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Player perspective: Still waters run deep - an evaluation of Klay Thompson’s offense

Using detailed Synergy data, we can see how Klay Thompson is unchanging and immutable offensively - in all the right ways

Klay Thompson’s game is the Easter Island Statue of NBA analytics - immutable, indomitable. It feels like historians will come back through - years later - and marvel at the steadfast nature of this man’s game.

While other players we have looked at have seen fairly drastic changes over time, Klay Thompson’s game has been just like the man himself: steady.

This is the fourth (and final) installment of an ongoing series aimed at previewing key Warriors players’ performance not just as static images, but as the evolving players that they are. Read part one on Stephen Curry here, part two on Kevin Durant here, and part three on Draymond Green here.

The purest of shooters, playing the simplest style

It’s hard not to get too philosophical when looking at Thompson’s game. As opposed to the other players we’ve reviewed, Thompson has seen little to no change in dominant play types. Curry for example, now cuts more often than he comes off screens; Durant’s play chart has so much variability that it looks like a drunken octopus; and Draymond Green has evolved to attack in transition rather than the pick and roll.

But Klay Thompson? Nah.

He came into the league knowing what he was and what he should be. Take a look at Klay Thompson’s play type distribution over the course of his career.

Screens, transition, and spot-ups - that’s all Klay needs

While there is variance in the distribution, you can see a clear striation in Thompson’s shot selection. As a pure jump shooter, you don’t get many opportunities in the pick and roll - but for maximum purity you really don’t want that. As Joe Varay recently wrote on this site, there’s a no-nonsense approach to Thompson’s approach to getting buckets. And that approach is essentially “just take open jumpers.” His lack of change in these play types is a feature of his game, not a bug:

...Thompson is an unproven commodity when it comes to being a playmaker and an initiator of the offense. Being surrounded by a plethora of playmakers, Thompson doesn’t really need to be the one bringing the ball down, initiating sets, and generating assists — he can just move off the ball and behind pindown screens, and shoot when he’s open.

Now, that’s not to say that there’s absolutely no variance in his game at all. Thompson has obviously made minute adjustments to how he plays - plus there are the random year-to-year noises associated with any sports statistic that account for annual changes.

Here is a graphic showing the distribution of shots, by distance, over the course of his career.

Like the sun, Klay does most of his work from far away

One interesting note: look at his long two-pointers (listed in the graphic above as “16<3,” meaning between 16 feet out to the three point line).

At the beginning of his career, he took a fair amount of long two pointers - a shot type that saw a steady decrease throughout his career... up until the arrival of Kevin Durant. It’s impossible to say exactly why these long twos have increased over the past couple of seasons, but it will be something to watch moving forward.

The modern NBA eschews the mid-range game, but if these are shots that Thompson is going to continue to take, then it may actually be acceptable in this case. From data, we can see that the longer twos are one of the better options for him out of all his two pointers .

from 3-10 feet, Klay Thompson looks decidedly mediocre - not bad on the longer twos

The deadliest touch

One of the most salient features related to his fit within the overall Warriors system is how brutally effective Klay Thompson is at getting points off of minimal involvement. In fact, he led the entire team in “points per touch” last season. This means that more than anyone else on the team, Thompson is able to generate points without dominating the ball.

Look at the team leaders in point per touch last year, from the NBA’s lovely stats dashboard:

And it’s exactly this efficacy that directly leads to the biggest knock on Thompson. He’s not much of a creator. But as stated above, this is a feature not a bug. In other words, the team looks for Thompson to finish plays. If they pass him the ball, particularly out at the three point line, they expect him to shoot (and make) those.

And in case you weren’t paying attention - he does. Look at how many of his three pointers have come off of a teammate assist over the course of his career. This isn’t selfishness; this is what Thompson does for our offense.

Nearly all of Klay’s three pointers are assisted by team mates

An improving star

So that’s it folks. That’s essentially Klay Thompson’s offense. For the other players evaluated, I did a “what to look for in the future” section, but Thompson doesn’t get one. He doesn’t need one.

It’s rare to dive this deep into a player and not see any changes to implement, but that is indeed my opinion. Maybe some of you can help discuss this, but for me, I just look at his shooting percentages and efficiency and find myself satisfied. Like the statues on Easter Island, his stalwart game is defined by how immutable it is.

I’ll leave you with this, the most striking graphic - showing Thompson’s ever-improving shot accuracy over the course of his career. I’m not sure how much better he can get, but whatever happens, I know that he’ll be cool about it.

A historically great shooter - still improving?

Author’s note: Much of this article is inspired by the really cool player overviews that Eustacchio Raulli (who many of us around here know by his work at Fear the Sword under the pseudonym of EVR1022 ) has been doing for Cleveland Cavaliers players; you should definitely check out his Twitter. He was kind enough to help me out with the data underlying much of the analysis, which mostly alleviates his heinous crime of rooting for the Cleveland Cavaliers.

This was my last article in this series, and I hope you enjoyed them!

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