THE OTHER “SPLASH BROTHER” PART II

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Updated: December 27, 2015

BESIDE NOT BEHIND:

THE OTHER “SPLASH BROTHER”

By Art George-Special to BASN

Thompson (290x290)

 

OAKLAND, CA-The high scoring tandem of Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson have been dubbed the “Splash Brothers” on the Golden State Warriors for the points they pour through the net.  Together, they have been the best three-point combination in NBA history in three consecutive record-breaking seasons. Curry has led the National Basketball Association in three-point scoring, with Thompson in second place for two of those years and third in another.  But it would be a mistake to see Thompson playing “behind” Curry; more correctly, he is playing beside Curry.

On some nights, his points even exceed those of Curry.  He is a record-breaker in his own right. On January 23, 2015 against the Sacramento Kings, with perfect shooting of 13 of 13 from the field and 9 of 9 from three-point land, he set two NBA records, for most points (37) scored in a quarter and most three-pointers in a single quarter.

A PROUD PAPA’S PRO

Shooting has always been his strength. Thompson was spotted as a talent early, but took time to develop, even with signature successes along the way, and with an athletic pedigree. His father Mychal played eight years for the Portland Trail Blazers, briefly for the San Antonio Spurs, and then five years within the Showtime-era Los Angeles Lakers which won titles in 1987 and 1988.  Julie Thompson, Mychal’s wife and Klay’s mother, played collegiate volleyball. Mychal Thompson remains a Lakers radio analyst and color commentator.

Mychal had faith in his son’s talents. By the time Klay was in sixth grade, according to the Dan Woike of the Orange County Register, Mychal was telling his wife that they had a pro athlete on their hands. She thought that her proud papa husband was pushing things.  By the time Klay was in ninth grade, Mychal told his son that he could be an NBA player.  “I knew it back then,” Mychal Thompson said. “I told him his basketball skills, his basketball I.Q. and how he could flat-out shoot the ball, I told him if he respects the game, respects his gifts and talents, stays humble and stays hungry, he can go as far as he wants to go.”

That ability to “flat-out shoot the ball” was the foundation of his game, with three-pointers always a part of his portfolio. Even as a sophomore in high school, he was the sixth man on the team, brought out to shoot the occasional three-pointer. “I was a role player. I was a sophomore on varsity. I was the sixth man. I came off the bench, knocked down some open 3s and played fundamental ball. That was my role,” Klay Thompson said. “It wasn’t that long ago.”

Warriors assistant coach for player development Jarron Collins said that Thompson has “a God-given talent to shoot the basketball. But, it was hard work and effort that got him to this point. We’re talking about someone who has improved every single year, and the growth in his game has led him to this moment.” His expanded skills as a defender, emphasized first under Mark Jackson and then Steve Kerr, and the increased shooting, particularly of his three-pointers, have been signs of that growth.

TRAINING TIME

Klay Thompson, Stephen Curry

Thompson has said that his jump shot began with his coach in middle school, a local doctor named Joseph Kaempf in Portland who was coaching his own sons’ team.  Kaempf stressed proper technique at close range. “I would say, ‘Shoot with good form close in and move out,'” Kaempf said. “Don’t shoot with bad form at 20 feet, shoot with good form at 3 feet.” Kaempf focused on getting the ball up above the forehead, extending the arms and keeping the hand spread, with the index and middle fingers making a “V.”

“Before every day in practice, we would shoot our jump shot over our head from just inside the key,” Thompson recalled. “And I swear that helped me develop my form. I kind of grew into my shot from that.”

That early foundation is still evident in Thompson’s shot.   Curry says Thompson gets into the shooting pocket quickly, rather than Curry’s own style of a fluid motion from bottom to top.  “He gets it here [up to his head] and once he gets it here, it’s over. I kind of am fluid from the time I bring it up to the shooting pocket and all the way through. Both work, obviously.”

Steph Curry learned a more fluid motion from his father, former NBA pro Dell Curry.  Dell Curry in his basketball camps emphasized the ability of getting the ball from the waist to shooting it over the head.  Steph Curry’s shot now is seemingly produced by his entire body, while Thompson’s relies more on his arms.  Coach Kerr says that Steph Curry’s shot is more rhythm-based: he likes to dribble into his shot, while Thompson is more comfortable just catching and shooting.  As Curry’s shot starts lower it goes up higher, and makes a more noticeable entry as it arcs into the net.  Curry’s splash thus seems to be bigger, but Thompson’s trey is worth the same three points.

Thompson’s training included Kobe Bryant’s summer camp at the University of California, Santa Barbara. As a senior in high school, Thompson averaged 21 points per game and led Santa Margarita Catholic to a 30–5 record and a Division III State Championship in which Thompson set a state finals record with seven 3-pointers in a game. He was named Division III State player of the year, League MVP, first-team Best in the West, and an EA Sports Second Team All American.

Despite these accomplishments, Thompson was not recruited by such premier basketball colleges close to his Southern California home as USC, UCLA, or Arizona.  Thompson believes there were expectations that because he was a player’s son, he was expected to an All-Star right away, and he admits he was somewhat of a late bloomer against those expectations. Instead he played at Washington State, away from the former Pac-10 spotlight. He believes it allowed him to develop into an NBA prospect without the scrutiny and pressure of more prestigious programs. He fears he might have been big-headed at a bigger program; he might also have been overwhelmed. At WSU, he was hungry, and determined to show the bigger programs that they had lost out by not selecting him.

He did start as a freshman at Washington State.  As a junior he led the former Pacific-10 in scoring. In the 2011-Pac-10 Tournament he set tournament records with 43 points and 8 three-pointers and finished the season by setting WSU’s single season scoring record with 733 points. He is WSU’s 3rd all-time leading scorer, and his 17.9 career scoring average is third in conference history.

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Late in Thompson’s rookie year, Golden State saw that he was good enough so that point guard Monta Ellis could be traded away to acquire center Andrew Bogut, and Curry could take over at the point with Thompson as shooting guard.  The deal was about acquiring a center and resolving the tension between Ellis and Curry, but Thompson provided the comfort level to fill the 2-guard spot.

As a Warrior, he credits deposed coach Mark Jackson with building his confidence. Jackson endlessly repeated that Curry and Thompson were the best shooting backcourt ever. Jackson tutored Thompson, showing tricks Jackson had learned as a player from former teammates in getting free for shots.  Jackson had Thompson believing that he was the best 2-guard in the NBA on both sides of the ball.

When Steve Kerr replaced Jackson, and trade talks with Minnesota created doubt over whether Thompson would continue as a Warrior, Kerr sent Thompson a text: “You’re not going anywhere. I can’t wait to have the opportunity to coach you.”Thompson was relieved that the team and his position stabilized under Kerr.   

 Klay Thompson’s father Mychal has set the standard of what Klay still has to prove. After Klay received a contract extension for four years and almost $70 million, Mychal advised that with a contract extension like that comes a lot of responsibility.  “Now you have to prove to people that you’re underpaid. That means showing up every night and playing at the highest level. Now you have to prove that you’re worth that.” That means being more than just the other guy.

 

Contact Artxgeorge@yahoo.com

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