For those living under a rock, cable free and off the grid, Warriors guard Klay Thompson scored an astonishing 60 points in 29 minutes of action against the troubled Indiana Pacers. To contextualize the feat, Rick Barry was the last Warrior to put such a show and that was in 1974 (per ESPN). It was also a near anniversary for Kobe Bryant’s 62 points (in three quarters) outburst from 2005.
The sixty-points-in-a-game club features some rare members - MJ, Wilt, Iverson, Bird - but only Thompson and Melo are the only current players - and Thompson did not play the full game. This shines a light on whether Thompson is being maximized on this superteam. While it sounds outlandish on the surface, this is also a team that coughed up a 3-1 lead in last seasons NBA Finals. The same team where this type of fast-breaking, slashing Thompson fails to be featured.
It’s quite clear Thompson could have gone for 80. In his postgame presser Thompson confidently made this case. Per ESPN analytics he was on a 100 point pace. In 2005, Kobe was asked what he would have accomplished in the fourth quarter of his 62-points-in-three-quarters-game and he confidently stated 80, only to put up 81 points two-weeks later.
Klay’s 60 Points (2016 v. Indiana Pacers) 21-33 Shooting 8-14 Three-point field goals 10-11 Free throws 29 Minutes played
Kobe’s 62 points (2005 - v. Dallas Mavericks) 18-31 Shooting 4-10 from three 22-25 from the line 33 minutes played
The Warriors tendency to turn Thompson into a second, if not third banana, is puzzling given his prowess on both ends of the floor. He is one of the League’s top defenders, who has had multiple coming-out parties on the scoring end. In 2015, he set a record against the Sacramento Kings with 37 points in a single quarter. Yet, playing on a team with the highly-vocal Draymond Green and human-highlight Steph Curry, Thompson becomes an afterthought.
More often than not, Thompson is the outside fill on a fast-break or the hockey-assist outlet pass when the defense collapses. He is not the feature so much as he is a spot-up three-point shooter or bailout option whose punishment for great production is to sprint to the defensive end and take on (often cross-matched) the opposing team’s toughest assignments.
Predictably the counterargument is to point to the Dub’s stellar record, whether 73-9 last season or leading the league to this point today. However, underutilizing a talent of Thompson’s proportions rears it’s damage in the unkindest of moments as witnessed in Game 7 of the 2016 Finals when Thompson shot zero free-throws on 35% shooting (6-17 FGs, 2-10 from three-point range).
Game 7 served as a prime example of a First-Team All-NBA talent at best being encouraged to spot-up (for more than half his shots) from beyond the arc, away from the action - a recipe for an epic collapse. Earning no free throws meant there were no aggressive moves to the basket, placing little pressure on the defense when compared to his abilities. This is the plight of Klay Thompson.
Perhaps the Bryant comparison is apt in that the Kobe-Shaq days raised the debate as to which superstar “owned” the team and the level of Bryant’s output if he were to step out of the facilitator role. In light of his Hall of Fame career, the answer on Bryant is clear while Thompson is hard to surmise.
Thompson is not a dazzling ballhandler and the Warriors are turnover prone. It’s hard to see him as a key playmaker - but make no mistake, he should be more of a playmaker. While he is a solid rebounder, he also focuses on the perimeter and is not likely to go coast to coast like Westbrook. A few short years ago, James Harden raised many “what if’s” with his prowess merely coming off the bench for Oklahoma City. Once unleashed as a primary playmaker in Houston he is atop the Association in scoring and assists, racking up an astonishing 10.7 free-throw attempts per game. There is every reason to believe Thompson fits or exceeds this mold if only the ball were in his hands.
When the Warriors brought Kevin Durant on-board this season, they gave him the spotlight in their sharing-is-caring offense. They have made every effort to put the ball in his hands and let him go to work - playmaking and devastating. They have let KD’s slashing prowess put undue levels of stress on opponents resulting in a parade of highlights or trips to the charity stripe. At the same time they have left lingering questions on Thompson’s role. A superstar acting as an otherwordly role player.
In a less than obvious way, the Warriors have exposed themselves to the same risks that sunk them in the NBA Finals last year, especially when it comes to poorly featuring Thompson - secretly their best, if not second best, weapon (re: props to KD).