Klay Thompson is a flash point. Doubt his prowess in a room full of Warriors fans and it doesn’t matter what else you say, they’re going to say you don’t know what you’re talking about.
Thompson has a reputation as a great wing defender, he puts up three-pointers like they’re going out of style, and he’s a four-time All-Star.
But the stats hate him. So who do you believe, me or your own eyes?
The question under discussion here is whether Thompson’s deserving of his role as a four-time All-Star and the association that guys who are perennial All-Stars tend to get attention from Hall of Fame voters.
Let’s do this.
The Counting Stats
Thompson got that disastrous start from three-point range behind him, and now he’s shooting 35 percent on the season.
That’s still a serious underachievement compared to his 41.8 percent career clip, and it’s the worst season of his career.
But let’s give him the benefit of the doubt and figure he can’t possibly be as bad as 35 percent. No way has he forgotten how to shoot.
The other counting stats also cast Thompson’s recent performance to rescue his season off the scrap heap in a better light.
He’s scoring 22.7 points a game, over 20 for the fifth straight year and a career high.
He’s rescued his eFG% (.525) as well; it’s still a huge dropoff from recent years but it’s no longer the worst of his career.
Put another way, offensively, Thompson is back, and if we operate on the belief that he can’t possibly be this bad for long since he’s still a guy who can make 14 three-pointers in a game, by the end of the season he should surge significantly.
The Advanced Stats
If Thompson is such a great wing defender, why is his Defensive Box Plus-Minus hot garbage every year?
He has never, in his life, given up fewer points per 100 possessions than a league-average player on a league-average team.
In other words, Thompson’s defensive reputation rests entirely on the fact that he plays for the Golden State Warriors.
If the Dubs replaced him with a guy like Andre Roberson or Victor Oladipo defensively, in theory they’d have the kind of defense you usually only see in places like Boston or, this year, Oklahoma City.
Now of course, Roberson would be a massive offensive liability, so that’s kind of apples to oranges, but the point is that the best advanced stats we have tell us that Thompson isn’t just a below-average defender.
His minus-3.3 DBPM makes him a legitimately awful one.
Kevin Pelton of ESPN had Thompson as the fifth-best defensive shooting guard in the league when putting together his All-Defense teams last season.
But with all due respect to Pelton, I’m not seeing it.
The rest of Thompson’s Big 5 advanced stats suggest a great shooter (.574 career TS%, over .590 for four straight All-Star years, and the caveat about positive regression applying this year), but his WS/48 (.046 this year, .109 career) is barely above the Mendoza Line for a starter, and win shares skew upward on good teams.
And Thompson’s VORP? He’s at -0.5 (and falling!) this year, and that’s Carmelo Anthony territory.
But Thompson’s VORP in his last four full seasons clocks in at 2.9, 1.8, 1.5, and 0.9 from 2015 to 2018.
All of the above suggests not an All-Star but a fringe role player, a guy who has a lot more in common with Doug McDermott than with guys like Kevin Durant and Stephen Curry on his own team.
His on-off Net Rating split has been in decline since 2015 as well. Last five seasons including this one: +12.5, +12.7, +7.8, +3.7, -9.9.
You know something? There’s a lesson in this.
What we’re seeing is a guy whose counting stats are solid but whose contribution to his team has been in steady decline for five years now and what we’re seeing is the culmination of a guy who is 28 but whose best years are behind him.
All-Stars and Hall of Famers don’t put up just 10 VORP in eight years (for perspective, Steph put up 9.8 VORP by himself in 2016, LeBron James has had three full seasons where he put up more VORP in one year than Klay has in his whole career, and last year’s leader, LeBron, put up 8.9.)
Is Klay Thompson good? Well, sort of.
If all we expected Thompson to be was a Rudy Gay/Bojan Bogdanovic/Trevor Ariza type player, he’s better than all three of those guys in the same essential role.
But Thompson’s a four-time All-Star with a reputation as an elite defender.
And the numbers, especially as they’re in severe decline, just don’t back that up.
By the standard to which Thompson is held, this one is Busted.