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Q&A: Klay Thompson on his rise to stardom

AP Photo/Brandon Dill

Months after rumors that he might be traded for All-Star Kevin Love, Klay Thompson looks like an All-Star. The Golden State Warriors are off to their best start in franchise history, and Thompson’s improvement is a big part of that.

The 24-year-old shooting guard, now in his fourth NBA season, is still finding new ways to leverage his elite shooting, making it a foundation rather than a meal ticket. He's also investing more in the region after signing a four-year extension worth about $70 million, donating $20,000 to Oakland for a Thanksgiving meal drive in November.

On a rainy day in San Mateo, California, he’s heading up a toy drive for the Good Tidings Foundation, buying presents and taking questions.

Q: I'll be straight-up honest with you: I didn't see this coming from you this year. Do you feel like people were overlooking your potential?

Thompson: Absolutely. One hundred percent. I knew I had the ability. Because I honestly think my ballhandling and my plays out of the pick-and-roll ... I did it a lot better than people give me credit for. But you look at my numbers on a face value and, "oh, he only averaged two assists a game." But this year I'll be able to be in the pick-and-roll a lot more. I think people underestimate my first step too. I think I might not be the best vertical athlete, but I think I'm quicker than people give me credit for. That was the biggest knock on me coming out of college. "Oh, is he athletic enough to succeed on the next level?" I knew I was, but I knew it was going to take time and I looked at my stats and every year they got incrementally better.

Averaging a block a game this season [technically, 0.9] -- that's pretty athletic.

Yeah, that's good timing too. Yeah, I got length on these guards too, so people look at your vertical and your testing scores. Man, game athleticism is different. Look at Paul Pierce. Test him in the combine, he's average. But you put him in the game, Paul Pierce has a great first step. I was shocked when I played him my rookie year.

His footwork is ridiculous.

Yeah, doughy guy, quicker than I ever thought he would be. Andre Miller. Andre Miller's shifty too, he's 37. It's guys like that, it's a different kind of athleticism.

Do you feel like you validated the choice on you or Kevin Love? Don't be politically correct!

I won't be politically correct. Shoot, I knew. If I got traded I was like, "Oh, well. I'ma prove 'em wrong." That's my attitude. I knew how good we could be, man. Why would you want to mess up the best backcourt in the league. We got great chemistry. I mean, we didn't have Andrew Bogut last year and we took a great Clippers team to seven games. So I was like, "We're right there, we just need a little more." And the additions we had? I was like, "No, we better not mess this up." So I don't think I validated it yet. I think it's still early, we're only 25 games in. I'm excited, we had a great start. I knew my worth. I knew I could be one of the best 2-guards in the league. I'm not going to be bashful about it anymore.

That's what's been interesting to me. I'm seeing you talk like that more. I remember you earlier this season, you said, "And we have championship aspirations. I know people might not think that, but we really do." I was like, "I'm not used to Klay talking like that."

Yeah, my dad told me, "Klay you gotta be bold, man. Shoot, Magic Johnson, Larry Bird knew how good they were. And if they weren't they'd tell it to you." So he's like, "You gotta be bold and you gotta believe that you're the best," and I'm like, "Dad's right. 'Everything I told you, Klay, is coming to truth.'" He told me in high school I had a $100 million jump shot. I was like, "Ha! Don't joke!"

You're going to get there.

Almost, right? He still reminds me of that to this day.

So you feel it was almost a process of almost embracing what you have and getting bolder?

Yeah. It was more, just to embrace that. Like you said, it's probably getting a little bolder. It's more fun. It adds juice to the game like that. You got to be humble but at the same time ...

No you don't. I think that's the big lie they say about athletes. "You gotta be humble! Oh, he's so humble." You guys are humble to us. But not for real humble.

Yeah, yeah. You know your ability.

Best in the world, you're not going to be humble.

Yeah, yeah. You didn't get here being humble. That's for dang sure.

Steph's not humble.

Look at the way he plays. Is that humble?

No, no.

No humble man can take those shots.

No humble man would. Looking back on it, he always said he was going to be in the NBA at that frame. You'd have to have some sort of image of grandeur to think that.

Definitely. He gotta put on a front to the media, he got to.

Yeah. Well, I think you can embrace it a bit. I think things are changing. I think people like that NBA players are, well, you were a big Kobe fan. Is Kobe humble, you know?

God no. Oh my gosh. He wouldn't be here if he was. Michael Jordan wasn't. Wilt Chamberlain wasn't. I mean they're humble to their fans, you know what I'm sayin'. But on the court? When you want to win? Oh, man.

You just don't want to get caught up in the media cycle where it's, "He thinks he's better than that guy!"

Yeah, yeah. I know, right? That's the truth. That’s the truth. But playing this summer, I knew I was good enough to be on Team USA and saw a lot of stuff like, "Klay, are you sure you're going to make it?" I laughed at people like, "100 percent, I'm going to make that team."

Coaches like you. Coach K was singing your praises. All the assistants, despite what went down last year in that situation, that was one thing the assistants could agree on. Everybody loved you. What is it about what you do? Is it that you execute that scouting report?

I think I just like to compete, and they respect that. You know, I've been blessed. [Knocks on table] Not missing games, miss one game due to injury in my career and that even hurt me to miss that game, but I just love to get out there and compete, both ends of the ball, and I don't think I'm afraid to take the big shot. If I'm 2-for-15, I'm not afraid to take that shot, make it 3-for-16.

You and Steph obviously have a good relationship, but is it ever hard to share the spotlight at all?

Nah. We're 22-3, I don't care. The spotlight will come.

Was it tempting at all to be the man in Minnesota?

You can be the guy, be the All-Star and miss the playoffs for six years.

And then be blamed for it.

Yeah, you know? So it's like, "That was not tempting to me." I know to win a championship, you're not going to do it alone. You're going to have to have a great supporting cast. For me, it's not tough for me to share the spotlight with Steph. I know how good he is, and I benefit off playing with him so much that he makes me better and I think I make him better. So for me, it's easy for me to let him do his thing. That's why we're here. I mean, we could probably be a ... in my mind, we'd probably be a top-10 team without him. But with him, I feel like we're the best team. That's why he should be the MVP. That's why he's been so good for us.

This year, is there anything Steve [Kerr] and the assistant coaches, any major thing they've helped you improve on?

Getting to the free throw line. They're like, "Klay, you don't gotta play the game." Use that pump fake, and try and jump into the defenders as much as possible.

You had one of those [Thursday] night with Steven Adams. You coulda got him.

Yeah, I know. They showed me that at halftime too. They're like, "Klay, you got to do this."

Then again, it's easier said than done. "Hey, have a 7-footer land on you!"

Yeah, at the same time, that's three easy free throws. So they've helped me in that aspect. And Steve wants me to have the ball a lot more. And I really appreciate him for that. Because I feel like my ballhandling's not that bad. So I really appreciate that, how they want me to make plays out of ball screens.

What are your favorite sets?

The single-double, any time I can get a quick curl, that's always my favorite. Or just a high ball screen, anything with a lot of movement. That weave play's good for us. I'm giving you all our secrets, man.

Well, you run that weave play every game. Like, we all see that. And people like it too because it looks pretty. It's like when you guys started doing elevator doors, people saw that. OKC crashed that [Thursday] night, though.

They did, they did. Ah, I shoulda gone to the free throw line, though. I got 'em once when I got him in the air, but I didn't jump into him.

You guys haven't had a lot of time to put stuff in. Steve's going to punish you this weekend, right?

We'll see. We're in such a good flow right now. I thought we were going to be a good team, one of the top five teams, but man, I didn't know how good we'd be, 22-3 25 games in, so it's been a great surprise for us. I truly believe we're the best team in the NBA.

Is this the most fun you've had playing basketball in your career? A lot of guys say college.

Nah, this is. Because, you go to Oracle every night, there's 20,000 people there. It doesn't matter if you're playing the 76ers or the Cleveland Cavaliers.

I was there in New Orleans. You had more Warriors fans there than Pelicans fans.

It's the most fun I've had playing basketball. The fact that we're building a national fan base around the country is really cool to me.

You've got this rep of being shy. How do you feel about being famous? Do you feel like there are some drawbacks? Does it come naturally?

Well, I'm like, the perfect level of fame. I can't imagine Steph, man.

Were you there when [Andrew] Bogut was tweeting about somebody demanding that [Curry] take a picture with them?

No. The only things that bother me ... I don't mind at all taking pictures with people. Just when you're eating. Definitely when you're done with dinner, that's completely fine. But if you're with your family, you're busy sitting down. But after, that's completely fine. But nah, my fame right now is perfect. I'm big in the Bay. I go back home, it's like some people recognize me, but I'm not LeBron James. I can't imagine what it's like to be LeBron or KD. I just look like a tall guy. Those guys stand out because they're so big.

Andrew [Bogut], I feel like he doesn't like it because he's just so tall.

He's probably had it his whole life. "Oh, you're super tall." But you got to be grateful to your fans at the same time. They're the only reason we got a job.

The All-Star talk, does that mean something to you? Do you feel like you deserve it?

Oh, that'd be a great honor. That'd mean so much to me, to be an All-Star. NBA All-Star? Whew, I never thought I'd be an NBA All-Star growing up.

It's kind of funny if you don't get in because your childhood idol [Kobe] gets voted in.

That's all right. Steph didn't get in his fourth year and look at the year he had. But it's just the West, man. The West is so stacked. For me, win-win. It'd be a great honor, it'd be awesome, and if I keep up this pace I expect to be in. But at the same time, that's time to rest my body and get right for the second half of the season.