How Good Is Klay Thompson Compared to the League's Best Shooting Guards?
Golden State Warriors fans have some reasons for excitement this season, and not just because of a healthy Andrew Bogut or some savvy summer additions.
Much of their hope has to do with the promise shooting guard Klay Thompson showed during his rookie season. The 22-year-old is going into his second season and already drawing some comparisons to Reggie Miller on account of his shooting stroke and ability to excel off the ball.
When asked about the similarities, Warriors head coach Mark Jackson (who used to play with Miller) cautiously acknowledged their shared talents:
"I don't think it's fair to compare them other than the fact that they're two great jump shooters," Jackson said in a Wednesday afternoon telephone interview. "I would put them both up there with anybody. They're both as good a shooter as you can find. They've both got great size for shooting guards. But at the end of the day, while Klay is very good and [I think] that he can be great, he still has to work extremely hard to get to that level."
And, let's be honest. Thompson still has to work hard to get to any level worth getting too excited about.
Yes, he could be an All-Star caliber guard, but for now he's a really good shooter with plenty of potential. That becomes abundantly clear when you compare him to the league's very best shooting guards.
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How good is Klay Thompson when compared to Kobe Bryant?
Well, not very.
They're both exceptional jump shooters, and you have to give Thompson that much. At the moment, however, that's really the only salient similarity. Thompson isn't nearly as skilled at getting to the basket or finishing once he's there, nor does he excel at creating his own offense by scoring off the dribble or working in the post.
Given his size, you'd like to see Thompson develop that ability, and he obviously has plenty of time to round out his offensive game.
It goes without saying that Kobe is a qualitatively better defender, and the Warriors' young guard will need to work on that end of the floor as well. If he really wants to be the next Reggie Miller, he'll have to match that kind of defensive tenacity.
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If Klay Thompson is the next Reggie Miller, he's most certainly not the next Dwyane Wade. You really couldn't pick two more different players.
Whereas Thompson uses his length and shooting ability to make the most of his looks on the perimeter, Wade prefers using his strength and quickness to get to the basket and finish in the paint whenever possible. Even if and when Thompson becomes stronger, it's hard to see him flourishing as a slasher.
And, whereas Thompson has the makings of a guy who will never contribute all that much on the glass or as a distributor, that's the kind of versatility that helped Wade make a name for himself.
Of course, Wade would probably love to have that shooting touch that comes to Thompson so naturally (41 percent from beyond the arc as a rookie), but that doesn't change the fact that Wade makes far more of an impact on both ends of the floor.
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James Harden is only a few months older than Klay Thompson, but he already has three years of NBA experience under his belt.
That makes the Sixth Man of the Year an intriguing comparison for Thompson.
By the numbers, Harden's second season was almost identical to Thompson's rookie campaign. They both averaged a little over 12 points per game while playing in the 25-minute range. Both proved they can do more than just score while still making it clear that they'll never become regular triple-double threats.
In terms of their styles of play, there are some important differences. Harden is at his best when he attacks the basket, and he tends to be a better shooter when he can spot up and set his feet. Thompson, on the other hand, is a pure enough shooter that he can score when he's off balance and coming off screens.
Thompson's lack of an aggressive inside game results in the one significant statistical difference between Harden's 2010-11 campaign and Thompson's rookie year: free throws. Harden got to the line over four times a game while Thompson shot just 1.4 free throws per game.
That's going to have to change if Thompson is to become an elite guard, but he's already proved that he belongs in a class with Harden among the best young up-and-coming shooting guards.
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It's only fair to compare Klay Thompson to the guy he replaced.
But, the fact they were on the same team for half a season is just about the only thing he has in common with Monta Ellis. Now a Milwaukee Buck, Ellis is a prototypical combo-guard who might be better suited to run the point if he weren't so preoccupied with (and successful at) scoring the ball himself.
Moving Ellis means Golden State will miss out on his ability to create offense with little to any help. Ellis could score from anywhere on the floor, and his quickness consistently puts him in position to do damage from the paint and mid-range alike.
And, though Ellis has gotten a rap as a shoot-first guard, he's still a pretty nifty passer when he wants to be. He averaged at least 5.3 assists in each of his last three seasons and is turning into a pretty complete guard after all.
Thompson is the better catch-and-shoot scorer, though, and that may ultimately be a better fit alongside Stephen Curry. On the other hand, Curry's such a good shooter that pairing him with more of a combo-guard actually made some sense (at least on the offensive end).
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The absolute best comparison to Klay Thompson is the Houston Rockets' Kevin Martin.
Though Thompson is already a bit stronger than Martin, they're both 6'7" shooters who love spending time on the perimeter. Martin's never been an exceptional rebounder or averaged more than 2.8 assists in a season, and those could be the same kind of trends that follow Thompson.
For Warriors fans hoping their young stud becomes a perennial All-Star, the Martin comparison may not be an entirely welcome one. But, it could be a lot worse. Martin has averaged more than 20 points in five seasons, and he's an absolutely deadly shooter when everything is clicking.
Still, he's a shooter—and not much more than that.
Unless Thompson really begins to expand his game over the next couple of years, we'll be saying the same about him.