Klay Thompson | 2019 Valuation
(📸 The Ringer)
Praised for his two-way play and world-class marksmanship, Klay Thompson was often drowned out in a sea of offensive stars in Golden State. Despite five consecutive All-Star appearances, he was the Warriors’ third option on offense. Thompson’s status as a tertiary offensive weapon hindered the recognition he would receive, but the development of title odds metrics have demonstrated the importance of second-and-third stars. Today, I’ll tackle questions like the true value of Thompson’s offense and defense to estimate the overarching principle of my player evaluations: what are the percent odds Klay Thompson wins a title on a random team?
Despite a limited involvement in Golden State’s offense (offensive load ~ 33%), Thompson was one of the league’s most effective scorers. He provided strong options in the three main regions of scoring: the post, the midrange, and the perimeter. Thompson was successful on 72% of his attempts from within three feet of the hoop and didn’t shoot lower than 42% from any of Basketball-Reference‘s primary shooting ranges. He had a moderate dip in three-point efficiency compared to his previous seasons: 40.2% in 2019 down from 44% the season before, the main factor in Thompson’s declined overall efficiency (-2.8 rTS% from 2018). However, this was mainly a product of early-season struggles; Thompson raised his three-point efficiency to 44% in the Playoffs.
As the lethal shooter he is, Thompson thrives on step-back opportunities. He doesn’t maneuver the way most elite step-back shooters do, like Luka Dončić or James Harden. Thompson’s movement is largely directed from one baseline to the other, a vertical motion rather than horizontal. He’ll often be running toward the hoop with the ball in his hands and quickly shift his momentum backward, snapping a shot multiple feet behind his defender. This unorthodox path of movement also makes Thompson a great driver. Aided by his 6’7″ frame, exceptional for a guard, Thompson is a solid post-up option to keep up with larger wings. Although a hesitant dribbler at times, Thompson would function as an adequate secondary or tertiary pick-and-roll ball-handler. His ability to exploit a defense’s horizontal spacing, the spacing between two staggered defenders, opens up the corners for shooters and either side as a driving lane for the roller.
Thompson was one of the league’s greatest tertiary scorers in the league, averaging 22.6 points per 75 possessions on +1.4 relative True Shooting. The latter measurement is not the most indicative figure of Thompson’s efficiency as we examined earlier. In the Playoffs, he rose to +1.9% in the efficiency department, still an underwhelming figure. However, considering his two-point efficiency dropped 5.4% in the Playoffs, it’s clear there are some confounding variables working against Thompson here. At an average strength, let alone full-strength, Thompson is still one of the league’s most efficient shooters and scorers. According to Backpicks‘s ScoreVal metric, Thompson’s scoring added fewer than 0.5 points every 100 possessions. However, considering his aforementioned efficiency troubles, his actual value would most likely exceed that benchmark. Thompson’s high-volume, high-efficiency style paired with historical shooting makes him an elite scoring option in Golden State’s offense.
Thompson never has, and likely never will be an above-average creator and passer. His limitations are very clear, especially in the half-court. Thompson will pick up his dribble and be forced to make a close pass near a block, and in those spots, he displays some concerning accuracy. We’ve seen this during the entirety of the 2019 season: Thompson struggling to generate efficiency half-court offense with his passing. Throughout his career, Thompson has never had a Passer Rating less than 4.2 or greater than 5.1, perhaps a mild overstatement, but the measurement largely captures the quality of his passing. Thompson is also an unimpressive creator. Defenders would often leave Thompson often despite his presence on the perimeter. However, it’s fairly clear and worth noting that those defenses had more trouble than usual: Curry and Durant. As a result, I’m willing to state Thompson’s “true” creation is understated by his situation. He’s created around 4 to 4.5 shots per 100 in the last four seasons.
As a member of the Warriors, Thompson has provided neutral to slight-negative value as a playmaker. Backpicks‘s PlayVal estimates Thompson’s point-contribution as a playmaker has been below zero since the 2016 season. However, as we examined earlier, this is in large part a product of Thompson’s situation. If he were in a neutral setting, Thompson would likely be neutral to a slight-positive playmaker. The quality of his passing, a characteristic that isn’t affected by situation, hinders Thompson from “good” playmaking status. His creation would likely improve alongside more typical teammates with an increased role as a ball-handler and a larger threat to defenses, and as a result, I’d label Thompson as a “neutral” playmaker in 2019.
Similar to his two previous skills, Thompson’s off-ball value is overshadowed by the likes of teammate, Stephen Curry: one of the greatest off-ball scorers of all-time. Thompson displays his own fair share of calculating movement. Contrary to Curry’s arsenal of screening action and quick darts across the court, Thompson relies on his lateral movement. His strong hips that aid him as a man defender allow him to quickly change direction and faze defenders. Resultantly, Thompson will often find himself an open look at the perimeter, where his more enveloped role in Golden State will provide Thompson with an open shot. He also separates himself from Curry with his off-ball value in the post. Thompson is far more likely to be seen camping out by or cutting through the baseline, locating post-up opportunities, and funneling through as an offensive rebounding option. Thompson’s value off the ball adds to his elite scalability and impact as an offensive player.
Thompson fills a much-needed role in Golden State as the defender of the opposing team’s best offensive perimeter player. His aforementioned size plays a key role in Thompson’s containment of the league’s premier offensive stars. He’ll often match drivers in a running motion rather than a display of lateral movement, as we saw in his offense. This quick movement and swivels of the hips allow Thompson to keep up with faster guards approaching the paint. At times, Thompson will even stagger the penetrator before the latter can pass the charity stripe. His value as a team defender is far less apparent, but there are a number of positives accredited to Thompson’s name. As a taller guard, he can protect almost every spot on the court, as we see when he shuffles to the interior from up top to protect the paint from rolling forwards. As a result, Thompson is a very solid paint presence. With minimal errors in his defense, the only noteworthy ones being the mild tendency to ball-watch on coverages and some low-recognition plays, Thompson is a large positive on defense as a guard.
Contrary to popular opinion, impact metrics paint a very poor picture of Thompson’s value. His lower scores in the 2019 season include a PIPM of +0.26, a RAPTOR of +0.14, and a three-year luck-adjusted RAPM of +0.96. Then there are extremities like his -0.3 in Basketball-Reference‘s BPM and a -0.33 RPM. However, it’s worth noting impact metrics (except RAPM) are calculated with 1) the box score and 2) luck-adjusted on-off ratings. Thompson doesn’t exactly fill the stat sheet with assists, rebounds, steals, and blocks, and he’s gotten the shorter end of the stick in on-off totals. Golden State’s defense was 4.4 points more efficient with him off the floor and their offense was only a point-and-a-half better with him on the floor. Prorating these scores to a “neutral” environment and examining his impact across a variety of settings, I’d estimate Klay Thompson provides a random team with an increment of 9.13% odds to win a title at full-health.