In what fans hope soon becomes a less rare occasion, the Golden State Warriors are not going to spend their offseason scouting potential lottery picks. The refreshing lack of draft picks does not remove the doubts of the typical offseason. Though the players were already on the roster, the principle remains the same: the Warriors are hoping that their young players–Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson, Harrison Barnes, Draymond Green, Festus Ezeli and even Kent Bazemore–are able to improve.
Thompson’s recently addressed defensive improvements salvaged a frustrating offensive season. In a preseason ESPN poll surveying 30 league officials, Thompson was voted “most likely to breakout,” and though his defense was a revelation, this almost certainly predicted an offensive explosion. Instead, he was inconsistent; sometimes brilliant, sometimes depressing and nearly always confusing.
Thompson clearly has offensive skills. At 1.26 points per play, he ranked 16th in points per play in spot-up situations despite a shot selection likely poorer than comparable shooters.
Most of Thompson’s offensive game is built around his shooting ability. He is always a threat spotting up, often in transition. As his offensive role expanded, he became the beneficiary of many of the Warriors’ off-ball actions. He is Curry’s partner in many of the Warriors’ cross screen sets, and runs countless pin-downs per game.
As he established himself as a scoring threat off these pin-down style plays, further offensive opportunities emerged. Defenders often overplay to deny the jump shot, allowing him to get into the lane. Though his 55.3 percent field goal percentage within five feet of the rim is slightly below average, that amounts to 1.12 points per shot, excluding free throws. With free throw attempts included, the Warriors scored 1.09 points per shot this season.
Once Thompson became a threat to drive off overplays, defensive big men began stepping into his driving lane, allowing him to pass down to the offensive big man rolling off the screen. As the season progressed, he improved at reading the defense in these situations.
With improved shot selection and more consistent footwork, Thompson can become a very effective offensive player on the already established base of his shooting ability, but can he improve beyond that point? As Kawhi Leonard so eagerly displayed, good defenders can take away much of Thompson’s efficient option.
Many of Thompson’s inefficiencies are generated by struggles around the rim. He can get by his man, but does not have the explosion to beat the rotating big men to the rim.
Thompson is forced into taking many layups from beyond his limited comfort zone. An improved finishing ability would obviously make him a more potent scorer. He blows several transition opportunities per game, both from a fear of driving and an inability to convert when he does drive.
Thompson also fears the contact at the rim, which should draw no comparisons to the problem that once haunted Derrick Rose. While Rose contorted his body to avoid contact and finish the layup, Thompson consistently jumps too early or at awkward angles in trying to simply get a shot off. As he becomes more comfortable with the NBA defense, he may be able to draw fouls at a rate higher than the 0.11 free throws per field goal attempt he drew this season.
Towards the end of the season, Thompson revealed another aspect to his offensive game–often off 1-2 pick and rolls, he began posting up defenders, usually in the mid-post below the elbow.
Thompson often takes the fade-away, but is also able to get defenders off balance and drive into the lane, opening up kick-outs to shooters and dump off passes to big men. Several of the actions he already runs would allow him to take advantage of a more developed post offense. Misdirections and seals can be incorporated into many of the Warriors’ sets. The baseline runner in the flex-style offense shown in the video above has many opportunities for deep post position.
The Warriors’ corner sets offer another opportunity to create post touches for Thompson. At 0:56, Thompson stops his cut below the basket instead of continuing to the perimeter, allowing him to seal off Manu Ginobili for an easy layup.
The greatest impediment to Thompson becoming a consistent scorer is his dribbling ability. For many players, dribbling is one of the most difficult skills to improve. He will likely never have the control or creativity to be an effective off the dribble scorer, but developing a steady handle will open many more opportunities.
According to mysynergysports.com, Thompson finished 7.5 percent of his plays as a pick and roll ball handler, which is very low for a high-usage guard. He was also very inefficient in these situations, scoring only 0.57 points per play. Better dribbling and more consistent footwork when shooting off the dribble will allow him to use the pick and roll as a secondary option after several off-ball sets.
With an improved handle, Thompson’s already established off-ball prowess will increase the Warriors’ offensive options. Sets similar to the Denver Nuggets’ single down imitate the pin-down the Warriors typically run to open Thompson for a mid-range jumper, but are designed to give the offensive player a lane through the middle of the court. By adding wrinkles to his own game, Thompson allows the Warriors to diversify their offense and put himself in a better scoring position.
Teams like the San Antonio Spurs and Indiana Pacers often have wing players cut across big men in the high post for handoffs. Players like Paul George are given lanes to the basket, as the high-post big man’s defender is likely out of position to pick up a drive as he defends his man. When defenders go under the screen, the cutter is generally given an open jump shot. With improvements to his dribbling and finishing, Thompson could be very effective in similar situations.
Klay Thompson needs only to make minor improvements to become an efficient scorer in his current role. Improvements beyond shot selection and minor footwork will be needed for him to become the diverse wing scorer the Warriors currently lack.