Very quietly, Klay Thompson is turning in another fantastic season for the Golden State Warriors.
Averaging 19.7 points, 3.8 rebounds and 2.7 assists per contest, Thompson is one of the best two-way players in the entire NBA. Often tasked with defending the opposing team’s best offensive backcourt or wing player, he has taken on an important role for the offensive juggernaut.
“He doesn’t get enough respect for his defense,” teammate Draymond Green recently told Mark Medina of The Bay Area News Group. “But his defense is a key part of what we do.”
“He just chases the ball all day long,” Warriors coach Steve Kerr said. “Klay never gets tired. He guards point guards for us and then he switches onto four men. Then he guards the post. Then he runs around the other end like he’s Reggie Miller. There’s stamina, strength and ability to play on both ends.”
Oddly enough, Thompson has not made an All-NBA Defensive team in any of his first six seasons in the league. That could be due to the fact that he has not accumulated too many defensive counting stats.
“I don’t average the sexy stats. I don’t get a lot of blocks or steals. I’m solid,” said Thompson, who is only averaging 0.7 steals and 0.5 blocks heading into Tuesday. “I’m just known for my shooting and offensive prowess. But on the defensive side of the ball, I haven’t gotten the same recognition, which is fine.”
On January 6, 2012, Thompson played his first game against Kobe Bryant. He wasn’t tasked with defending him very much in that first meeting and Bryant shot 13-of-28 from the field for 39 points. Per Medina, although Bryant averaged 28 points in 12 career head-to-head meetings with Thompson, he shot just 41.1 percent, which is a testament to Thompson's ability to somewhat limit him in their next 11 meetings.
Thompson told Medina that he learned one skill from defending Kobe that he has expanded to his overall defensive mindset.
“My biggest lesson I learned from Kobe is not to jump for any pump fakes,” Thompson stated. “He had a lethal pump fake. He probably got every single person in the NBA with it.”
Possessing one of the best pump fakes in NBA history, Bryant made opponents look silly over the years. But, Thompson was able to adapt and learned not to bite.
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Teammate Kevin Durant revealed that he was shocked to see how dominant Thompson was on that side of the floor a few years ago when he squared off against the Warriors as a member of the Oklahoma City Thunder.
“Russ usually had his way against guards that were smaller than him. But you put a 6-foot-5, 6-foot-6 dude on him, it just made it tougher for him,” Durant said of Thompson regarding his defense of Russell Westbrook, who has also shot just 41.1 percent against him in 22 career meetings. “I’m not saying Klay is a total lockdown (defender) and closes everything down. That’s hard to do in this league. But he makes it tough on you and he makes you shoot tough shots.”
Although Stephen Curry, Durant and Green receive most of the attention in Golden State, Thompson’s ability to take what he learned from defending Kobe has certainly benefitted him over the years.