standout FIBA World Cup Performance Affect This Season?September 18, 2014
The Golden State Warriors had the rare distinction of sending not one but two of their players to Spain for the FIBA World Cup this year. Stephen Curry was the household name, the rising star who had cemented his name amongst the game’s elite. Klay Thompson was his sidekick, the Luigi to Curry’s Mario.
While it was Curry in the starting lineup and Thompson coming off the bench, however, it was Thompson who made the bigger impact in the tournament.
Thompson didn’t just play well in the gold medal run; he thoroughly outplayed Curry.
He was second only to James Harden in points on the USA roster at 12.7 per game and scored them at an efficient 52 percent clip. His defense proved to be invaluable, and it earned him time on the court, as only Kyrie Irving topped Thompson’s 23.4 minutes per game.
On a team flush with guard depth, Thompson rose to the top.
Thompson’s strong play couldn’t have come at a better time, as it was only a few months ago that the Warriors made the decision to pass on Kevin Love in favor of keeping him on their roster. Many doubted that decision, but if he takes that level of play into the upcoming season, those doubts will be put to rest.
What was promising during the tournament was that Thompson did not simply rely on his outside shot as he so often has in his career. Even when sharing the court with playmakers like Harden, Irving and Curry, Thompson attacked the hoop relentlessly and finished with both hands.
That is a good omen going into the season. While his outside shooting will always be the most potent part of his game, expanding his game will keep defenses honest and open up scoring opportunities for his teammates.
The offense, however, was only part of the equation. Thompson has committed himself to being the best two-way shooting guard in the NBA, and while his offense isn’t on par with players like Harden, his defense puts him in the conversation.
An argument could have been made last season that Thompson was the best defender at his position, and playing under defensive-minded coaches like Tom Thibodeau and Mike Krzyzewski during the tournament only made him better. After the tournament, Coach K raved about Thompson’s contribution on that side of the court, courtesy of Sam Amick of USA Today:
(Thompson) has been, really, as good a player as we've had. He's consistent. Everyone had talked about his offense, but he has been consistently excellent on the defensive end. The fact that he's tall, he's been able to play defense on the one, two, and three. He's become our most versatile defender. ... He's had a terrific stay with us.
Those are strong words coming from the leader of the greatest team in the world. Thompson has the size to compete against larger guards and small forwards but also has the speed to counter quicker point guards. Defensively, he’s the total package.
Although Andre Iguodala will always be the name that comes to mind when thinking about perimeter defenders, Thompson very well may have already surpassed him in that regard. Steve Kerr will no doubt take advantage of his hunger to guard the opposition’s best player, and Thompson will reward his faith.
The future is bright for the Warriors, and with rising stars like Thompson, they’re closing the gap between themselves and the elite teams in the West. The experience of playing with some of the best players and coaches in the world will propel Thompson to his best season yet.