Klay Thompson: Standing in the Shadow of a 6′ 3″ Giant

It’s only natural.

We, as humans, have an inherently limited capacity. There are only so many things we can care about, and sports are near the bottom of the list (or at least they should be). How could we possible recognize and appreciate every aspect of the childish games we already devote too much of our time to?

So, when Steph Curry went all Steph Curry last season, and turned Steph Curry into an adjective/verb/ onomatopoeia, of course we turned our collective attention to him. I mean, did you see this? Or this? Or any of this? That boy was on fire.

But Curry wasn’t the only player posting audacious numbers for the Golden State Warriors last year.

In just his second year, Klay Thompson exploded in the playoffs, posting noteworthy numbers for anyone not playing in the shadow of Curry. He posted stat lines of 22 points with a 52.6 field goal percentage, 21 points going 8 for 9 from behind the arc, and (my personal favorite) 34 points, shooting 13-26 from the floor, 8-9 from three, and a casual 14 rebounds to boot.

These are just the most obvious highlights from a postseason that saw Klay Thompson post a 51.55 true shooting percentage with only an 18.1 usage percentage. Sure, Curry was superhuman, but Thompson’s numbers were that of an emerging superstar. It’s just that most people weren’t talking about them.

This season has been much of the same for the (horribly named) Splash Brothers of Golden State. While Curry is posting career bests in points, assists, rebounds, steals and efficiency, thus receiving most of the national spotlight, Thompson is in the midst of a career year himself.

In 37.8 minutes per game, Klay has posted career milestones in points (19.2), assists (2.6), field goal percentage (44.8%), and three-point percentage (41.4%). These numbers equate to a true shooting percentage of 56.5 and an effective field goal percentage of 54.4. It also equals a 108 offensive rating. Not too shabby.

So, where’s the flaw?

Some would say it’s his youth. After all, Thompson has only played in one full season (his rookie year was in the lockout-shortened season of 2012). Others would point to his lack of the “IT” factor (which is just a nice way of saying he has an extremely punchable face). In reality, Klay Thompson’s deficiency is quite simple. He completely and wholly lacks the ability to create.

Thompson’s game is 100% reliant on a second player. In the few times that he’s been given the keys to the Lamborghini (i.e. Curry was out), he has failed to replicate his impressive numbers or show any semblance of leadership. Sure, some of this points to his lack of experience, but it is due, in large part, to his complete inability to dribble. A look at Thompson’s catch-and-shoot numbers show an NBA best 9.4 points per game off of 44.1% shooting beyond the arc. Compare that to his pull-up numbers, where a three-point specialist such as himself is only averaging 25% from deep. It also explains why, as Kirk Goldsberry points out, Klay Thompson is well below average at finishing at the rim despite a relatively high frequency.

Why will Klay Thompson be forever doomed to wade in the shadow of Stephen Curry? He is a good basketball player, but he’s not a great one. He’s a bona fide starter on a championship contender, but he’s not a superstar. He’s one of the best players (CAVEAT) at what he does. And that’s just it. He will never be the face of a franchise, yet has undeniable talent. Like so many other great, one-dimensional players before him, he will be perpetually overlooked and underrated; doomed to toil in the purgatory between role player and all-star. Then again, he’s a critical piece to the revelation that has been both Steph Curry and the entire resurgence of the Golden State Warriors. He’s simply undefinable.

And that’s okay.

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