The idea of Klay Thompson as a Splash Brother is perhaps most insulting to not how we perceive him but how others in the world project him as a basketball player. The poster boy image of a Splash Brother is Stephen Curry's Louvre-perfect jumper, a reincarnation of God's image of human perfection, reflected in a single fluid motion, ceasing to cooperate with chaos while everything else envelops its surroundings.
While Klay Thompson's shot is similarly pristine, his overall play lacks the overall aplomb and flashiness we ascribe to a member of the Splash Brother. The critiques and positives are everywhere, and at this point, distinct in how we feel about Thompson. He can't dribble, pass, and if he's on an extended shooting slump - which has happened the past few years - he's perhaps the least reliable player on the floor. But Thompson's game has improved to the end of the season where his on-ball defense allowed the Warriors to hide Curry, is a nifty post player, and despite the shooting slumps and bad shot selection, still one of the most lethal three-point hoisters in the game.
The exasperation with Thompson's game didn't necessarily boil over until the past couple weeks. Even when he struggled in the middle of the season and the playoffs, people weren't concerned with his lack of overall talent and athleticism. No one expects him to become a slasher and sudden superstar at the 2-spot. However, once Kevin Love's name was mentioned in trade rumors and that the Warriors were holding back on the deal because of Thompson, so began the perfect encapsulation of expectations vs. reality.
The nitpicking began and every flaw we've bandaged over because "what else is better" and "he's the least of the problems" became an ugly referendum on his career. This team could have Love running pick-and-pops with Curry and outletting to Andre Iguodala streaking down the sideline for a windmill slam. Instead, it appears that Jerry West and Steve Kerr are, by refusing to part with the Washington State product, forcing us to reexamine those very same flaws that have been apparent to everyone watching.
There's a certain fraying, at least in the mindset of fans, that will attach Thompson's name to what Love is going to accomplish at his next stop. That has exactly nothing to do with Thompson's play on the court but resembles a bittersweet result to the linear improvements Thompson exhibited throughout the season.
I documented his progressions in a mid-season piece here. In short, Klay cut back on the wayward dribbling from the top of the key and instead slashed right off screens, making a snap decision whether to shoot a pullup jumper or driving to the rim. He isn't an athletic finisher but is long enough to get up and around defenders that aren't weary of his presence.
Thompson isn't a net positive on the defensive, according to RAPM, but is worthy of recognition because he can hassle point guards in the way that Curry cannot. Because Curry has to provide so much on offense (see: everything), Thompson must carry some of the slack on the other end - this is how proponents of a nixed Love deal see as a perfect dichotomy and harmonious relationship between the Splash Brothers. Klay's off-ball defense is more Harrison Barnes than Andre Iguodala but the Warriors' system allowed him to play to his strengths and led the team to a top-3 Defensive Rating.
Above everything, what Klay provides speaks to what happened in the tenure of Mark Jackson. Kerr and West are propping up what is otensibly their man (West loved Thompson in the 2011 NBA Draft). Beyond all the tensions and foul play during the Jackson era, the Warriors let him go because he maxed out what he could do with this group of players. The Elevator Doors and Motion Weak plays (an ode to the San Antonio Spurs) were cute but when push came to shove, and the Warriors were faced with better defenses focused on Steph, the less adjustments were made to counterbalance the increase in isolation forays into despair and nothingness. Thompson provided elite-level shooting (if it was off a catch-and-shoot) but struggled in phases of the game that necessitated a level of growth that's unlikely. Thompson shot 42 percent and 45.9 percent off spot-ups and off screens, respectively, according to Synergy Sports. His shooting dipped to 30.8 percent and 41.7 percent on isolations and as a pick-and-roll shooter, respectively.
There's a certain tier that players are projected to leap into. Most media/fans/layman would agree that number one pick Andrew Wiggins will be an excellent defender at the NBA level. But the Cleveland Cavaliers also drafted him to fulfill and turn those absurd physical gifts into an efficient scorer and playmaker. Thompson, in that same scope, is perhaps as close to the ceiling as Jackson was screaming for failed play after failed play, watching his superstar point guard tortured under the maniacal ability of Chris Paul and the opposing team-wide awareness towards his every motion. Of course, the difference was that management was in unison firing Jackson and adding an unknown like Steve Kerr (although Alvin Gentry and Ron Adams are sure to help). Flipping Thompson and filler pieces for the ceiling of Love - and not just the singular force of Love but the instant fireworks likely a result from the Curry-Love pairing - puts everything Thompson has done in neat, although grim, perspective.
Klay Thompson is a very good player that had, by all accounts, a solid third season marked by progression and an increase in role and popularity. But when the grass is greener on the other side, we start to judge the things starkly in front of us from a different viewpoint. Unfair or not, the report card on Klay Thompson's 2013-14 season quickly became not how he played last season but whether what we're watching now is worth the future.