Friday, 14 February 2014

Moulding Klay: Scouting Thompson's Scoring

Golden State will need Thompson's production in the postseason.
The pairing of Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson in the Warriors’ backcourt is illustrative of trends within the NBA's contemporary climate.

Clearly, it’s a palpable offensive strategy, indicative of the Warriors’ (and Mark Jackson’s, especially) blind faith in their guard tandem, and a major contributing factor to the Warriors placing in the top three in the league in both 3PM and three-point percentage.

Where else, however, has Klay Thompson been able to source his points from, and is the penchant for the perimeter a fundamentally fruitful approach for the team as a whole? Barring a noticeable decline in his free throw shooting, Thompson's basic per-game numbers appear as relative parallels of his first two seasons, which shouldn’t be interpreted as a negative. He continues to connect on his three-point launches at around 41% (a more-than-handy mark). Thompson’s trademark off-ball style, though, shines through in the available player tracking data.

Whilst his usage of Golden State's possessions (21.6%) is near identical to last season’s measure, a concerning pattern lies within the bed of offensive statistics. The 6-7 shooter’s 3PAr (percentage of field goal attempts that come from beyond the arc) has incrementally risen over each season of his young professional career, currently sitting at 44.4%. It may not seem too alarming for a player with such a lethal stroke to be inclined to hoist it from the outside, yet as a result of the growth of the Warriors roster and changes in personnel – including the addition of another ball-dominant guard in Andre Iguodala – it’s a level of complacency that’s proving to be costly.

Klay’s contentedness and developing “hoisting-and-hoping” scoring method is detrimental not only to his individual efficiency, but to the flow and productivity of Golden State’s offense.

Thompson is averaging 18.3 points per game (a career-best), thanks overwhelmingly due to a spike in minutes and attempts. He is also leading the league in "catch and shoot" points per game, generating 9.5 per contest. That is to say, more than half of his points scored in each game played come directly assisted from teammates, with no dribble action involved. It’s a nice, simplistic summary of Thompson’s tendencies. The catch and shoot production is voluminous and an aesthetically friendly wrinkle in his game, but can he really be considered “elite” in the category?

To provide context, the figure below groups the Warriors’ lanky guard with players who show a comparable favoritism toward the catch and shoot mentality.

Thompson’s point production is in the same ballpark as the likes of Korver and Nowitzki (renowned shooters in their own right). Nonetheless, his accuracy (at 43.4%) in this department is more relative to Andrea Bargnani (42.1%) and Channing Frye (42.7%) – two “floor spacing” frontliners notorious for their ill-advised shot selection – than any of the other above-listed players. Sure, it’s possible (and in this case likely) that Thompson is blessed with the perennial green light and license to let it fly from Mark Jackson and the coaching staff. Either way, the unabashed confidence isn’t working too well.

It’s not only in the realm of no-dribble flings that Thompson’s quietly slumping shooting touch has reared its ugly head, either. After a scorching hot beginning to the season in the month of November, where he boasted a net rating of +9.3 and a True Shooting percentage of 58.3%, his scoring has become wayward and inefficient. According to the stats database, since December 1, the Warriors’ #11’s conversion has been languishing, with a TS% of 51.5%. In other words, that’s a two-plus month stretch in which Thompson’s scoring arrived at a rate below league-average (league average TS% is approximately 53.7%, according to HoopData).

Over the span of this season, roughly 44.4% of Thompson's total field goal attempts have stemmed from twenty-four feet and beyond. It’s not hard to decipher the inherent sources of the scoring struggles. Due to an enduring propensity to heave shots from downtown, it’s tragically basic – when the shots are falling, all is well offensively, and when they’re not, it is not.

In 2014, for the most part, said shots have not been dropping for the third-year man. How can this overly simplistic problem be arrested for the remainder of the season? Well, as it stands, Thompson is only getting to the free throw line an average of 2.2 times per 36 minutes, with a free throw attempt rate of 14.6%. Even though the rangy Californian is not typically regarded for his ability to orchestrate the offense and attack the rim off the dribble, a slight adjustment in mindset may be the instigator for a refreshed, more efficient offensive arsenal.

It’s a class limited to just Thompson, Washington forward Trevor Ariza, Suns reserve wing Gerald Green, and Orlando Magic point guard Jameer Nelson; an undesirable situation. In the grand scheme of things, another outcome symptomatic of the shooting guard’s perimeter plight is the reality of Golden State’s overall offensive successes. Thompson’s developments (although not a sole cause) have added to the wider woes, and are one reason why the Warriors' offensive efficiency slipped to 16th in the month of January, at 105.5 points per 100 possessions (over 15 games). That’s a mark that is well below that of the laughable New York Knicks, who have a 20-32 record on the season, out of the lowly Atlantic Division.

The patterns threaded throughout Klay Thompson’s season, coupled with Andre Iguodala’s evaporating scoring and the stunted growth of Harrison Barnes’ game, have created a bevy of problems on the Warriors’ wings.

Golden State’s cast of capable shooters can cause any number of strategic issues for opponents. For this to be maximized and the team to excel beyond expectations, however, important offensive adjustments must be made. 

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