Klay Thompson should be Gradey Dick’s North Star

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TORONTO — Stephen Curry gets all the attention, and deservedly so. He has been the engine of the Golden State Warriors’ beautiful machine for a largely fantastic decade, and he is the one of the team’s three forever-linked stars still performing near his peak level. All these years later, it is incredible watching him drill stepback 3s in the faces of helpless defenders. On a nightly basis, this is still vintage stuff.

Not so for Klay Thompson, Curry’s fellow Splash Brother, which he has spoken about candidly. Except for the results, however, so much still seems similar. In the first quarter of his team’s 120-105 win against the Toronto Raptors, he chased down a pass thrown ahead of him into the corner, somehow got balanced in a blink and rose up with one of the quickest, most compact motions you will ever see. It looked like something from June 13, 2019, the night the Raptors won the title and Thompson’s career changed forever when he tore the anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee in the third quarter. Before the injury, it looked like Thompson was going to be a huge part in forcing that series to seven games, with 30 points in 32 minutes.

On Friday, Thompson missed that shot in the corner, because that’s just how it is going for him this year. It was a beautiful sight, save for the lack of a swish. He wound up hitting four of his nine 3s for 14 points.

“He’s definitely elite in that regard,” Raptors coach Darko Rajaković said before the game. “I used to watch a lot of his film (with dribble handoff) situations when he’s just using the smallest window for an opportunity. For switching, he has his counters. If you’re not switching, he has his counters. And he exactly knows at every point of time what he’s doing. And the other thing that he does elite is every shot, he’s on such great balance. He has such a good form on his shot that it’s just really fun to study for players and for coaches.”

There was a bit of Spiderman meme stuff going on, then, when the ball was pumped to Raptors rookie Gradey Dick along the sideline in the second quarter. Thompson was guarding the rookie shooter, and Dick offered him a shot fake. Thompson wasn’t fooled. Dick sidestepped, Thompson moved with him, and Dick missed a 3 short. A win for the 34-year-old future Hall of Famer, back in the starting lineup at least for one night because of an injury to Brandin Podziemski.

The Raptors picked Dick with the 13th selection of last June’s NBA Draft, and he has developed into an important piece for the future alongside Scottie Barnes, who broke a bone in his left hand in the second quarter and is out indefinitely. Dick has progressed well since a rough start. He hit a 3 in transition, a good few feet behind the arc, in the second quarter, giving him at least one make from deep in 11 straight games. Since January 17, he is shooting 46.6 percent from 3-point range. He had 12 points against the Warriors, hitting two of his six 3s.

“Gradey’s got a nice jump shot — a really nice shot,” Thompson said after the game.

Thompson, of course, was nearly as good defensively as he was offensively in his prime, part of what allowed the Warriors to excel. Dick has already worked to get to passable and will have to work harder to get to positive status on that end. He is just 20, and the trends have been good.

A lot of that will come down to strength, and that has also been what has helped Thompson’s shot.

There are intricacies to absorb, too. Warriors coach Steve Kerr noted how Curry and Thompson were always near the league lead in distance travelled per game because of how much they moved when they didn’t have the ball. Thompson’s signature single-game achievement (in the regular season, at least) might have been when he scored 60 points in a game in which he dribbled just 11 times.

In speaking about his evolution, Thompson mentioned how lucky he was to end up playing next to Curry, one of the only players in the world who has more gravitational pull than he does, as well as great passers such as Draymond Green and Andrew Bogut before him. Not everyone is that lucky, although in playing with Barnes and Kelly Olynyk, Dick has some gifted passers to work off As Dick surely watches the likes of Thompson, Thompson mentioned studying Reggie Miller and Ray Allen coming off pindown screens.

“Although I can handle the ball, my real objective with this team is to move and be a space creator and cut,” Thompson said. “I always use a famous Kevin McHale quote. He just says, ‘Just go where they ain’t.’ And that’s how simple it is as a shooter. Just go where the defence allows you to. And if you don’t get a shot, someone else will.”

Not everyone is fortunate to land in Thompson’s situation. In Thompson, Dick has an example of how to make the most of your circumstances, maximizing your potential.

Notes

• Barnes is out indefinitely with a broken bone in the third metacarpal bone of his left hand. He suffered it when he was trying to defend a play at the rim and is out indefinitely, according to the Raptors. Realistically, it’s possible Barnes won’t play again this season. If this is it, he had four pretty cool possessions in a row in his final quarter of the year: a short turnaround jumper over two defenders, a lefty layup with the shot clock expiring, a bullet cross-court pass to Dick for an open 3 (miss), a another pinpoint pass to Olynyk, who made the shot, after reading a double-team in the post correctly. Textbook stuff.

• Immanuel Quickley turned the ball over twice because of the intense pressure Moses Moody was applying. That is something he has to get used to as a co-lead ballhandler.

• The Raptors filled their remaining open roster spot Friday by converting the contract of 2-way player Javon Freeman-Liberty into a standard NBA contract. Per The Athletic’s Shams Charania, it is a two-year contract, although it would be surprising if the second year is fully guaranteed. Freeman-Liberty is fourth in the G League in scoring, averaging 24 points per game, in addition to 6.9 rebounds and 4.3 assists. He has played just four minutes in two games for the Raptors, although Rajaković said he hopes to get him more playing time as the season winds down.

• Kerr, who made news earlier in the night, called a second timeout in the first quarter after just two possessions, a botched play and a 3 in transition from RJ Barrett. Kerr then lit into Jonathan Kuminga on the sideline. Kerr later said the Warriors had botched their after-timeout play. The Warriors didn’t get into Toronto until after 7 a.m. Friday because of delays on the tarmac and mechanical issues with their plane. Kerr said the Warriors’ early lethargy was understandable, but he couldn’t risk it lasting longer than the game’s first six or seven minutes, so he burned the second timeout.

Meanwhile, I’ve never related more to an NBA player than hearing Thompson speak about sleeping from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m.

“(Seven hours) is good enough. That’s good enough,” Thompson said. “You want eight, but sometimes you’ve got to do whatever’s necessary.”

Personally, I want nine and a half, but I hear Klay.

(Photo of Gradey Dick: John E. Sokolowski / USA Today)





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Alexandra Williams
Alexandra Williams
Alexandra Williams is a writer and editor. Angeles. She writes about politics, art, and culture for LinkDaddy News.

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