Putting Golden State Warriors 2011 NBA Draft Pick Klay Thompson's Impact In Perspective


The Golden State Warriors press conference introducing Klay Thompson and their other rookies.

It's pretty much indisputable that most NBA stars have been found in the NBA lottery since its inception in 1985, as laid out well by Andrew McKillop of SportsDelve.com.

However, it also turns out that the opposite is also indisputable: there is absolutely no guarantee that a lottery pick will turn into a star.

As such, we should probably temper expectations for both Warriors 2011 NBA Draft selection Klay Thompson and his impact on any forthcoming moves by the Warriors.

Just looking at the Golden State Warriors' lottery pick history, only five of their 18 draft picks (prior to this season) have become anything resembling a long-term starter for the team (meaning longer than an average NBA career of 4-5 seasons) and that's including both Andris Biedrins and Adonal Foyle, neither of whom anyone would consider. Players like Foyle and Mike Dunleavy weren't starters in their first year. Stephen Curry is likely on his way to being the next long-term starter, but as he hasn't reached that threshold yet, only 27% of the Warriors past lottery picks have become long-term starters.

More broadly, the rate of success for 11th picks in the lottery era (which has been in the lottery since 1990) is only marginally better (between 31-33% depending on how you count it) with 2004 Warriors lottery pick Andris Biedrins being the last to become a starter for the team that drafted him.

In other words, it should come as no surprise that the teams selecting in the lottery most often have been the Warriors and Los Angeles Clippers (whose sordid lottery history, though slightly better than the Warriors, I'll spare you): lottery picks don't necessarily get you out of the lottery. Regardless of whether those teams are cursed or incompetent, it is by no means likely that a team is going to find a bonafide star at the 11th pick.

It appeared that was especially obvious prior to the 2011 NBA Draft.

Everybody seemed to agree that this year's draft would be a relatively weak - the consensus seemed to be that there might be some solid rotation players, maybe a few starters, but not a whole lot of All-Stars. And certainly not a whole lot of big, immediate impact, take-your-franchise-to-the-Promised-Land-tomorrow type players.

Yet the immediate reaction to Thompson was not only that he's ready to start, but also that drafting him signaled that Monta Ellis is definitely on his way out with Thompson as his "replacement" in the starting lineup.

No matter what people think they want a lottery pick to be, the historical record of lottery prospects selected at #11 alone would cast a long shadow of doubt over that assertion. And it's not at all clear that Thompson in particular is poised to buck the trend.

Even after selecting the 6'7" Thompson out of Washington State, the Warriors appear to be cautious in projecting his impact at a time when the public words of executives normally indicate that their newest additions are beyond reproach.

"You never know until you get a guy out there," said Warriors assistant general manager Bob Myers on The Gary Radnich Show Friday morning when asked if it would surprise him if Thompson was a rotation player right away. "You never know what his maturity level is, how ready he is physically, but you do find out in the first two, three weeks of things what his curve will be, how long you think it will take.

"But yeah, if he came in right away and played I think we'd all be surprised, but we're hopeful that he can."

Statistically, it might be even more surprising.

Thompson's 46.4% 2-point percentage was not in the top 40 among shooting guards this past college season. After comparing Thompson's 2-point percentage to other star shooting guards that have posted that kind of 2-point percentage in college, Ed Weiland of HoopsAnalyst concluded before the draft that, "...he doesn’t look like a starter and seems likely to struggle to become a rotation regular."

Just to help further put things in perspective, in Kevin Pelton's Basketball Prospectus 2011 Draft By Similarity article last Wednesday, he likened Thompson to Kirk Snyder and Charles Jenkins to Acie Law. Granted, these things can be wrong - even Pelton indicated that the Kawhi Leonard/Joe Johnson comparison is odd and I think we can all agree that Ekpe Udoh's NBA game bears little resemblance to that of Loren Woods, as the BP similarity scores said last season.

Nevertheless, we can probably agree with Myers that Thompson has some work to do before even being a rotation player, let alone a starter. All of the above is before even addressing the concerns about Thompson's defensive ability, which WSU coach Ken Bone believes is something he needs to crack the rotation on a team led by coach Mark Jackson who seems inclined to distribute minutes based on defense.

The Kevin Calabro Show on 710 ESPN Seattle - Kevin Calabro - MyNorthwest.com
"I do hope he continues to work on his defense," Bone said of Thompson's limitations. "He has shown, at times with us, where he could really guard. He has great basketball instincts, he competes well, he has about [a] six-foot-nine wingspan - but he didn't always play great defense. I think part of it was the fact that he had to produce so many minutes for us, and we needed him to score. But someone on that team down there is going to have to guard."

Thompson is probably a better defender than he's given credit for, despite Bone's observation - nobody plays for former WSU coach Tony Bennett without playing defense and Thompson started all 33 games for Bennett during his freshman season. But he'll have work to do on that end of the ball in any event.

Not that we can ever precisely predict how well draft prospects will perform in the league, but Myers' assessment is perfectly reasonable and fits with the pre-draft impression of this year's draft - there was little reason to believe a starter would be available at #11 and, likewise, little reason to believe that Thompson will challenge for a starting spot on the Warriors in his rookie year or provide any further motivation to trade Monta Ellis.

Obviously, people will see whatever they want to see with the addition of Thompson: if you want Ellis traded, the addition of Thompson will lead you to believe he's on his way out; if you want to keep the Curry-Ellis combo together, Thompson is a great complementary addition to the backcourt rotation.

But ultimately, when owner Joe Lacob is being perfectly reasonable in continuing to insist after drafting Thompson that, as quoted by San Jose Mercury News columnist Tim Kawakami, "I’ve assured Monta that we are in fact not trying to trade him. We really value him and we want him here. I think he’s a tremendous player and a unique asset."

If indeed the Warriors do trade Ellis before the season, it will be because someone makes them an offer they can't refuse, not because Thompson is ready to supplant him in the starting lineup - at present, Thompson should be considered adding scoring depth to their bench rather than a player who can step in, start, and force the Warriors hand in trading Ellis.

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