This may sting Warriors fans a bit, but here goes: Klay Thompson may be reaching a plateau.
Key word: may.
The fifth year shooting guard had a tremendous 2015-2016 campaign by any measure. The all-star averaged 22.1 points per game on a Stephen Curry-like .597 true shooting percentage, and consistently played the role of two-way chess piece for coach Steve Kerr, harassing perimeter players on defense.
But one thing stands out: Thompson didn't really get any better compared to a season ago. The Washington State legend saw virtually all of his numbers stay flat compared to the 2014-2015 season, or decline (per basketball-reference.com and ESPN.com*).
|Points per game||21.7||22.1|
|Rebounds per game||3.2||3.8|
|Assists per game||2.9||2.1|
|Free Throw Attempts per game||3.3||2.8|
|True Shooting Percentage||0.591||0.597|
It's probably best to focus on the positives, though. Although his total RPM dropped by half, he still remained 8th in the NBA among qualified shooting guards. And he did average an extra two minutes per night (more playing time traditionally hurts efficiency metrics like PER and RPM). And the eye test didn't reveal any glaring slippage. This is one of those times to mention that even full seasons qualify as a small sample size for statistics like RPM.
But most importantly, Golden State won 73 games, and nearly won a second championship while facing a massive challenge from the Oklahoma City Thunder, all despite significant injuries to Stephen Curry and Andrew Bogut, and an unfortunate suspension to Draymond Green in the Finals. Thompson, an all-star shooting guard, had a big role in helping the team get there.
With Kevin Durant stepping into the starting lineup, it'll be interesting to see what happens to his shot attempts and usage rating. With one more elite three-point threat in the rotation, presumably playing close to 35 minutes per night, it wouldn't be surprising if Klay Thompson's traditional numbers sank for the first time in in his career. There's only so many possessions in a basketball game, and of the guys who left Golden State to make room for Durant, none are high usage players. As the highest remaining usage player not named Stephen Curry, Thompson figures to be the biggest loser.
But a reduced role has its advantages. Thompson's efficiency could spike into truly elite levels -- we're talking Stephen Curry levels for things like true shooting percentage, which itself is essentially unprecedented in basketball history. And his PER and RPM could see healthy boosts, too, as he sees more open looks as a share of his total shots, more assisted shot attempts, and fewer turnover opportunities. He'll even get a bit of a break on defense, as Durant's length makes him a better, more versatile defender than Harrison Barnes was, inside and out. Perhaps that will allow him to play even harder on offense, running around screens and cutting to the hoop.
Yet the fact is this: Klay Thompson is about as amazing a shooter the league has ever seen, aside from Curry. And he's a willing two-way player who would start for any team in the Association (including, of course, perhaps the greatest team in NBA history). But will he get better in 2016-2017? It's tough to expect him to, right now. Fortunately for the Warriors, any improvement would simply be sausage gravy on pancakes -- completely unnecessary, even if it sounds sort of amazing. Right now, they're favorites to win the championship, and they're coming off of an NBA-record 73-win season. That will be plenty.