Is Klay Thompson’s Bad Defensive Reputation Inaccurate?


Klay Thompson’s defense is by no means elite. It’s far from that platform, actually. He has plenty of holes that his opposition constantly try to attack, like any other defender. Saying that he’s an atrocious defender, though, is a distorted statement.

As mentioned, Thompson isn’t an All-Defensive defender. His awareness on the defensive side of the ball is at times faulty, which isn’t too startling given his minimal experience.

Dec 7, 2012; New York, NY, USA; Brooklyn Nets shooting guard Joe Johnson (7) drives past Golden State Warriors shooting guard Klay Thompson (11) during the first quarter at Barclays Center. Mandatory Credit: Anthony Gruppuso-USA Today Sports

Seasoned veterans often call Thompson on his awareness by slashing to the hoop for a bucket, or furtively tip-toe to an open spot for an easy spot-up jumper. Kobe Bryant executed this ploy a few times on Friday, jamming Thompson up into screens to free himself for wide-open baskets. Ironically, this is precisely where most of Thompson’s hurdles on the defensive side of the ball exist.

The smooth-shooting youngster allows 0.81 PPP (Points Per Possession) on spot-up opportunities. Precisely 35 percent of his defensive schemes are on spot-ups, so it is indeed a sizable amount of where opportunities defensively stem from. I wouldn’t claim his average good, as it’s below average.

Surprisingly enough, though, Thompson’s 0.81 PPP, isn’t terribly bad when stacked against some of the league’s recognized small forwards and shooting guards. It’s better than Lebron James’s PPP ratio in spot-ups, if that means anything. It’s also a shade better than Bryant’s PPP on spot-ups in terms of defense. That’s some good company.

Part of the reason for Thompson’s tendency to leave his man isn’t his fault, however. The Warriors are an improved rebounding, defensive, and overall fundamental team when it comes to the gritty work.

Still, Golden State is hindered by a shorter front line, which includes David Lee, who’s a power forward under normal circumstances, but occupies plenty of minutes as a center thanks to a slim crop of alternatives. Lee should see more time at his natural position when Andrew Bogut returns, though.

For Thompson, he feels the need to slide over and prevent opposing slashers to gain entrance into the paint, where the Warriors allow nearly 40 points per game.

Polished guards initiate this process by engaging Thompson. He bites, assuming that help is needed, then the penetrator kicks the rock out to the man Thompson intentionally left to play help defense, leaving his man with a wide-open shot.

December 22, 2012; Oakland, CA, USA; Los Angeles Lakers shooting guard Kobe Bryant (24) reacts while being defended by Golden State Warriors shooting guard Klay Thompson (11, left) during the overtime quarter at ORACLE Arena. The Lakers defeated the Warriors 118-115 in overtime. Mandatory Credit: Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

Younger or more raw guards don’t feast on Thompson as much as say Chris Paul would, to be sure. Even so, almost any point guard can burn him on occasion even with the smallest amount of court vision.

Bogut should again save the day here, as Thompson could then put more fate into the front court to squander easy scoring opportunities.

Team defense aside, Thompson has excelled for the most part defending isolation situations. His footwork isn’t superb, but he stays in front of his man quite well. His 0.76 PPP attests to this.

A lot fans will abruptly point to Saturday’s game against the Lakers where Bryant torched him and mainly Harrison Barnes for 34 points. While Kobe did turn in a nifty total, take a glance at how many shots he attempted to get that total—41. Meaning, Thompson and Barnes foiled him into taking tough shots.

But the bulk of his 34 points occurred on post-ups and cuts off screens from his big men. Kobe would bump his way into a good position, and take Thompson to school, like he does with practically every defender that’s impelled to guard him. As for the screens, there isn’t a guard in the world who could do to shake a Dwight Howard pick. Thompson understandably falls under this category.

In reality, though, Thompson held Kobe in check on the perimeter Saturday, with the exceptions of a few collapsed defensive rotations, and of course, his legendary series of fade-aways and what not.

Considering some of the brutal one-on-one assignments Thompson deals with regularly (Bryant, Dwyane Wade, Joe Johnson, Jamal Crawford, Kevin Martin), his ability to stay stable is quite impressive, and often overlooked too. A good point of summary is his 13.2 PER allowance to opposing shooting guards per 48 minutes. With the average set at 15, I’d say that Thompson’s allotment is pretty appealing.

Don’t be mistaken by the general consensus when it comes to judging Thompson’s defensive abilities. He is no Bruce Bowen, but he isn’t in complete disarray either. Plus, with experience comes improvement. And Thompson, who has just 95 games under his belt, he has ample amount of time to improve on what is a solid foundation.

**Note: All Stats From 82, and Synergy Sports Unless Otherwise Noted**