OAKLAND — Giggling at his corner locker, 11-year NBA veteran Richard Jefferson was explaining to a member of the Golden State Warriors’ staff that he should hit up Klay Thompson for donations.
Jefferson’s argument was that Thompson, the former Washington State star, will soon be making a lot of money in the NBA. Even more than Jefferson, who is currently in a four-year deal worth almost $40 million.
Growing evidence shows Jefferson may be right.
Thompson will be part of today’s Rising Stars Challenge in Houston at the NBA’s All-Star weekend. Former Washington star Isaiah Thomas is also in the game.
Thompson has been a starter for the resurgent Warriors (30-22) all season, his second in the NBA. He’s averaging 16.4 points per game, up from 12.5 his rookie season. The Warriors like to use Thompson as part of a three-guard lineup, along with Stephen Curry and Harrison Barnes.
Thompson’s reliability as a scorer has prompted an edict from Golden State coach Mark Jackson: shoot more. Thompson puts up an average of 14.5 shots per game.
In one Warriors game this season, Thompson dumped the ball down to teammate Festus Ezeli in the post late in the game. Jackson would have preferred that Thompson take the shot.
Although Jackson has fielded questions asking if Thompson is shooting too much, he said that’s a ludicrous notion. He even guards against thinking that himself.
“If it’s me, tell me to stop” Jackson said.
Thompson went through a 66-game gauntlet following the lockout his rookie season and was voted to the league’s All-Rookie team. Last summer, he spent time with Team USA on the select team, where he was one of 13 young NBA players picked to train against the U.S. national team in Las Vegas for a week.
“I saw how the best players in the world prepare themselves for one of the biggest stages,” Thompson said. “I learned a lot from them.”
Thompson left many teammates impressed during that week. New Jersey Nets guard Deron Williams came to a rapid realization and delivered it in the most basic of ways.
“He can shoot the crap out of the ball,” Williams told the San Francisco Chronicle.
The 6-foot-7 Thompson, a lifelong scorer, often finds himself in a compromising position playing defense in the Warriors’ smaller lineup; he has to tangle with larger opponents in the post. But Jackson said Thompson has become adept.
“Right now, he’s a very good post defender,” Jackson said. “We saw it against Rudy Gay. Rudy Gay is 6-10 and can post up and he didn’t hurt us when we went to the three-guard lineup. Klay’s size, his length (his) athletic ability (put) him in position to guard small forwards.”
Part of Thompson’s extensive summer work in Oakland – he decided to stay there during much of his off time after last season – included closeout drills among other defensive tactics. He said the Warriors run a defensive system similar to that of former Washington State coach Tony Bennett, who recruited him to the Palouse.
That’s not the only thing that sticks with him from his college days. An arrest for investigation of marijuana possession in March 2011 made big news in Pullman and humbled Thompson in many ways. He delivered a public apology to Cougars fans and was eviscerated publicly by his father and former No. 1 draft pick, Mychal Thompson.
The incident still resonates with Klay.
“I grew a lot from that actually and learned a lot about myself,” he said. “Learned if I want to reach my potential I have to live a clean lifestyle.”
To Jackson, the ceiling for Thompson’s play is high.
“His future is very bright,” Jackson said. “Very, very bright.”
So much so, Jefferson knows who to hit up for a loan in the future.