As Mark Jackson pondered using his sharpshooting two-guard in a sparking reserve role, a training camp conversation among the Golden State Warriors’ coaches, Klay Thompson simply confirmed the selfless attitude permeating the locker room. With all the offensive options around him – Stephen Curry and David Lee, Harrison Barnes and Andre Iguodala – Thompson doesn’t gripe about shots or possessions, but instead pressures himself to make the most of all the ones he does receive.
As if Jackson needed reaffirming, Thompson proved the coach right: Some players ramble about winning, but Thompson embodied the Warriors’ desire in his allowance of experimenting with his role. He was an emerging scorer open to change, if it meant more wins. No big deal Coach, he’d say, I want to help.
Even when Jackson met with Thompson before the regular season started, telling him that he’d recapture his starting role alongside Curry, his response was subdued. He let out a shrug, a nod, and basically told the coach, “All right, cool.”
“As long as we win, it doesn’t matter to me,” Thompson told RealGM. “We’ve been winning, so starting’s been working. Coach told me, ‘I’m going to start you, and I expect big things.’ As long as I play, I’m cool with it.”
Play he has, leading the Warriors in minutes into the third month of the season, and the growth in scoring has only increased opponents’ fear in the duo of him and Curry. Thompson understands he was far too streaky in stretches of last season’s playoffs, so he’s become more effective out of the post, easefully shooting over smaller defenders, and his jumper is still picture perfect.
Thompson has carried a responsibility of defending teams’ best perimeter player, but Iguodala’s presence is forming the difference everywhere around the Warriors. Iguodala alleviates ball handling on Curry, the guarding burden on Thompson, and supplies the instinctive know-how crafted in his 10 NBA seasons.
Bob Myers, Joe Lacob and Kirk Lacob have built a deep, sturdy roster full of shot creators, playmakers and willing defenders. Kent Bazemore, for one, would be a prospect able to receive significant minutes and play through mistakes within most franchises. In Curry and Lee, Jackson sees deserving All-Stars, and it’s hard to argue. Most of all, from the Andrew Bogut trade two years ago to signing Iguodala, the Warriors have brought players who fit the program. No charades with them.
“I said from day one: you have to find guys that want to win. Not just say they want to win, but truly care about winning,” Jackson says. “We keep those guys, and the guys that don’t truly care, this ain’t the place for them. We’ve been fortunate to pick the right guys.”
Thompson had been highly sought in the 2011 NBA Draft, and the Warriors amazingly weren’t forced to trade up out of their No. 11 pick and prioritized his selection. He’ll be a prized free agent in 2015 should he reach that stage, but it is clear he’s remained deeply invested in the organization’s improvement.
“I love Oakland, love this team and love the Bay Area,” Thompson told RealGM. “It’s a great area, it’s beautiful, and one of the coolest parts in the country. Best fans in the NBA.”
In Thompson’s mind, no succinct moment stood out from the Warriors’ playoff series against the Denver Nuggets last April, but he knowingly smiled about the excitement he and teammates felt about Iguodala’s arrival. Iguodala won’t shoot over 48 percent from three-point range all season, but his ability to smoothen both ends of the court makes him someone Golden State can’t live without now.
“Andre makes it easier for everybody, and he’s a great facilitator,” Thompson said. “He is one of the best on-ball defenders in the NBA. He was just attracted to us, our style of play and our coaching. No recruiting – it sort of sorted itself out.”
Through the most consecutive victories (10) since 1975-76, Jackson believes the results were a direct result of rediscovering the defensive mindset they’d locked into as last season wore on. The dazzling shooting of Curry and Thompson gives them a highlight reel aspect to every game, but Jackson knows turnovers have been a team-wide issue that needs correction and defensive let ups can produce slippage in discipline.
The sit down between Thompson and Jackson before the season cemented his starting role and once more the coach’s faith in his commitment. Not every 23-year-old rising star accepts his role being teetered. Astute and understanding, Klay Thompson held a calm demeanor as coaches debated the best course of action in camp, displaying exactly the type of self-starting and ego sacrifice the Warriors now integrate within their culture.