Scaletta’s Summer Top 100 is a ranking of returning NBA players. For a full explanation of our methodology, read our intro.
As we move along in our Summer Top 100 Countdown (and yes, I’ve noticed it’s not summer anymore), we hit the top 20, with Klay Thompson earning the honors of No. 20.
The younger sibling of splashing would be shattering records were it not for the elder one. One of the facts lost last year is that his 276 threes last season were more than anyone not named Stephen Curry has made. And, over the first five years of his career, he’s made 1,060, the most of anyone ever. Curry is second at 905. That’s not to say that he’s better than Curry, but just to underline that while Klay might be the junior “Splash Brother,” he’s no slouch.
Furthermore, he’s the perfect partner to Curry. But will new arrival Kevin Durant hurt Thompson’s numbers? Maybe not as much as some people think.
Thompson is both the beneficiary and a benefactor in terms of his relationship with Curry. And that has a lot to do with how they both get their three-point shots. Thompson is a catch-and-shoot phenom while Curry creates threes off the bounce. Having the two of them on the court together especially challenges defenses. According to NBA.com, Thompson’s effective field goal percentage went from 54.9 to 57.5 when he sharing the court with Curry, but Curry’s also went up from 56.7 to 65.5 when on the court with Thompson. (While Curry has a bigger jump, notice that his baseline is also higher.)
The bottom line is defending two guys who can shoot from almost anywhere on the court stretches defenses to a ridiculous level. Adding a third is just going to make it that much harder. And as a catch-and-shoot specialist, Thompson isn’t going to get hurt too much by another guy who can create his own shots. That’s just going to make it that much harder to keep track of him. He can still average 20 points per game with ridiculous efficiency, and that would put him on an All-NBA team again.
The downside of adding another All-NBA player to the squad is that it makes it that much harder to get the votes. Thompson is the fourth-best player on the Warriors, which makes him an insanely good fourth-best player. But to land four players on the All-NBA team, the Dubs are going to have win 70-plus games again this year, and even that might not do the trick. They may have to break the obscene record they set last year. The fun thing, though, is that’s quite a valid possibility.
Thompson is a brilliant three-point shooter and it does help his team a lot. But the rest of his game might be a little overrated in the rush to praise him. Based on Offensive Real Plus-Minus, James Harden, Khris Middleton and Jimmy Butler all had a more positive impact on their respective offenses than Thompson did.
Thompson is amazing as a catch-and-shoot player. His effective field goal percentage was 60.9, and no one topped his 10.3 points per game. In fact, he averaged 25 percent more than anyone else in the league (Dirk Nowitzki was second at 8.2 points). You can make an argument that he’s better at that than anyone in the league, perhaps even anyone ever. His release is almost instant and as smooth as you could possibly hope for.
However, he’s not a great shot creator. Only 86 of his buckets came with more than two dribbles, and his effective field goal percentage was just 47.9 percent. He scored just 65 buckets in isolation. He made only 39 as the ball handler in the pick and roll. Now, we could just say he’s “smart” for avoiding inefficient shots, but the bottom line is he’s dependent on someone else to handle the ball. He’s not the kind of player who can run an offense, which is why he’s behind more capable ball handlers but lesser shooters like Butler.
Defense is another aspect of Thompson’s game that has become overrated. There may have been a time it was underrated, but the world has overcorrected on this one. Opponents shot 1.1 percent worse when he defended them, a good-but-not-great figure, particularly when you figure that he’s on the same court as Draymond Green and (frequently) Andre Iguodala.
He gets credit for always taking the better guard, but that’s not really true, either. The Warriors do switch more than most teams, but that’s a product of the system. In reality, Curry defended more shots than Thompson (10.8 to 10.3) and actually held them further below their season average (3.2 percent). Curry also had 4.1 Defensive Win Shares to Thompson’s 2.6, as well as a better Defensive Real Plus-Minus (+0.86 to -.61.). In fact, Thompson’s DRPM was 42nd out of 92 shooting guards and only marginally better than Harden’s -0.98.
That’s not to say that Curry is a “better” defender than Thompson, but just to say we’ve overswung the pendulum when we start calling Thompson an elite defender. There’s no justification for that in the numbers. He’s a good defender, but he isn’t elite.