Golden State Warriors: Why Klay Thompson Won't Have Breakout Season

Grant HughesNational NBA Featured ColumnistOctober 23, 2012

October 15, 2012; Denver, CO, USA; Golden State Warriors guard Klay Thompson (11) drives to the basket during the second half against the Denver Nuggets  at the Pepsi Center.  The Nuggets won 104-98.  Mandatory Credit: Chris Humphreys-US PRESSWIRE
Chris Humphreys-US PRESSWIRE

Golden State Warriors' second-year shooting guard Klay Thompson isn't going to have a breakout season in 2012-13. That'll be news to NBA general managers, who selected Thompson as the NBA player most likely to break out this year.

Don't misunderstand—Thompson is a pretty good bet to increase his scoring average by a handful of points this season, but calling that a breakout is totally misleading.

Because Thompson already broke out. He just did it when nobody was paying attention.

Last season, the Golden State Warriors initiated "Protocol Tank Job" after trading Monta Ellis, shutting down Stephen Curry and David Lee and giving heavy minutes to the likes of Mickell Gladness and Mikki Moore. The operation was a success, in that it allowed the Warriors to lose enough games to retain their No. 7 lottery position, which ultimately resulted in their selection of Harrison Barnes in the 2012 draft.

While the obvious aim of "Protocol Tank Job" was clear—preserve injured stars and purposely plummet in the standings—there was also an unintended side effect: Klay Thompson got a huge bump in his minutes.

Thompson, who had thrived as a high-efficiency shooter in limited court time for the season's first half, suddenly found himself starting...and starring.

As the first option on offense in the season's final two months, Thompson enjoyed huge spikes in virtually all of his per-game rates. He saw his scoring numbers rise from single digits to over 20 points per game in the season's final 10 contests. His assists per game doubled in the second half, as did his rebounding averages.

Here's the thing, though: Thompson wasn't really playing any better. He was just playing more.

Obviously, his counting numbers (per-game averages) went up as he earned more playing time. That'd be the case with any NBA player. But Thompson's rate stats (like shooting percentages and overall efficiency numbers) didn't appreciably change as his minutes increased. In fact, his three-point shooting actually worsened over the season's final two months; in March and April, Klay shot only 38 and 39 percent from three, respectively.

There are a couple of takeaways from all of the numbers last year. First, it's pretty obvious that Klay Thompson was already a really good shooter and a solid overall NBA player from the second he was drafted. He just needed the minutes to prove it.

Second, it's highly unlikely that Thompson is going to markedly improve on his numbers from a year ago. Let's take a look at a sample player in the chart below:

Player X   FG% 3p% FT% REB AST STL BLK PTS
    44.3 41.4 86.8 4.0 3.3 1.2 0.5 20.5

If Klay Thompson put up the above stats in 2012-13, would it be correct to label his season a "breakout"?

Well, those numbers actually do belong to Thompson. They're his per-40 minute averages from last year. So considering that Thompson is likely to average somewhere in the neighborhood of 40 minutes per game, even if he bumped all of those figures up a little, it'd simply be inaccurate to say he broke out.

If Charles Jenkins suddenly started putting up 20 points per game, we'd have a different story on our hands—one more worthy of the breakout label. But when a player like Thompson, who has already proved he can put up good numbers in big minutes, simply produces at the same rates as before, it's not a breakout.

In fact, with the Warriors' improved depth and the added scoring presences of David Lee and Stephen Curry in the lineup on a (hopefully) nightly basis, it's even possible that Thompson sees his per-40 minute numbers dip. He's going to be a vital part of the offense this season, but he won't be the focal point he was at the end of last year.

Overall, Thompson could have a greater all-around impact on the Warriors this year if he improves his ability to get to the line and sharpens up his defensive skills. But his offensive numbers really shouldn't shock anyone—even if he puts up over 20 points per game.

Perhaps Thompson will be a surprise to casual NBA fans, or even devoted ones who don't see the Warriors play regularly. But to anyone paying attention—a group that probably should include NBA general managers—Thompson's numbers this year, however impressive, won't really mean he's broken out.

That happened a long time ago.