Klay Thompson Receiving Undeserved Scrutiny

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The Difference Between Reading Stats and Understanding Them

Mandatory Credit: Kelvin Kuo-USA TODAY Sports

I recently read an article by San Antonio Spurs writer Nick Sciria titled “Golden State Warriors: Unwillingness To Give Up Klay Thompson In Kevin Love Deal Idiotic”. Fitting that it was featured on RantSports because that’s exactly what it was: a one-sided rant that was carefully constructed to convince readers that the more statistics you put into your article, the more credible your writing is.

After reading it, I immediately fell in love with its incredibly biased take on why keeping Thompson over Love was “one of the most head-scratching decisions over the past decade”. 

Aside from the statement saying Klay Thompson didn’t crack the NBA’s top-10 in three-point percentage being completely false (9th among leaders on NBA Stats), the statistics supported the notion that Thompson is nowhere near the level of Love. Here’s some excerpts:

"“On the other hand, Thompson’s weaknesses are easily observable. Thompson does not rebound (his rebounding rate was tied with Isaiah Thomas for 318th worst among 337 players who qualified) or make teammates better (his assist ratio ranked in the 30th percentile last season among qualified players). Furthermore, Golden State’s shooting guard struggles mightily creating his own shot, as 94.3 percent of his career three-point attempts have been assisted.” “Thompson’s struggles are clearly evident, however, they become unthinkably immense when his PER is factored into the equation. His PER last season was a lousy 14.32, which came it at 156th in the league. Vince Carter, Mirza Teletovic, Jordan Crawford, Alexis Ajinca, Cory Joseph and Mike Scott are just a few of the players who surprisingly had higher PER’s.” “After noting Thompson’s clear weaknesses, let’s take a look at what the Warriors failed to acquire. Last season, Love was third in offensive win shares with 10.6, trailing only LeBron James and Kevin Durant. Furthermore, Thompson’s 6.7 total win shares were not even half of Love’s (14.3).”"

We can all agree that Thompson is to Love statistically as Jay Rock, Ab-Soul and Schoolboy Q are to Kendrick Lamar musically. That’s easy to judge from the stats. What the stats didn’t do was address the affects of the system Thompson was subjected to by former head coach Mark Jackson in contrast to the system Love was the center of.

Mandatory Credit: Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

Yes, the Warriors desperately needed a player that could create for himself consistently in MJax’s highly criticized isolation system, but the fact of the matter is that Jackson could have very well constructed a better system to take advantage of the strengths of his players. As many are aware, he didn’t, and it hurt Thompson a great deal.

Sciria is right that the stats show that Thompson lacks the ability to create his own shot on a consistent basis.

Klay Thompson seemingly improved his ability in the post when isolated against smaller guards, and there were memorable sequences when Thompson was able to put the ball on the floor and finish inside; however, all of that appeared to be the extent of his creative ability, and he wasn’t considerably good at either of those things.

What Sciria failed to mention was that in limiting Thompson to isolations, Jackson greatly limited Thompson’s capabilities on offense despite making him the second option. If a player scores better off of catch-and-shoot situations rather than isolations, why continue to call plays for the latter? By the logic of Albert Einstein, Jackson was out of his mind if he thought Thompson could thrive more in isos than spot-ups.

While the Warriors definitely needed another creator when Curry wasn’t on the floor, the fact of the matter is that Jackson’s isolation system didn’t make things easy for Thompson. When Thompson was on the floor with Curry, the NBA’s most deadly shooter always found a way to draw attention to himself and make the easy pass to the wing for a shot. Thompson benefitted from this symbiotic relationship, as supported by his high percentage of assisted threes.

When Curry was off the floor, Thompson struggled momentously because the point guard was unable to set things up for Thompson the way he likes. Hopefully the addition of Shaun Livingston helps to change that, as well as Steve Kerr‘s new system that will likely play to Thompson’s strengths as an individual.

Jackson’s affinity for iso plays always resulted in a shortage of ball movement, which could correlate to Klay Thompson’s lack of passing and general insufficiency of efficiency; in addition, it’s not his fault Curry found him so often for good shots unless you acknowledge Thompson’s improving off-ball game. Thompson was also primarily good in transition, which can be attributed to him leaking out on the break rather than staying behind for rebounds.

“If the Warriors could somehow take care of the basketball…then I think that they’re a team that can beat the San Antonio Spurs.” – Brian Scalabrine on new Warriors coaching staff

All of the information aforementioned serves as but one piece of evidence supporting why readers can’t always trust how advanced stats are utilized in articles; there is always more to the story, more holes left behind than filled.

In this particular case, advanced stats were unable to provide the context that Klay Thompson was wrangled in the chains of Jackson’s system. He was ultimately unable to flourish as an individual player, and it made him look worse than he actually is (this will become ironic after reading the next section). Thompson’s success this season will rely not just on his own improvement, but on how well constructed Kerr’s system is.

Shifting the focus away from Thompson’s personal strengths and struggles, let’s now take a look at an example of how the differences between Thompson’s role on the Warriors and Love’s role on the T-Wolves played a much bigger part in the Love saga than some were aware of.