On Saturday night, Golden State lost a "heartbreaker" to the Denver Nuggets in double OT (in quotes because this isn't, after all, the 7th game of the NBA Finals, just the 7th game of the regular season). Since the game ended, the Warriors' second-year starting SG Klay Thompson has been impaled with criticism. Some of the criticism is fair in my opinion, but some of it is unfair, and some of it may even be misplaced.
The title of this post distinguishes three facets on which we can judge players, namely decision-making, execution, and talent. Of course, in some sense, say in the long-term, these player qualities are all somewhat related. In the short term, however, and especially for younger players, I feel that we should be careful about specifying which one(s) we are actually concerned about. Each concept taken on its own would seem almost trivially obvious, but the three combined are often hazily and haphazardly merged in the form of "hating" on a player after a tough loss when logic tends to get thrown out the window. To understand why I say this, allow me to briefly describe each one and put it in the context of Klay's game on Saturday.
Good players tend to make good decisions on the basketball court. Bad players tend to make bad decisions. All players...ALL PLAYERS...sometimes make mistakes. Klay Thompson made a big mistake when he let Gallo drive past him all the way to the hoop on Saturday night, and there can be no doubt because he admitted it:
Yeah … I’m not sure what you mean by that … I think I just forgot. I’m going to learn from it. I forgot we had a foul to give so I’ve got to be more aware in that situation and I will be next time."
Of course, there are several questions here for the discerning fan. Did Thompson really just "forget" to foul Gallo, or was he really just unaware of the game strategy in that situation? Did the coaching staff make it clear to the players (either during a timeout or at some point during a practice session) that they should be looking to give a foul in that situation? If so, it's fair to criticize Klay for poor decision-making, but consider also that everyone makes mistakes. I'm not sure if pressure situations necessarily cause people to make more mistakes, but it wouldn't surprise me if the "mistake variance" increases, meaning that people might tend to make fewer or more mistakes in pressure situations depending on their nature. That's just conjecture though. What's important here is to note that Klay apparently made a poor decision at a time that made it really obvious that it was a bad decision. But don't you think if we dissected the entirety of this game or any game for that matter, we might find other players who made or make poor decisions, albeit with lesser, or at least, less dramatic consequences? ALL PLAYERS...sometimes make mistakes, including Klay Thompson.
ANDRIS BIRDREAMS MADE TOO FREE THROWZ...HEZ BETER THAN KLAY TOMSON!
Klay Thompson missed two free throws with 13 seconds left in the first OT. If he does that with 13 seconds left in the first quarter, nobody remembers. It's an anomaly. I'm not going to look up whether Klay Thompson misses two free throws with regularity, because it's obvious that a career 85% FT shooter doesn't. Here's a rule of thumb I live by:
Never blame good foul shooters for missing free throws.
This is just poor execution, like a QB missing an easy throw, or a return man flubbing the catch on a punt. It's like a catcher overthrowing second base, or a batter failing to lay down a bunt. It's like Bill Buckner letting a baseball go through his legs in the World Series. When you have hundreds or thousands of opportunities for some thing to happen, the fact of the matter is that sometimes, one of those things is going to happen. Klay Thompson has 110 FTA in his career thus far, and he missed two in a row. File this under you know what happens.
At some point in every player's career he has made enough decisions and executed enough plays that he can be judged accordingly by his true talent. And if you're LeBron James, the most talented basketball player on the planet, people still give you crap about decision-making once in a while. ("Why didn't Superman fly even faster around Earth that one time?") Klay Thompson seems to be a talented player, but not all the evidence is in yet. Maybe what happened on Saturday with his decision-making and Monta-esque volume shooting are signs that he is not as talented as was believed. It's too early to tell, and certainly, the case can't be made from one single game, no matter how poorly played. When Stephen Curry goes 1-for-whatever, we collectively shrug it off, because we *know* Curry is a talented shooter.
Klay went 5-15 on 3-pt attempts on Saturday, and I've heard a lot of grumbling about how he took too many 3-pt shots. I'd like to say a couple of things about this. First, from everything I've heard out of Mark Jackson's mouth, Klay (and Curry) have the green light to shoot. If this team is going to win, it's probably going to involve those guys shooting a lot and at a high rate of efficiency. We simply don't have that many other options, especially after losing Brandon Rush and with Bogut out indefinitely (7-10 days my ass). Klay's shot selection may be questionable at times, and I hope the coaching staff and Klay are working on that aspect. But make no mistake, there are going to be games when we need Klay's shooting. If he is stifled or made to fear his own shot at this stage of his career, that may be a weapon we can't live without.
Here's another thing about Klay's 26 field goal attempts. He went 5-15 on 3's, which means he made only 4 of 11 2-pt attempts. If anything, he should have take less 2's, right? The 33% he hit on 3's is equivalent to 50% on 2-pt shots. As a team, we shot 45% TS that night.
This turned out to be a longer short rant than I intended, but I hope I made myself somewhat clear, and I think the discussion is worth having. I'm not saying it's always easy to distinguish the differences between decision-making, execution, and talent, but what I am saying is that before one decides to eviscerate a player for a bad night, one should make some kind of effort to think about these notions (and there is room for disagreement). Every player is going to have a bad night, and those nights are probably going to be somewhat proportional to the level of talent. In the long run, the results *are* the talent, right? My philosophy is generally to support the team and the player until I've seen enough to decide that my support is not warranted any longer. Regarding this particular iteration of the Warriors and starting SG Klay Thompson, I simply don't have enough information yet to revoke my support. Your mileage may vary.