When Klay Thompson was ranked eighth in ESPN's top ten shooting guards I felt there must be some bias. When Dwyane Wade, Tyreke Evans and Jimmy Butler were ranked ahead of Thompson, I could only laugh. While there are a variety of metrics that analysts choose to decipher who's the most effective at a position, the idea of who's the best shooting guard seems like it should be pretty clear -- the guy who shoots the best.
Insert Golden State Warriors two-man Klay Thompson. He currently has the fourth most shots from long-range (50), and is currently 14th in points per game (21). Ahead of him on the overall points leader board are players who are at their ceiling. Players like Kobe Bryant (1), James Harden (3), LeBron James (4) and Carmelo Anthony (7) are playing at a premium, but in the case of Thompson (and possibly Anthony Davis) there's another gear yet to be reached. Thompson is capable of averaging 30 points a night, and he's much closer to it than most think.
Let's be clear on what we're discussing. The last shooting guard to average at least 30 points in a single season was Miami Heat guard Dwyane Wade who put up 30.2 in the 2008-09 season. Before him Kobe Bryant, Allen Iverson and Gilbert Arenas were the only small guards to average 30 in the last 30 years. In essence, the 30-point plateau is Hall of Fame territory.
Perhaps it's his demeanor that keeps him out of that conversation. Klay's a silent killer - the kind of guy who literally leaves it all on the court. Who's to say that players who possess more grit and less flamboyance can't be considered as all-time greats? An examination of the aforementioned usually leads to the league's most underrated conversation, and while Thompson is already a subject of that debate, it's time his reputation graduates to a more worthwhile discussion.
At the moment, Thompson is currently scoring at roughly half of his potential and there's a wealth of room to grow.
Obviously Wade, Bryant, Iverson and Wade were centerpieces for their respective teams (a few still are). Most important, all are future hall of fame players. Placing Thompson with such elite company suggests he'll have a Hall of Fame career too, which is considered premature. If Joe Dumars, Dennis Johnson, Chris Mullin, Scottie Pippen and James Worthy among other great players considered to be career second fiddles made it into the Hall of Fame, why not consider the Thompson as a possibility, at least in terms of where to set his ceiling?
Second fiddle or not, their importance to a team's success is pretty similar. This season the Warriors are putting up 115.6 buckets with Thompson on the court versus 97.5 with him off of it. That's a similar disparity than teammate and point-god gunner Stephen Curry who while on the court helps the W's light up the scoreboard for 115.3 versus 95.5 scored when he's riding the pine.
We already know Thompson is a tremendous shooter, proven by opposing team scouting reports every night. "Run him off the three point line", is the general consensus. For the moment it's adequate strategy to contain Thompson, if he's to step his game up a notch putting the ball on the floor is key to his growth. It's also what's lacking if Klay is to join the 30 point elite club.
Thompson's averaging 21 points on the season and it couldn't be more clear as to what pushes him closer to the 30 points a game mark. He needs to work on creating more space when given the ball in isolation. As his dribbles and touch time increase, his shooting percentage decreases. Based on numbers from NBA.com/stats entering last night's game, when Thompson has the ball six seconds or more -- something that doesn't happen often for him -- his field goal percentage after the shot is 26.3% percent. When defended with anywhere between two feet to no space at all from more than 10 feet from the basket, Thompson's field goal percentage is 22.2 percent which suggests he could stand to finish at the rim better, or (back to basics) create more space between himself and the defender.
Off the catch, Thompson is shooting 43 percent from the field and 45.6 percent from three. He has hoisted a jumper after taking four or more dribbles 31 times in the early season thus far. He's only cashed in on 9 of those attempts and is currently shooting 29 percent in this range. In these 31 attempts he's fired shots on defenders who are within an average of 2.8 feet from him.
That's not going to cut it, and Thompson must dedicate himself to becoming a great shot creator or a difficult shot maker, like Kobe Bryant or Reggie Miller, respectively. There's room for Thompson to be great at both, however at the moment it seems he's more comfortable shooting off the catch. A quicker first step, and more reliable ball on the floor game is what pushes Thompson to 30 a game. Right now we're talking one extra bucket per quarter, and a pair of trips to the line to go from 20 a game to 30. It's not impossible, and for Thompson's volume of shots, improving his accuracy in this one area is necessary to catapult him to that level.
It's not as if the lateral quickness or overall foot speed isn't there for Thompson - as he continuously draws some of the W's toughest defensive assignments, he's been very consistent in keeping a hand in the faces of the league's best guards. Truth is, the ability to create space on a shot doesn't come natural, and with Thompson standing at 6'7, he's typically two to three inches taller than his defender. Up to this point all he's had to do is simply shoot over the opposition.
Greatness can be defined by the thirst to maximize potential. It's clear that achieving greatness at his position is a passion of Thompson's. He's come into this season as a bigger threat to defenses than his previous three years. The difference lies in the mechanics of his game, the confidence he exudes and an ability to forget mistakes. All of which are qualities that can propel Thompson in a one-of-the-greatest now and later conversation.
Still... Eighth on the top shooting guards list is just ridiculous. Can a Warrior get a little r-e-s-p-e-c-t?