The current edition of the Golden State Warriors are a treat to watch. Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson are the obvious crowd-pleasers, with their silky-smooth jump shots and flashy scoring numbers. Curry is in a class of his own and is probably the best shooter in the game today. His creativity as a point guard and increasingly pin-point passing is a revelation, and is beginning proving doubters wrong in regards to his ability to create in the paint and finish at the rim.
Thompson, on the other hand, is the “prototypical” NBA swing man: long and athletic at 6’ 7” with a gorgeous jump shot and wonderful form, and the bloodlines that front offices yearn for, rightly or not. It’s an interesting case: a player that looks exactly like he should look, and the results seem to be there. Or at least that’s the message that we’re starting to hear more and more often, especially with the Warriors enjoying the success that they’re currently having in the second round of the playoffs.
But let’s analyze this a little further; let’s push past the eye test. Even beyond straight three-point percentage, as Thompson’s career rate is 40.6%, good enough to rank in the top fifty in the league over the past couple of years. Of course, that statistic by itself is not all that impressive, especially since he is and known for that exact trait. But if we start to look at the peripherals and Thompson’s overall performance beyond long-range shooting, we can see a number of clear deficiencies in his game thus far: rebounding, consistent defense, ball-handling, and shooting off the dribble.
As good of a three-point shooter as Thompson is, he struggles inside the arc. In the 2012-13 season, Thompson shot just 47 for 150 from 5 to 14 feet away from the basket according to NBA.com, good for just 31.3%. Even worse, he shot 20 for 92 (21.7%) inside the paint, but outside of the restricted area underneath the basket. That’s right, a shooter like Klay Thompson ranked 391st in the NBA.
Of course, everyone (save for Doug Collins) understands that the most efficient shots in the game are at the rim and beyond the arc. So Thompson’s issues with the mid-range game would be permissible if he was an outstanding finisher at the rim. But he really isn’t, finishing 229th in the league in 2012-13 in field goal percentage at the rim, shooting 112 for 189 (59.3%). Thompson is not a diminutive player, like teammate Steph Curry. And it’s not like he isn’t athletic. Here is a sorrowful video of all of Thompson’s shots at the rim in the Golden State-Miami game on Wednesday night.
Just one game, sure, but go ahead and watch through Thompson’s shot attempts in the lane throughout the season and I promise it will look very similar. He obviously is not nearly as comfortable after putting the ball on the floor as he is in a catch-and-shoot situation. The best evidence of this from Game 2 against the Spurs? Thompson shot 8 for 9 in catch-and-shoot situations without dribbling, with the lone miss being a forced two-point jumper near the end of the game. After taking at least one dribble? He shot just 5 for 17.
For the most part, the Warriors use Thompson brilliantly, often running plays in which he comes around pin-down screens on the wings and finding himself mostly open near the three-point line.
Thompson also does an outstanding job using screens in creative ways, including preemptively jab-stepping as though he will use the screen to cut towards the basket and instead popping out behind the three-point line for an open jumper.
Another thing that Thompson is learning to do better and better is moving around the perimeter with the purpose of creating better passing angles for big men in the post or Curry and others in the lane looking to kick the ball out to a long-range shooter. This seems basic, but it’s a huge component of NBA offenses that young players don’t always grasp immediately.
This is especially key in the Warriors’ offense. According to Synergy Sports, Golden State averaged the second-most points per possession in spot-up situations in the league this year with 1.07, after the Miami Heat. They shoot a ton of jumpers, which of course only works if you make them. And that starts with getting good, clean looks.
All things considered, Klay Thompson is a pretty average player at this point in his career. He has many of the physical tools, and clearly has a solid understanding of the offense that coach Mark Jackson is running.
However, there are a number of aspects of Thompson’s game that must improve if he wants to get anywhere near star-level in his career. His rebounding (despite being 6′ 7″, Thompson’s rebound rate this season was just 10%, lower than teammate and point guard Jarrett Jack), ball-handling, and defense all need consistency, and most importantly, his ability to finish at the rim needs to improve significantly.
Of course, the Warriors’ offense suits Thompson nearly perfectly, hiding many of his mistakes and deficiencies. At the same time, to truly solidify the Warriors as a contender in the ultra-deep Western Conference, Thompson must add more facets to his game than just a solid spot-up jump shot.