Photo: Ryan Kang, Associated Press
DENVER — On the first day of the Warriors’ weeklong tour of China last month, sports agent Greg Lawrence was riding a bus from Shenzhen to nearby Hong Kong when his phone lit up with a text from his client, Klay Thompson: “Hey, I need a gym.”
Drained from a 14-hour flight, Lawrence and Golden State general manager Bob Myers shared puzzled glances after seeing the message. Most players were focused on getting over their jet lag and enjoying an off day in China. Thompson, a basketball junkie, was concerned about finding somewhere in Shenzhen to hoist jumpers.
“It’s like his drug,” Lawrence said. “I think he just kind of gets that itch, and he’s got to shoot right away.”
Perhaps more than any of his previous NBA offseasons, Thompson was diligent this past summer about getting up shots. Whether in Oakland, Los Angeles, the Bahamas or China, the three-time All-Star found gyms, seldom going more than a day or two without breaking a sweat.
Now, little more than two weeks into the regular season, Thompson is in midseason form. He is averaging 21.7 points per game on 53 percent shooting, including 46.4 percent from beyond the arc. In Thursday’s 112-92 win at San Antonio, Thompson drained five three-pointers and scored a game-high 27 points in 31 minutes. One of the league’s premier two-way players, Thompson has done all that in addition to consistently guarding one of the opponent’s top scorers.
“Klay is at his absolute peak for us right now,” Warriors head coach Steve Kerr said. “And it’s not just the shooting. The shooting is the byproduct of the other stuff. He’s defending, boxing out, taking care of the ball, making good decisions. Klay has been fantastic.”
In September 2016, a month after winning gold with Team USA at the Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, Thompson arrived at Golden State training camp pudgy and mentally fatigued. Through his first six games, a player considered arguably the best shooter in NBA history not named Stephen Curry averaged 15.8 points on 38.8 percent shooting (19.6 percent from three-point range).
Unlike the previous year, when his schedule was loaded with national team duties, Thompson had flexibility this past summer. He hired a personal chef to make him healthy meals. Following Kerr’s teamwide edict to “fill up your soul cup,” Thompson visited family in the Bahamas and relaxed on Southern California beaches.
To celebrate the 10-year, $80 million endorsement extension he had recently inked with Chinese sportswear brand Anta, he embarked in late June on a nine-day tour of China. Videos leaked of Thompson botching a 360-degree dunk, air-balling a three-pointer, losing an arm-wrestling match to a Chinese woman, hyping up a nightclub, popping Champagne, doing some sort of choreographed dance routine and nearly spitting out an apparently scalding-hot roll.
Lost in the social media phenomenon of #ChinaKlay: Wherever he was, Thompson worked out. Lawrence’s phone buzzed with texts asking him to help find Thompson courts in foreign locales. When Thompson visited Los Angeles-area beaches, he typically ran up hills of sand or sweated through calisthenics routines. In late August, video went viral of Thompson playing one-on-one with a puppy on the Lakers’ practice court.
“It was all about just not taking too much time off and staying in the gym,” Thompson said. “Having fun, blasting music while I shoot and appreciating being able to play basketball for a living.”
Thompson announced during the Warriors’ media day in late September that he hopes to make the ultra-exclusive 50-40-90 club this season. Considered the gold standard for shooters, only seven players who logged the minimum number of games — Curry, Larry Bird, Mark Price, Reggie Miller, Steve Nash, Dirk Nowitzki and Kevin Durant — have finished a regular season shooting at least 50 percent from the field, 40 percent from three-point range and 90 percent from the foul line.
Durant recorded the feat in 2013-14, when he won his MVP award, and Curry notched it in his unanimous MVP season of 2015-16. A catch-and-shoot maestro, Thompson has shot at least 40 percent from beyond the arc in all six of his NBA seasons. It will be trickier for him to finish this season shooting 50 percent from the field or 90 percent from the free-throw line, marks he has yet to reach.
Though the sample size is small, Thompson is on pace to set career highs in shooting percentage and three-point shooting percentage. His 83.3 percent clip from the foul line, two full points below his career average, needs significant work for him to join the 50-40-90 club.
“With Klay, it’s always about self-analyzing what he thinks he could do better,” Lawrence said. “It’s not necessarily about what his actual performance was. More than anything, the standard he holds himself to is perfection.”
After scoring 60 points in 29 minutes against Indiana last season, Thompson bemoaned the couple wide-open jumpers he missed. On June 12, while his friends and family celebrated Golden State’s NBA championship at his Oakland hills mansion, Thompson sneaked off to his room to watch video of his Game 5 performance.
He donated $69,000 to Wine Country wildfire relief efforts — $1,000 for each of the 69 points he scored in the Warriors’ recent three-game home-stand — then chipped in another $6,000. There were a few easy shots he missed.
Sometimes, late at night after games, he retreats to a local YMCA. Because when he gets the itch to shoot, he can’t help but scratch it.
“What can I say?” Thompson said. “I’m never satisfied.”
Field-goal percentage for Klay Thompson through nine games (79 for 149). His career high is 47.0 in
Three-point percentage for Klay Thompson through nine games (32 for 69).
His career high is 43.9 in
Who: Denver (4-4)
at Warriors (6-3)
When: 6 p.m.