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Splash assessment: Klay Thompson’s early season stats review

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With a third of the season completed, Klay is shooting and rebounding better than ever

Golden State Warriors v Detroit Pistons Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images

If the classic “stats versus eyeballs” debate has taught me anything, it’s the importance of checking our assumptions against the data. With about one-third of the season completed, I thought it would be a good time to take a look at some of the stats of our key players.

In these articles, I’ll be listing some of my notable impressions and then presenting the numbers for your consideration.

First up, Klay Thompson

My initial impressions of Thompson’s young season are as follows:

  • He’s becoming a better playmaker and more dynamic scorer;
  • His defensive box score metrics are improving because he’s getting more blocks and rebounds.

So how valid are those impressions?

Playmaking and scoring

First up, let’s take a look at Klay’s assist percentage (AST%), which is an estimate of the percentage of plays he assists on. Here are his season-by-season AST% number so we can see if this is actually true or not:

Well, not great.

For comparison, both Draymond Green and Stephen Curry are hovering around the 30% range on this. JJ Reddick (the most “catch and shoot” player I could think of off the top of my head) has a career AST% average of around 12%. So do with that information what you will.

While he has markedly improved from last season’s career-low 9.3%, the improvement has actually been pretty modest in the grand scheme of things. That’s probably mostly a function of how the Warriors use Thompson, whose primary role is to finish possessions rather than facilitating offense for others.

On the bright side, the increase from last season to this season is a 27% increase so it’s not totally unreasonable to make this claim. He is assisting on a higher than average rate for his career, and he’s up significantly from last season in this regard.

Verdict: Plausible.

For Thompson’s scoring, it’s a bit more complicated than just one number — if we are really out to prove that he’s become a more dynamic scorer, we’ll want to look at how well he’s scoring, plus, how exactly he’s getting those points.

So, how well is Thompson scoring?

Exceedingly well.

Although his points per game average is down by around two per game, he has been converting his shot attempts into points at the best rate of his career. Below is a chart of the two best measures of scoring efficiency — TS% and eFG. You can see that Thompson is at the top of his game in both categories:

Now, as far as how dynamic this scoring is, it’s much less clear. For starters, he is shooting pretty much the same percentage of his attempts from deep as usual (46% this year, 47% each of the last two seasons). His percent of attempts within three feet of the rim are down a little, but I can’t get myself too worked up over him taking 13% of his shots from point blank rather than his career average of 15%.

Equally inconclusive, the percentage of his shots that are assisted by his teammates remains high. Yet you can see that the percent of his 2-pointers that are assisted have dropped quite a bit as compared to last season:

So we have shown an improvement that could be used in an argument, but this is by no means a slam dunk talking point if you’re trying to prove that Thompson has improved a ton off the dribble.

Verdict: Thompson is scoring at the most efficient rate of his career, but there’s not a ton of evidence that he’s emerging as a playmaker.

Defense and counting stats

While Thompson has always had a reputation as an excellent defender, he rarely shows up well when you look at the stats. I’m no expert in these things, but the general consensus here is that the answer is two-fold: he funnels his man into help rather than stopping them; and he doesn’t get a lot of rebounds or steals, which hurts his metrics.

So, his steals and blocks are pretty stagnant, and still very low, but look at those rebounding rates climb!! In fact, the rebounding increase is one of the biggest improvements across all his numbers - at 4.5 rebounds per 36 minutes on the court, this is by far Klay’s career high.

Verdict: Ok, well, at least his rebounds are up!

In conclusion, I was mostly correct but the results are mixed, if we are being completely honest. While Klay has been shooting the ball and scoring better than ever before, it’s not clear that he’s really any more dynamic than he has been. Defensively, his rebounds are up, but his counting stats still aren’t really noteworthy. He’s a key cog in our scheme, and a solid defender, but his low-key defese doesn’t translate into gaudy box score results.

All stats were extracted from player page for Klay Thompson, which can be found here. Graphs and statistics are current as of 12/12/2017.

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