The following is a guest post from Cole Patty. Cole writes for Hickory-High and HawksHoop of the ESPN TrueHoop Network. His dream is to one day run Rick Ross’ blog. -Ed.
There has been a fixation on scoring since basketball’s conception. There’s a simple reason for this: In the most basic sense, putting an orange ball through the orange ring is what really matters. As much as we like to put value to everything that happens in between the exchange of field goals, the game simply wouldn’t exist without scoring.
Even so, that fixation goes much deeper than face value. There is a unique quality to scoring that so easily grabs our attention. And as much as the process of collecting points is about athletic ability, it is, above all else, a craft. There are so many approaches to get the ball in the hoop that no two players are exactly alike. Much like a strand of DNA, while there are similar qualities from one to another’s scoring prowess, the end product is often vastly different. Two players can have the same exact spin move from the right block, but then one will finish with a thunderous slam over a defender while another fades away with a soft shot that is too high for even Larry Sanders to redirect.
Those basic similarities and end-result differences are apparent in one of the strongest objects of our point-scoring obsession, the jump-shot. While highlight dunks are the thunderous drums of the game, a smooth jumper is the bass-line, full of finesse and subtle shifts. Successful shooting prioritizes sleight-of-hand and artistry over brute strength. No two jumpers are alike, and the fact is that there never seems to be an agreed upon perfect shooting form. There are the simple building blocks — such as balance — that all good shooters exhibit when performing, but it remains that there are vast differences in the way Steph Curry shoots compared to the way Kyle Korver shoots the ball. Both are viewed as masters of the skill but can be seen as different houses of line of thinking in that very skill. The jump-shot is philosophical in a sense. Keys for the shooting school of Korver could throw off a Curryian’s complete line of thought, but in the end they both make sense.
The existence of more than one correct shooting form is catalytic to the thought that good shooters seemingly are born and not made. There are players who have corrected their previous failed attempts to consistently put the ball in the hoop, but they will never be the innate effortless scorers that prodigies nightly exhibit themselves to be. Even worse, some players will never get “it,” despite day-in and day-out efforts to improve the purest part of their game. Though the free throw is but a cousin of the jumper, we see this in players who are in the gym everyday shooting free throws with the hope that they might no longer be detrimental to the team by getting fouled, but seemingly never can grasp what it takes to improve. Some are born with the touch, and others will flail forever. Such is life in this imbalanced world.
The process of carpentry is another that takes sleight-of-hand. Some hands were made to carve beautiful sculptures out of a seemingly dull wooden log, and when they are truly talented, the process is just as appealing to the eye as the result. If one looks at an already constructed birdhouse, they will only get to witness a section of the true allure it contains. Once they get to see the full process of its construction, it opens up the true beauty to the beholder. The process ends up having as much impact as the result. And so can be the same when witnessing a person launch a deep ball when he possesses a real knack of the shooting craft.
Klay Thompson was born a shooter. His dad, Mychal, was the first overall pick in the 1978 NBA draft. Unlike his father, Klay didn’t have the size to play power forward and center in the NBA, but still had professional basketball ingrained into him from conception. In an interview with Mark Medina, Mychal answered a question about the way Klay would hone his jumper when he was young. The elder Thompson’s first words were “it came naturally.” Klay’s hands were those of a shooter long before he even touched a basketball, giving rise to an innate shooting form that dazzles the eye.
Up close, Klay Thompson’s jumper is pure art. It can capture a viewer, locking his or her gaze onto Klay for the rest of the evening after witnessing a few shots in pre-game warmups. Once the game begins, that focus is met by Klay’s infatuation with the bottom of the net. The final results of a game or a possession are where other players who specialize in less crafty fields shine, yet Thompson’s jumper is a process that must be seen to fully take in. The box-score is the final product of an NBA game, but like the carpenter, Klay’s process is just as pretty as his results. Gazing his stat-line from far away will never give you the full picture of who he is as a player.
Carpentry is becoming an extinct practice. With hand-crafted furniture creations going wayside to the robotic assembly line, people now have to acquire other, more in-demand skills. So is the way of progressing as a society. At one point, you could differentiate wooden rocking chairs by their subtlties. These differences allowed for a chair to be much more than what it is; it becomes rooted with a family and becomes irreplaceable. Now the only differences some see in chairs is just a name in a brand. It isn’t bad necessarily, but just an arm in the body of how society has changed in the way they view the world.
In that much simpler time, Klay Thompson would have been an urban legend. One whose jumper would be more and more pure with each retelling. The legend of the player would be passed down to younger generations, and his jump shot would be buried in basketball lore. The optic pleasure that is felt by his jumper would define him more than anything else, much like that particular rickety noise that makes the hand-crafted rocking chair unique in the crowd.
Just like the world is different in carpentry however, metrics have brought new angles to the scoring craft. What once was viewed almost completely intangibly now has statistical lines of thinking behind it. Terms like pure scorer have been rejected for numbers like true shooting percentage. Similar to the changes in carpentry, it isn’t bad, just different. The NBA community’s knowledge of the game has grown significantly since the inception, much like other fields of thought. The objectivity onlookers of the game now exhibit allows them to be braced from falling in love with certain flawed aspects that every urban legend tale exhibits.
This fact is the bane of Klay Thompson’s existence now. For there now is a presence of backlash that sheds light on the small exaggerations that exist when being engulfed by the romantic aspects of the game. The moment an individual gets snaked into the pure beauty of the stroke of his shot, it gets immediately repressed with a look at his middling 50.9% eFG% last year. Numerically, he is, if not a dime a dozen, then less rare than one might think. And this is an era where that dictates more of our perspective on a player than ever before. His effortless ability has conjured demons he now must chase down. Klay’s ability creates expectations that would crush the confidence of a man who wasn’t blessed with the talents he holds, and for that he wallows in a type of purgatory that is new for such an old-school breed.
Meet Klay Thompson. Authority on the aesthetic. Master craftsman. The Bygone Carpenter.