Golden State Warriors: Ranking Klay Thompson Among NBA's Best Sharpshooters
The Golden State Warriors March 13 blockbuster deal highlighted two clear thoughts from the team's front office: 1) They did not believe a Monta Ellis/Stephen Curry backcourt could win, and 2) they do believe in Thompson as their shooting guard of the present and future.
The Ellis/Curry debates had dragged on since the team selected Curry with the seventh-overall pick in the 2009 NBA draft, dividing NBA analysts, the Warriors front office and even the club's fanbase along the way.
The argument for Thompson to be an NBA starter...well, that's a much more recent development.
The 11th pick in this season's draft, the former Washington State Cougar looked worlds away from seeing any meaningful minutes during the forgettable start to his career. His shooting form looked good (though the results did not; he connected on just eight of his first 35 field goal attempts and one of his first 13 three-point shots), but his on-court demeanor lay somewhere between a deer in headlights and a teenager in his girlfriend's father's shotgun sights.
He looked like he didn't belong and looked like he wanted nothing to do with belonging in the first place.
Credit Mark Jackson and the Warriors coaching staff for living with Thompson's mistakes and not letting his minutes fluctuate the way a Warriors rookie of yesterday's have might. The on-court returns gradually accumulated, and his stretch of four consecutive double-figure outputs in the days leading up to the trade eased any lingering concerns that he was not ready.
So, now that the NBA has gotten a much closer look at the rookie (he has played fewer than 30 minutes in just two of the eight games since Ellis' departure), where exactly does he rank among the league's best shooters?
Players He's Already Passed
"Sharpshooter" is one of the least desired titles in the NBA. And for good reason.
When people think of knock-down shooters, they generally think of just that: a guy who can shoot the ball but contributes little else to his team.
A look at the NBA leaders this season highlights some of these one-trick players: leagueleader Mike Miller (Miami), Steve Novak (New York), Matt Bonner (San Antonio), Jordan Farmar (New Jersey) and Kyle Korver (Chicago).
There's nothing wrong with these players. They bring a marketable skill to their league and appear invaluable when the shots are falling.
Of course, the shots don't always fall. And when they don't, these players either disappear on the court or disappear on the end of the bench.
Thompson has already separated himself from this group of players. He can shoot as well as any of them (his 43.4 percent is tied for 10th in the league and ahead of all other rookies), but he's not limited to just being a spot-up shooter.
Not all of the great shooters are limited to this one ability, but even some with other items in their repertoire are still struggling to keep up with Thompson. Players like George Hill (Indiana), Chase Budinger (Houston), Ryan Anderson (Orlando) and Ramon Sessions (L.A. Lakers) all rank in the top 30 three-point shooters, but all can contribute more than just their perimeter shooting.
Still, Thompson has already passed even the players listed here. He has great footwork, allowing him to stay a shooting threat even when he's moving. He has a high basketball IQ (thanks in no small part to his father's 12 seasons in the league), which has helped him see plays ahead of when they happen. He's also shown a greater respect for playing both ends of the floor better than most NBA "shooters" do.
With Thompson's scoring continuing to increase (10.2 per game on the season, but an impressive 20.3 in the eight games since the trade), he could move into that rare field in the NBA when a shooter transcends a shooter and becomes a "scorer." Or even an "All-Star."
Players He's Still Chasing
Though the month has been a tremendous period of growth for Thompson (he's set three career-highs already, most recently the 31 points he scored in Saturday's win against Sacramento), he clearly has a lot of room for growth.
He hasn't shown enough consistency to move into the same category as the aforementioned "scorers," players like Atlanta's Joe Johnson or Boston's Ray Allen.
Unlike Thompson, Johnson demands double teams and has the ability to carry his team for stretches of games. The Hawks star has scored more points (19.3) than any other player in the top-40 NBA three-point shooters.
As for Allen, he's the NBA leader in career three-pointers but has been a gifted scorer from anywhere on the court (20.0 points per game over his 16-year career).
Shooters don't even have to evolve to just being a scorer. They can supplement their game with good handles and decision making (San Antonio's Manu Ginobili and Oklahoma City's James Harden) or frustratingly consistent one-on-one defense (Portland's Nicolas Batum or Denver's Arron Afflalo).
Thompson has shown other abilities in stretches, but not on a nightly basis like these players.
Four of these players (Johnson, Allen, Ginobili and Harden) can comfortably lead their teams on crucial late-game possessions. The other two (Batum and Afflalo) draw the opposing player in these situations.
At this point in Thompson's career, he's better off staying away from late-game situations altogether. He needs to work on his handles and his ability to beat his defender. He needs to improve as a man defender.
He possesses one of the NBA's best shooting strokes, but if he complements that form with other abilities like these player's have, Thompson can avoid the constraints of being an NBA "sharpshooter."