A year ago, people were talking about Golden State Warriors guard Klay Thompson as one of the steals of the 2011 draft. The lanky guard with a sweet shooting stroke was drawing praise as a potential superstar, a guy who could challenge Stephen Curry as the best three-point shooter in the league. He followed up a promising rookie season with a strong summer league ... but then the regular season started.
And that's where things got iffy.
Klay has gotten flack for his boneheaded turnovers. His shooting has been disappointing, as he's seen his TS% fall from .545 to .536 (before Sunday's game) during a time in his career when we'd expect to see him improving. He's also displayed a disturbing tendency to commit bone-headed errors late in games, which have contributed to the team's difficulty closing out leads.
But Klay has improved many facets of his game, and the big knock against him, his disappointing offense, has a rather clear and obvious cause.
Defensively, Klay is obviously much improved. He's figured out how to use his length to bothered guards on the perimeter, and to challenge shots when players get past him. He frequently draws the tough assignment, and often delivers. His on-ball defense, for example, was a big part of Tony Parkers sub-.500 TS% performance in the Warriors friday overtime victory. His foul rate has also dropped by almost half a foul per 36 minutes, an improvement that's hard to see if you only good at per-game stats.
His rebounding is up, too.
But what about offense? Often, how much a player scores determines how we feel about their play, even if we feel they should know better. In addition to Klay's TS% decline, his 3-point shooting, which is supposed to be his strength has dropped from an excellent .414 last year to a barely-acceptable .384 this year. And, of course, there are all those boneheaded turnovers.
The predictions in game threads about him cooling off after a hot start against Phoenix made me look up some numbers. Even given what I expected to see, the results surprised me.
That sound you hear is the needle scratching off the record. I expected to see a dropoff, but that is jaw-dropping.
Klay Thompson, who is an elite shooter during the first three quarters of the game, is downright terrible during the 4th quarter. To put this in context, we can approximate his TS% during the first three quarters as being around (rounding in the data makes it hard to be precise) .568 - a strong number, which would be tied for first among the team's starters with Curry. His three point shooting in those three quarters, overall, is better than it was last year. Meanwhile, during the 4th quarter, his TS% is a wistful-memories-of-Monta generating .417.
This suggests something rather obvious: Klay Thompson is getting tired.
That would explain the mental mistakes as well. It's harder to track (since the way Klay involves himself in the offense changes) but subjectively it certainly feels like more of his mental mistakes happen later in the game. This wouldn't be surprising to anyone who's played organized sports: you make more dumb mistakes when you're tired. These are also something he can grow out of - remember how a year ago we were all complaining about Curry's one-handed passes ... and yet we hardly mention them now?
Klay is playing 11 more minutes a game this year than last. He's also playing much harder on defense. Is it any surprise that he's getting gassed?
If you want a culprit for Klay's poor performance, look at Zach Randolph. If he doesn't wreck Brandon Rush's knee, Klay's minutes can be trimmed, and instead of talking about how disappointing he is we're talking about the nice growth we're seeing from him as a second year player. It's not always this cut and dried, but here it's obvious: Klay is playing too many minutes.
Mark Jackson deserves some blame for this. Even though neither Barnes nor Jefferson are natural twos, he could reduce Klay's minutes some, for example, by running Jack-Curry-Barnes rather than Jack-Curry-Klay. He could sneak in a few more minutes for Draymond Green in the first half.
And Klay is not blameless. Now that he's experiencing the workload required to be an effective player on both ends of the floor, he's going to have to hit the gym hard this offseason. He needs to be in better shape next year if he wants to deserve 35+ minutes a game.
That is, however, a fairly typical young-player learning curve. The players who want it realize they need to work harder. Klay is going to have to decide how badly he wants it this offseason.
But it's time to stop talking about how Klay sucks, about how he's regressed, about how he's never going to live up to his rookie-year hype. No, he may never be as good as James Harden, but his performance this year is not the result of a lack of development. It's the result of strong development undercut by new responsibilities on defense and too many minutes overall.
His future is bright.