Klay Thompson is a 5x All-Star, 2x All-NBA Player, named to the 2018-2019 All-Defensive Team, and is a 3x NBA Champion while maintaining the position of one of the NBA’s most lethal 3PT shooters with a career average of 41.9% from deep. He’s had many historical performances and games with 60, 52, 52, and 45 points with many more in the 30’s. With all that being said, Thompson still manages to be one of the most overrated players in the NBA.
Overrated does not mean that Thompson isn’t a good player, because he still is. He simply doesn’t play up to the expectations that he is often placed with – and this really came to light during his complaint by not making the an All-NBA team.
Thompson, part of the Warriors dynasty, has career averages of 19.5 PPG, 3.5 RPB, 2.3 APG with a 57.5 TS% and is widely known to be a historically elite shooter from 3PT, arguably the second-best to Steph Curry.
So in what sense is Klay overrated?
Focusing on the offensive side of the ball, Klay struggles to do many things other than perimeter shooting, in which he’s critically boosted by Curry’s impact on their system. The Warriors system is so heavily focused on Steph that it creates an environment in which Klay is able to be plugged in and perform his role as a shooter nearly to perfection, but this seems to be the end of it. When Steph is off the floor and the defenses actually focus on Klay, rather than having everyone watch Curry (due to his gravity), Klay becomes ineffective because he does not have the ability to create his own shot off the dribble at an efficient rate.
This is brought to light simply by how much of an impact Curry actually has on the team. Simply based on the importance of one in their respective roles, Curry & Draymond are more valuable to the Warriors’ dynasty than Klay Thompson has been. “In games without Stephen Curry since Klay joined the association, his on-court +/- is -2.4 per 100 and his TS% is 53.52% (2,913 minutes)” per pbpstats.
Other than shooting at an elite rate from beyond the arc, Thompson doesn’t do much else. For a volume shooter, he gets to the line at an awful rate, despite shooting 85% there for his career. To put this into perspective, here are some of the top shooting guards from last year with their career FGA and FTA.
- James Harden (10 yrs) – 16.2 FGA / 8.5 FTA
- Luka Doncic (1 yr) – 16.5 FGA / 6.7 FTA
- DeMar DeRozan (10 yrs) – 15.8 FGA / 6.3 FTA
- Devin Booker (4 yrs) – 16.9 FGA / 5.4 FTA
- Donovan Mitchell (2 yrs) – 18.5 FGA / 4.4 FTA
- Victor Oladipo (6 yrs) – 14.6 FGA / 3.9 FTA
- Bradley Beal (7 yrs) – 16.2 FGA / 3.8 FTA
- CJ McCollum (6 yrs) – 15 FGA / 2.6 FTA
- Klay Thompson (8 yrs) – 16 FGA / 2.3 FTA
On top of that, his passing in terms of assists is subpar as well, (I know APG isn’t the best usage of a player’s passing ability), but using those same players, here is how they rank out:
- James Harden – 6.2 APG
- Luka Doncic – 6 APG
- Devin Booker – 4.2 APG
- Victor Oladipo – 4 APG
- Donovan Mitchell – 3.9 APG
- Bradley Beal – 3.7 APG
- DeMar DeRozan – 3.4 APG
- C.J McCollum – 2.9 APG
- Klay Thompson – 2.3 APG
This is the same list of high-volume shooting guards that are able to showcase their passing ability, or lack of in some circumstances. Different roles and usage rate may factor into a basic APG stat, but does not change the fact that he’s at the bottom of the list when comparing some of the top volume shooting guards in today’s NBA.
Klay seems to greatly benefit from being a puzzle that fits perfectly into the Warriors’ offensive system, but tends to get a bit too much credit, especially on the next side of the ball.
Defense. Klay is seen to be an ELITE 3&D player, which is half correct. We’ve already established he can shoot the ball, but his defense has been very subpar, especially last season.
One main reason for this is that Klay avoids contact (which is evident in his FTA) and this impacts his ability to rebound the ball (which plays a role in many of the defensive ratings & stats, etc.) Using that same list of volume shooters, we’ll see how Klay measures up with his height and career RPG.
- Luka Doncic – 6’7”, 7.8 RPG
- James Harden – 6’5”, 5.2 RPG
- Victor Oladipo – 6’4”. 4.6 RPG
- DeMar DeRozan – 6’7”, 4.3 RPG
- Bradley Beal – 6’5”, 3.9 RPG
- Donovan Mitchell – 6’3”, 3.9 RPG
- Klay Thompson – 6’7”, 3.5 RPG
- Devin Booker – 6’6”, 3.5 RPG
- C.J. McCollum – 6’3”, 3.1 RPG
For a player listed at 6’7”, Klay’s desire to avoid contact really hurts his rebounding, but does this impact his defense? The most common statement for Klay is that he guards the opponents’ best player, which is accurate per the math at bballindex.com. “Klay’s assignment degree of difficulty is harder than it is for about 85% of players, only harder than 30% of players for Steph’s assignments”. Although this is true, it doesn’t change his impact that he’s placed on the court.
Over the final four teams in the playoffs this past year (GSW, TOR, POR, and MIL), Klay Thompson had the worst PIPM (both offense and defense) at a -2.97. For reference, Draymond and Curry had the best with +5.87 and +5.83 respectively. To branch just to the defensive side of things, Klay had the 3rd worst D-PIPM with a -1.54, only behind Lillard/ McCollum with -1.91 and -1.64 respectively. Giannis/Draymond led the way with +3.47 and +3.46.
Considering Klay is to be this “Elite” defensive player, it makes one wonder how a notoriously bad defender in Enes Kanter and even Steph Curry, the supposed poor defender that he is made out to be, can both have a positive D-PIPM throughout the Playoffs while Klay cannot. So, while Klay is taking on the tougher matchups, it doesn’t seem like much of an impact is actually happening on that end of the court.
Some other statistics I’ve found throughout the past season pertaining to Klay are below:
Of the NBA All-Stars, their PIPM from the beginning of the season til Feb. 1, 2019 was led by Giannis with a +6.5, with the lowest being Klay Thompson at a +0.0. The next closest was +1.1, which was LaMarcus Aldridge. This does not include Dirk/Wade who were added in and both had a negative PIPM.
As I pointed out a bit earlier, Klay seems to fit into their system pretty well, but that’s mainly in part due to the magnificent play of Steph Curry. Their teammate luck-adjusted on/off data is as follows:
Both on: 4,790 Possessions – 119.1 ORTG. 110.5 DRTG. +8.6 Net RTG
Steph Curry On: 1,905 Possessions – 120 ORTG. 112 DRTG. +7.9 Net RTG
Klay Thompson On: 2,370 Possessions – 109 ORTG. 112 DRTG. -2.9 Net RTG
Both Off: 1,360 Possessions – 109.9 ORTG. 108.1 DRTG. +1.9 Net RTG.
Curry’s job on the court just makes the game so much easier for everyone around him when he is playing. When he’s off the court, as we saw in the playoffs, teams focused much more on Thompson, which negated his impact tremendously.
Finally, because of this perception he receives and the loyalty side of things, Klay Thompson is on a VERY rough contract for GSW. Klay’s 5-year extension has him roughly at 37M per year. His projected OPIPM (1.19), DPIPM (-1.21) lead to PIPM (-0.03 because the other numbers are rounded in the models). His projected next year salary would be roughly 20M based on that, which is a -17M against Klay. PIPM has also determined that Klay has an awful 3.2% chance to provide equal or greater value in the next 5 years.
Am I saying Klay is bad? Of course not; but he’s madly overrated despite being an elite 3PT shooter. He just happens to fit right into the Warriors’ system with his ability to shoot the basketball. Thompson’s contribution to this Warriors’ dynasty of three championships cannot be forgotten in history, but the narrative and perception surrounding him could. He simply isn’t the player he’s portrayed to be.