You can imagine Klay Thompson shooting jumpers out of the cradle. The fact that he and Steph Curry both had parents who played in the NBA, who were able to provide their sons with optimal tutelage, gives credence to the notion of the NBA turning into a league of shooting drones. But there is something beautiful about "daddy taught me jumpers," the way it brings the hunt for a perfect jump shot, ritualistic and labor-intensive, to its purest essence.
A question worth pondering since during this statistical revolution is how far, individually, the three-point shot can carry a player offensively. Not a shooter like Curry, who is also one of the best ball-handlers, passers and finishers in the league, but a pure shooter. The best test-case, at one time, was Kyle Korver, a shooting specialist who had an All-Star appearance in 2015. A decade ago, Dwyane Wade, shooting guard, slashed, scissored and exploded his way into the lane, earning an NBA championship and the nickname "Flash." Last month, Thompson fleeced the Indiana Pacers with 60 points in 29 minutes on 33 shots. He scored, on average, within three seconds of catching the ball, aided by a split-second release, one-dribble jumpers, and the threat of the triple being as potent as it is, on backdoor cuts, floaters, and straight-line drives to the rim, garnering maximum utility on each dribble. He was a blur.
Thompson's rise is part and parcel of the changing nature of the shot creation, and as a result, high-scoring performances. The seconds between the catch and the shot are deceptive, because the off-the-ball prelude is where many modern scorers truly shine. The chase for separation usually begins on one side of the arc and ends on the other, as Thompson has ran over 1.35 miles on offense this season, more than any other Warrior. En route, he rubs off the shoulders of screeners with clinical precision and with deft awareness, punishing cheaters by slipping back-door or modifying the endpoint. It's an art, not easily perfected, where each component can affect separation as much as any dribble move. Waste a second before getting squared up, and a possession's work of sprinting can go down the drain.
To his credit, Thompson hones one of the quickest shot releases in the game. Some players think about shooting before the ball touches their fingers. Thompson thinks about shooting before he brushes his teeth in the morning.
In a league, and on a team like the Warriors, brimming with players who love to dominate the ball, could there be any better gift than a player who could be termed as an off-ball shot creator? That is an important reason why the new-look Warriors work. Klay supported Kevin Durant's arrival, but also told reporters, "I'm not sacrificing sh-t." He's right, by the way. He took 17.3 shots last season. He is taking 17.3 shots this season. He provides, alongside more self-conscious stars like Curry and Draymond Green, who like to hold the ball but ease off the throttle in order to create for others, an important balance. He gets his quickly, allowing ample time for Durant and Curry to feel like they're involved.
While Golden State still has its wrinkles to figure out, evidenced by Curry's belief they aren't running enough pick and roll (read: plays that involve him), imagine how much worse it would be if Thompson needed the ball in his hands as well. Klay has a healthy 25.3 usage percentage, but while the stat has become a catch-all for ball domination, it only applies to him in the strictest sense of the definition: He ends possessions. He is last, though, among Golden State's core four, in touches per game, and in the time he possesses the ball. He leads the team in points per touch. At 21.3 points per game, he is accidentally unselfish.
Klay isn't a human highlight reel. He is best appreciated within the context of real time, because he requires so little of it thanks to his efficiency and off-ball shot creation in a league that used to encourage players to plod along and thump the ball at the top of the court.
Klay represents basketball at the edge of a new plane, and it is staggering. How far can you take the three? Pretty much anywhere.