Putting Klay Thompson under the microscope
By: Mohamed Abdihakim
Klay Thompson has been having a difficult season shooting the ball.
The numbers, at first glance, tell a less grim story. Now firmly established as Mark Jackson’s primary two-guard, Thompson’s increased playing time has been accompanied by a boost in scoring.
In his rookie season, the sophomore out of Washington State averaged 12.5 points per game, on just over 24 minutes of game time. Now awarded 35 minutes on the floor, Thompson’s up to 16.3 points per game.
It’s Thompson’s percentages that show his struggles. To this point in the season, he’s shooting the ball at a 41.6% clip, not much higher than the 40% he’s shooting from deep. Considering his three-point shooting, the source of Thompson’s shooting woes narrows down to mid and close range shots.
As far as mid range shots go, the numbers don’t really disappoint. Other than a meager 32.7% from an isolated spot (to the left of the charity stripe, just inside the three-point line), Thompson is shooting well above league averages all along the mid range. The gaudy shooting includes 63.6% from straight on, just below the free throw line, and a healthy shooting percentage in the 50’s from either side.
With that being said, the only distance left to consider is up close. This is where it gets interesting.
Hoopdata.com has Thompson shooting 59.8% at the rim, with the league average being about 56%.
So, let’s track back for a second: Thompson is knocking three’s at a respectable 40% rate, mid range shots at a largely superior clip, and is above league average at the rim…and his fg% is stuck at 41 for the season.
Well, as it turns out, Thompson isn’t shooting so well from up-close. In fact, despite his “at rim” figure of 59.8%, he’s been downright awful the closer he’s gotten to the basket. Thompson has taken 150 shots from about the top of the free throw circle down, most of them being layups or dunks at the rim. Of those 150, he’s made 71, totalling up to a rate of 47.3% (9 points below league average).
Explaining the disconnect between a 59.8% at the rim and that 47.3% mark becomes easier upon some closer examination. Basketballreference.com further divided Thompson’s shot selection by distance. From 10-16 ft, he’s knocking down just 29% of his shots. It gets worse as he draws closer, with Thompson hitting just 22% of his shots from 3-10 ft.
So why is a 6’7”, 205 pound talent like Thompson missing so many of his easier shots? It has a lot to do, unsurprisingly, with situational execution on GSW’s offensive end.
Though we’re focusing on his 2012-2013 season, let’s take a brief moment to consider Klay Thompson’s rookie year, a chunk of which was spent playing alongside Monta Ellis. Needless to say, Thompson was always going to be second to Ellis in terms of offensive touches. GSW worked off of the shooting/ driving display of the Curry/Ellis combination, considered by many at the time to be among the league’s most prolific backcourts.
Ellis worked out of GSW’s most common set for a 2-guard: curl off a low screen from PF/C, dribble-drive to the rim for a jump shot/ layup/ pass to rolling screener. The now Bucks guard found success in that set, to the tune of 21.9 ppg for the Warriors.
Upon Ellis’ eventual departure, Thompson would assume the primary beneficiary of GSW’s shooting guard set. It’s when we look at some of his attempts from this year that the sophomore’s struggles start to display a pattern.
Of the 140 close range shots that I watched, Thompson has taken 96 attempts after initiating with 14 or more seconds left on the shot clock. Of those 96 shots, he’s made 51, a 53% success rate. The 44 remaining shots (out of 140 close range shots to this point) came as the result of a play initiated with 12 seconds or less remaining on the shot clock. Out of those 44, Thompson’s hit just 16, good for just over 36%.
Instantly, the takeaway from that becomes, “well, he should continue to shoot shots with more time left on the clock.”
It’s not quite that simple. When you consider the fact that Thompson takes drastically more shots with the 14 seconds on the shot clock anyway, it all but neutralizes the percentage advantage over taking a shot late into the shot clock. What’s important here lies in another pattern: how Thompson is making those late-clock shots.
Of the 16 shots he’s made with 12 seconds or less to shoot, Thompson has had 11 of them come directly following a curl off of a David Lee screen. The one’s he’s missed? All but one involved non-Lee screeners.
This isn’t to say that David Lee is the king and queen of all things pick-and-roll. But, it goes quite a ways to reassert just how dominant Lee has been (and how it’s helping to make things easier on driving guards).
When a defender is chasing Thompson-or Curry, or Jack, or Barnes for that matter-off a low screen, the man defending the screener suddenly has a decision to make: commit to the man with the ball, or stick with the screener (Lee, in this case).
For the man defending Lee to consider: 1) GSW’s down screens are typically set at about 8-10 feet from the basket, a distance from which GSW’s all star big man is nearing career high fg%. 2) Lee is dishing out 3.8 assists per contest, a career best. 3) Each guard coming at you off a down screen is a triple threat (each can shoot, finish up close, or dish it).
Demanding Warriors fans, when Thompson is attempting to score, are left confused. Thompson would do well, for both his time and his percentages, if he would continue to curl off screens and keep interior defenders feeling the same way.