OAKLAND -- Mark Jackson is at it again with the bold predictions, and Klay Thompson is the subject.
"He's a top-five (shooting) guard in this league," Jackson says, "and I'm being respectful."
Read: The Warriors coach believes Thompson is in the top of that small company but doesn't want to disrespect the bigger names. Sounds crazy, right? Thompson in the elite class with All-Stars Kobe Bryant, Dwyane Wade, James Harden and Joe Johnson. But judging by the data, and by the eye test, Jackson doesn't seem off base.
Thompson, who leads the league in 3-pointers made, has been the Warriors' most explosive and consistent player. He ranks in the top 20 in scoring (20.9) and field-goal percentage (.552), and only three other players -- LeBron James, Blake Griffin and Brook Lopez -- can make that claim. When Thompson is on the court, the Warriors produce 130.8 points every 100 possessions. That's higher offensive production than James, Chris Paul, Kevin Durant and Kevin Love.
Thompson no longer is just a spot-up shooter but arguably the Warriors' most potent weapon. He has developed a few go-to moves, including the one-foot fadeaway. He's more adept at getting to the basket and is finishing at a rate (73.9 percent) that's eliminated the term #klayups.
His teammates say it is a sign of maturity.
"He's playing smarter this year," Stephen Curry said. "He's taking good shots and working through the offense. When he does that, he's great. We know how great of a shooter he is. He's underrated with his playmaking. ... It's fun to watch, and I feel like its going to be around all year."
Thompson is avoiding the bad shots that contributed to his shooting 42.2 percent from the field last season. Improved defense has fueled the Warriors' transition game, which is where Thompson does plenty of damage. Curry said he makes sure to look for Thompson on fast breaks.
Even in the half-court set, Thompson has gotten better at picking his spots. It helps that he has an advocate. Swingman Andre Iguodala implores Thompson to remain patient and promises to feed him.
"We have a lot of options," Iguodala said. "Guys can get it going, and you might find yourself without a touch for a few minutes. ... You can get into press mode where you're forcing shots when you don't know when your next touch is going to come. But I'm letting him know, 'Stay patient because I'm going to find you.' I'm going to make sure he eats."
While Thompson's offensive production has been key, it's not solely why Jackson is dubbing him an elite shooting guard. Thompson also has the difficult task of defending the opponent's best guard.
Thompson has become a viable man-to-man defender, with the versatility to defend all three perimeter positions. His assignment usually is to harass star point guards. You could argue, as Jackson does, that no player at his position is contributing on both ends like Thompson.
"He's a better player," Jackson said. "He's a better defender, better pick-and-roll basketball player, a better decision maker and overall just a better player -- no question about that. ... (What he does on) both sides of the court puts him in a different class."
Warriors (7-3) at Utah (1-10), 6 p.m. CSNBA