OAKLAND – Former Warriors coach Mark Jackson had a pet phrase he would use to describe Klay Thompson’s approach to basketball and, in some ways, life in general.
“Klay is not low maintenance,” Jackson would say. “He is no maintenance.”
That statement has never been truer than now, some 29 months after Jackson was dismissed and replaced by Steve Kerr, whose arrival accelerated the rise of the Warriors from upstart contender to championship level.
Thompson is off to a fabulous start in part because he is the starter who needs the least. Stephen Curry, as a point guard, needs the ball in his hands. Kevin Durant and Zaza Pachulia are veterans that need to assimilate to a new team. Draymond Green needs an audience.
Thompson, entering his sixth season, doesn’t need any of that. And, in a nod to his much-publicized quote in the offseason, he doesn’t need to sacrifice. He is the closest thing in the NBA to a wind-up-and-let-go All-Star.
“Klay’s a special, special player,” team consultant Steve Nash said Tuesday. “He’s a quiet guy. He doesn’t have any flash to his game – other than shooting like no one else. He doesn’t handle the ball or make fancy passes, the way others have in the past.
“But his effectiveness, the impact he has on a defense just by being on the floor, his ability to guard . . . he’s been the best player, I think, the first week or so of camp.”
Thompson scored 19 points in the preseason opener against Toronto last Saturday in Vancouver and poured in 30 in the preseason home opener against the Clippers on Tuesday night at Oracle Arena. He has made 15-of-27 from the field, 10-of-20 from beyond the arc.
And it all appears to be coming so, well, easy.
“It’s a lot of practice; I practice these shots every day,” Thompson said. “It’s mostly all movement, though. I’ll get some catch-and-shoot shots, standing still, but I try to use my teammates as much as possible.
“No one’s going to want to help off Steph Curry or Kevin Durant, so it’s easy for me to use my teammates to get open.”
On the surface it’s seems so ordinary: Get open, catch ball, shoot and get 3 points. Thompson is in constant motion, but it’s never wasted.
After watching tape of Thompson’s game against Toronto in Vancouver, the Warriors realized he somehow put up 13 shots while taking only four dribbles. That’s Ray Allen territory. That’s Reggie Miller territory.
“Klay has probably the least amount of transition to make with this new group,” Kerr said. “Klay plays the way he plays.
“The beauty of Klay’s game is it’s so much easier to play offense when you’ve got guys who don’t need to dribble. “He’s going to catch and shoot. He’s not going to hesitate. But it keeps the offense going. If you have too many guys who want to dribble and put the ball on the deck, it can bog down.”
Meanwhile, Thompson generally draws the defensive assignment against the opponent’s most explosive guard, be that player at the point or at shooting guard. With so much energy being spent at both ends, there is no real time to rest.
“He’s so good at shooting the ball and defending,” Nash said, “that, he’s just such an unbelievable player to have at what you’d kind of call a sidekick.”
Thompson is an old sidekick of Curry, the back-to-back MVP. He’s a new sidekick to Durant, the four-time scoring champion. Not that it matters to Thompson.
Just give the time and place of the game and a little bit of space on the court, he’ll take it from there.
Which is, indeed, a notch below low-maintenance.