Klay Thompson Receiving Undeserved Scrutiny

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Team Success vs. Individual Stats

Mandatory Credit: Kelvin Kuo-USA TODAY Sports

One of the most important factors that many fail to address in regards to the Love trade is that the NBA isn’t based solely on the individual success of each of its players. If the NBA was like a fantasy league, then the idea of filling out a team with superstars is validated. Fantasy leagues rely on the stats of individual players without the mess of finances, chemistry and team roles.

However, success in the NBA isn’t just measured by how many superstars each team has, but by how well the pieces fit together to succeed as a team. Sciria provides another stat that can be easily misinterpreted:

"On the defensive end, Love surprisingly posted a better defensive rating and tallied a higher amount of defensive win shares than Thompson last season, even though Thompson was playing for the third-best defensive team while Minnesota’s defensive efficiency ranked 14th."

So how is it that Love, who is known as a defensive liability among NBA circles, was able to post a better defensive rating than Klay Thompson when the Warriors ranked higher than Minnesota in defensive efficiency?

The answer, again, has to do with the team’s personnel and the system that KlayThompson plays in.

In an impressive analysis done by Nate Parham for SB Nation’s Warriors branch, Golden State of Mind, the evidence clearly shows that the rumors about Love being a complete liability on defense are exaggerated. As Sciria pointed out, Love is actually a good individual defender and not as bad as some make him out to be. It’s his place in the team’s defense that caused trouble for Minnesota.

Take a look at what Grantland’s Zach Lowe wrote about the difference on defense it would make if the Warriors traded away Thompson for Love:

"“Love’s limitations as a defender are real….He’ll never be able to protect the rim; he can’t jump very high, and he has a shorter wingspan than Green, who is two inches shorter than Love. He has too often acted as the big man’s Dwyane Wade in transition nondefense, and though he gets into the right positions against the pick-and-roll, his presence isn’t going to scare elite ball handlers away from the basket.” “The Dubs know they are an elite defensive team as currently constructed; they finished third in points allowed per possession. Love would improve the offense, sure, but might they manage that with internal improvement — under Steve Kerr — and without sacrificing an above-average wing defender in Thompson? This is about replaceability. Whose skills are easier to find on the open market? Thompson is getting short shrift in this regard. He is not a fungible player. A wise front-office guy on another team often cautions against tricking yourself into thinking you can replace one talented two-way wing by signing three cheaper ones who each have a couple of discrete skills.”"

Long story short, Klay Thompson is a good perimeter defender that fits perfectly into his team’s strategy. Compared to the defensive liabilities of Love’s teammates, it just so happens that Thompson is supported by other good defenders like Andrew Bogut, Draymond Green and Iguodala; in other words, Love may not be as bad defensively as some make him out to be, but he alone couldn’t make up for his teammates’ lack of efficiency on either end.

Mandatory Credit: David Richard-USA TODAY Sports

Also, comparing a good perimeter defender with a relatively good post defender is difficult considering how different their roles are. Klay Thompson is so great at hiding Curry’s defensive deficiencies on the perimeter that Love’s individual success as a post defender doesn’t necessarily apply to the team’s overall defense.

As Lowe alluded to, Love doesn’t have the defensive prowess to hide the defensive deficiencies of one or two of his teammates. In Love’s defense, neither does Lee. The difference between Love and Lee, however, is that Lee doesn’t exactly have more than one teammate he has to cover for on defense.

It’s no secret that Bogut’s presence in the middle is exactly what makes Golden State’s defense work. Bogut likely would have been able to hide Love’s deficiencies, but to ask the injury prone center to also make up for the lack of perimeter defense would have been catastrophic. Iguodala would have been the only proven perimeter defender capable of hiding Curry’s liabilities, and the elephant in the room is Iguodala’s age is looking to be a health problem in the long run.

The pieces — on paper  — fit perfectly together because Thompson’s presence allows Golden State to defend players at both the point and small forward (Iguodala) positions without sacrificing Love’s projected offense. Both the point guard and small forward positions are arguably the two most dangerous positions in the modern NBA, and the Warriors are lucky enough to have two perimeter defenders to combat that.

Bogut is the glue to the Warriors’ defense, but Thompson and Iguodala form the other two points of the triangle; add in Green at power forward and replace Curry at point guard with Livingston, and you have the world’s second most indestructible pentagon. Might as well call them the Department of Defense.

“(Love) offers no rim protection, he lollygags in transition defense, he’s not going to make spirited second and third rotations on the same defensive possession, and he often fails to challenge shots in order to secure boxout position…” – Zach Lowe

Speaking of Livingston, some people cite his addition to the team as being able to supplement the loss of  KlayThompson’s defense in a potential Love trade. As Parham addresses in his article, the defensive drop-off between Livingston and Thompson appears to be fairly insignificant, supporting the notion that “Sdot” could replace Thompson defensively.

The argument against that is that Livingston’s lack of ability to stretch the floor (just 10 threes over 9 years) and provide the offense that Thompson provides would have been a problem for a team that suffered offensively last season. Again, hopefully Kerr solves that problem, but he still needs the right personnel to carry out his master plan. As of now, he has that with Thompson, Lee and Barnes.

Although Kevin Love surely would have helped supplement the offense lost with Klay Thompson, it’s difficult to see him replacing the overall production that was provided by Thompson AND Lee AND Barnes. Love may have flourished as an individual player acting as Minnesota’s number one option, but he was utterly unable to carry his team.

Simply put: losing three complementary players creates too large a void for Love to fill on his own, especially when none of the three Warriors had roles similar to Love’s in Minny. Barnes, Lee and Thompson each fulfill a certain role on their team and do so rather well. They each act as parts of the puzzle in an attempt to win as a cohesive unit. To assume that Love would be able to replace the loss of not just one, but THREE relatively good players is — if I may say so myself — idiotic.