How does Klay Thompson fit with the Mavericks? It's not complicated (2024)

Since Luka Dončić entered the NBA as a babyfaced 19-year-old wunderkind, no player in the league has created more 3-pointers for his teammates.

Dončić has thrown almost 4,200 passes that have led to attempted 3-pointers, which have resulted in 1,573 made shots. He’s delivered them with two hands or one, whipped across the court in a bullet or slung behind his back on the bounce. They’ve arrived with his eyes never making contact with his target or his body already sprawled onto the floor. They’ve been indiscriminately entrusted to some teammates who are among the league’s best shooters and others who aren’t, even to 20-year-old rookies in the NBA Finals without a single career make.

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But Dončić has never been able to throw them to Klay Thompson until now.

So no, there’s nothing complicated about how Thompson, who has the sixth most made 3s in the league’s history, will fit into the Dallas Mavericks offense. He just has to raise his hands.

The Mavericks’ front office watched in pain as the team’s NBA Finals run ended in defeat to the Boston Celtics last month with an agonizing shooting display across the roster. That performance included erratic long-distance launches from Dončić and Kyrie Irving, but the subpar performances from the role players were more worrisome. Dallas’ non-stars made only 20 above-the-break 3s in the NBA Finals, and half of those makes came in the team’s lone Game 4 win. Boston’s brilliant defense diligently guarded the corners but often ignored those role players when they ventured above the break. Dallas’ 25.6-percent conversion rate on those shots justified the Celtics’ gambit and made life harder for Dončić and Irving. It was the offense that stole Dallas’ chance for glory.

It led to the front office setting out to refresh the team’s roster this summer, which it undeniably did. What effect it’ll have on the team’s defense and overall ceiling remains to be seen, but the Mavericks have replenished their shooting talent around the league’s best 3-point shot creator. Derrick Jones Jr. was replaced by Naji Marshall, who’s coming off the best 3-point shooting season of his career (39.1 percent). Jones averaged 3.0 attempts from 3 every 36 minutes prior to arriving in Dallas; Marshall averages 4.5 for his career without the luxury of Dončić’s passes. Josh Green was replaced by Quentin Grimes, who averages almost eight launches every 36 minutes with a career conversion rate of 37.1 percent. Those moves alone would have tilted Dallas’ shooting back toward the league’s upper echelon, where it has typically dwelled during the Dončić era.

It’s one thing to add reliable shooters like Marshall or even high-volume ones like Grimes. It’s another thing entirely to add arguably the best catch-and-shoot player of this NBA era.

GO DEEPERInside the meeting that sealed Klay Thompson's exit and why he chose Dallas over L.A.

The Warriors offense from which Thompson is arriving is different than the Mavericks’ Dončić-led pick-and-roll attack. Golden State’s motion offense often looks like whirlpools, with two- or three-man actions happening away from the ball and sometimes on both sides of the court at once. According to Second Spectrum, Thompson used off-ball screens to create shots 404 times last season, 111 more times than former teammate Steph Curry, who was second in that metric. Overall, the Warriors ended 11.3 percent of their possessions via an off-ball screen; the league average was less than 4 percent.

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Dallas could include more of those actions in its offense, which could also benefit Irving’s evolution into a threatening off-ball player in addition to his on-ball wizardry. But doing that would require more frequency, not invention. Dallas had installed similar actions for Tim Hardaway Jr. that Thompson can duplicate with even more lethality.

Dallas will also turn those off-ball cuts which Thompson is accustomed to into on-ball screens that Dončić can use to create open shots in his own manner. Often, Thompson can be accompanied by a screening big man to make life harder for defenders. It was the following action — a stack pick-and-roll involving two screeners — that Dallas used repeatedly in its conference finals victory against the Minnesota Timberwolves. In this example, the Timberwolves fail to prevent this play at a critical juncture of the fourth quarter from turning into a dunk despite leaving the second screener wide open above the arc.

Even if another team plays it better, it’s easy to imagine the chaos that comes from Thompson being the initial screener rather than Green or Derrick Jones Jr. It’s hard enough to account for a regular Dončić pick-and-roll, but it becomes even more difficult when Thompson darting out to the 3-point line sets off the same alarm bells as a center rolling free to the rim.

Thompson will shoot 3s on sets like that when Dončić recognizes he’s slipped out to the 3-point line before defenders do. He’ll shoot lightning-quick catch-and-shoot 3s, too. He’ll shoot them in transition due to Dallas’ increased tempo, which the team ratcheted up to seventh in the league during the regular season. He’ll shoot some he shouldn’t, and they still might go in. He’ll shoot them from every conceivable spot on the floor, and he’ll definitely shoot those above-the-break 3s that Dallas couldn’t make in the finals. He might shoot so many that he threatens Curry’s frequency record of 13.5 3s per 36 minutes, set in the 2020-21 season.

Creating 3s is what Dončić has always done for his teammates, and shooting them is what Dallas signed Thompson to do.

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Whether Dallas has improved as a team will depend on the other end, where the 34-year-old Thompson must find defensive rejuvenation after his two major leg injuries. At least one of him, Dončić and Irving must guard talented perimeter players to begin every game. Whether Thompson accepts he might not always finish them, or whether Dallas’ potential solutions off the bench warrant closing games over Thompson, is what really might determine how successful this move is.

But Dallas has accepted Thompson for who he is, an older player no longer at his peak, because the team knew its roster had a flaw that needed fixing. And there’s no doubt — none whatsoever — that Thompson can solve that.

(Top photo: Justin Ford / Getty Images)

How does Klay Thompson fit with the Mavericks? It's not complicated (2)How does Klay Thompson fit with the Mavericks? It's not complicated (3)

Tim Cato is a staff writer at The Athletic covering the Dallas Mavericks. Previously, he wrote for SB Nation. Follow Tim on Twitter @tim_cato

How does Klay Thompson fit with the Mavericks? It's not complicated (2024)
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