HomeBasketball TodayBasketball Wizard Klay Thompson Embraces Bench Role, Thanks to Manu Ginobili's Influence!

Basketball Wizard Klay Thompson Embraces Bench Role, Thanks to Manu Ginobili’s Influence!

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Remember Klay Thompson’s somber tone and sad smile as he recently discussed the realities of entering a different stage of his career? So much for that viral video contributing to his potential downfall with the Golden State Warriors. Less than two weeks later, Thompson seems more comfortable with the current state of his game than ever—even if it means starting games on the bench.

Golden State held on for a 140-137 victory over the Utah Jazz on Thursday night, entering the All-Star break on an 8-2 surge. The Dubs led by 18 points entering the fourth quarter, only leaving Salt Lake City with a win after Collin Sexton’s game-tying open look from deep clanged off the rim as time expired.

Vital to the Warriors building a big enough lead to avoid yet another late-game collapse following Wednesday’s dispiriting loss to the Los Angeles Clippers? Thompson exploding for a season-high 35 points against the Jazz while coming off the bench for the first time since he was a rookie.

After the game, the 34-year-old invoked San Antonio Spurs legend Manu Ginobili—a Hall-of-Famer and the most accomplished sixth man in NBA history—while explaining why he’s comfortable playing a reserve role.

“More importantly I realized I’m gonna play a lot of minutes. So you have to let the ego go when you think about coming off the bench,” Thompson said, per Shayna Rubin of The Mercury News. “I thought of Manu Ginobili, that guy has four rings and a gold medal and he came off the bench his whole career.”

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Is bench role what’s best for Klay Thompson, Warriors?

Golden State Warriors guard Klay Thompson (11) shoots as Utah Jazz forward Taylor Hendricks (0) defends during the second half at Delta Center.
Chris Nicoll-USA TODAY Sports

Thompson played 28 minutes off the pine for Golden State, finishing the game alongside Stephen Curry, Andrew Wiggins and Draymond Green as Brandin Podziemski and Jonathan Kuminga split minutes in crunch-time. The only mainstays in the Warriors’ closing lineup are Curry and Green.

Wiggins may have a leg up on Thompson, Podziemski and Kuminga due to his ability to guard quick opposing ball-handlers, but odds are they’ll all ride the pine with the game on the line at some point going forward. Another lineup dynamic inevitably at play once the Warriors return from the All-Star break? Podziemski remaining in Thompson’s typical place with the starters.

“I’ve been thinking about it,” Kerr said after the game of moving Thompson to the bench. “The lineup with Brandin out there with Wiggs, JK, Draymond, Steph has been by far our best lineup. BP connects the game, he rebounds, he does some things that really help the other guys.

“Doesn’t mean it’s permanent, but as I said I like that lineup with BP and the other four” he continued. “Klay coming off the bench gives us a lot of firepower. We’ll give it a look and we’ll see how it goes from there.”

Golden State’s new starting five boasts a dominant +32.1 net rating, per pbpstats.com. While a 96-minute sample size is hardly big enough to draw concrete conclusions, Podziemski’s natural feel as a passer, screener and rebounder makes him a more snug fit next to the Dubs’ entrenched starters than Thompson at this stage of the latter’s career. Podziemski’s pointed attempts to push the pace and create scoring opportunities in early offense aligns with the downhill styles of Wiggins and Kuminga, too.

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Slotting Thompson back in Podziemski’s spot next to the starters yields a +13.1 net rating for the Warriors—very good, but not quite dominant. As much as Podziemski connects the game on both ends for Curry, Wiggins, Kuminga and Green, inserting him as a starter is more about shifting Thompson to the bench.

Kuminga had played the role of second-unit alpha dog over the last couple weeks, proving not quite ready to be the clear focal point of Golden State’s offensive attack. Thompson, obviously, isn’t some pick-and-roll maestro or even a rock solid table-setter. But the threat of his jumper consistently draws two defenders to the ball, creating numbers advantages the Warriors’ reserve-heavy lineups need to manage efficient offense.

“That second group being allowed to play through him, getting him as many shots as we can, it worked wonders tonight,” Podziemski said. “When you see him rolling like that, especially as a point guard like myself, I just try to get him involved as many ways we can because he can make shots in a flurry.”

Thompson is simply more comfortable getting up shots from all over the floor than Kuminga, too. He also still has one of the hottest hands in basketball when he has it going, as evidenced by an 18-point third quarter in Salt Lake City. Why not let Thompson cook for extended stretches as his team’s top second-unit scoring option when Curry gets his rest in the late first and early third quarters?

That strategy paid off on Thursday, putting the Jazz in a deep hole on the scoreboard from which they couldn’t quite climb. Not every game that he begins on the bench will be sunshine and roses for Thompson. More tough shooting nights certainly await. No matter how this latest lineup change unfolds from here, though, rest assured that Thompson will remain bought in on the team-wide task at hand.

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“Klay’s a champion. He’s one of the most competitive people I’ve ever met,” Kerr said. “He responded accordingly and played a great, great game.”


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