The Klay Thompson Problem

Klay Thompson will be in the running for Rookie of the Year. — Joe Lacob

Joe Lacob is gonna really, really regret saying these words, which he splashed all over the media in the preseason.  They are wrong on so many levels, not least in the ridiculous expectations they set in the mind of a young player, for all the wrong reasons (see Evans, Tyreke).  They are words grounded more in trying to establish Lacob’s credibility as Warriors GM, and in selling tickets and jerseys, than they are in reality, or the best interests of the Golden State Warriors (see Lin, Jeremy).

Let’s be real: Klay Thompson has no chance of becoming rookie of the year.



Unless of course, Joe Lacob trades Monta Ellis.  Does Lacob know something we don’t?

Because that’s the chief problem here with Thompson’s ROY candidacy, which should be obvious to everyone who is not Joe Lacob.  How is Klay Thompson going to get playing time on this Warriors squad? He is playing behind Monta Ellis and Dorell Wright, the two ironmen who led the Warriors in minutes last season, and who both are far better players than he is.

How can Thompson possibly compete for ROY — against the likes of #1 pick Kyrie Irving and Ricky Rubio — as a bench player?

Here’s another guy Thompson is all but certain to finish behind in the ROY race:  #10 pick Jimmer Fredette.   For three reasons (in addition to the fact that Jimmer can really play):

  1. It looks to me like the Kings are going to go to a three guard lineup this season, with Tyreke Evans getting a lot of minutes at small forward.  This is a great move, considering that Evans is a terrible point guard, and can’t shoot.
  2. The near-broke Maloofs are desperately in need of selling tickets and jerseys.  Jimmer sells tickets and jerseys.
  3. The Kings passed on Stephen Curry in the draft, an absolutely wretched mistake. They’re trying to correct that. #Jimmer

Irving, Rubio and Fredette are just the guys at the top of my head. Derrick Williams, the #2 pick is currently behind Michael Beasley in Minny (trade winds are already brewing), but I’m certain there are going to be several other first round picks that get starters minutes this season. Every one of those guys is going to finish ahead of Thompson in the ROY voting as well.

I will go one step further.  As I analyze this Warriors team, and its needs coming off the bench, I can’t help but think that Klay Thompson is a big dog to even make the rookie all-star team. A big dog.

Because the obstacles to Thompson getting playing time on the Warriors go far beyond playing behind Monta Ellis and Dorell Wright.  In my mind, it is highly likely that Thompson — despite the pressure that I have no doubt will be applied by Joe Lacob from above — will not be Mark Jackson’s first or even second option off the bench.

Because let’s face it, Klay Thompson is a terrible fit for the Warriors.

I say this with a full appreciation of who Klay Thompson is as a basketball player. I know he’s deadly from three (these early jitters are meaningless, Curry had them as well).   He can execute the Rip Hamilton turnaround jumper off the curl, from both sides of the court (this we’ve seen twice in the pre-season).  He’s got the running floater in the lane (we also saw this).  He can put the ball on the floor and get to the rim (and this).

He can also do several things we haven’t seen yet:  He’s got the step-back jumper. The pump-fake, one escape-dribble jumper.  He’s got running bank shots, going both left and right. (I’ve seen the tape.)

He also appears to be a terrific ball-handler, and play-maker for others.

On the offensive end, he’s ready-made for the NBA.  He is, quite possibly, one of the most polished offensive players I’ve ever seen enter the league.

His potential brings to mind great offensive geniuses like Reggie Miller, who has been frequently mentioned, and Chris Mullin — who has not. Because to mention Chris Mullin would be to emphasize Thompson’s limitations.  And there, as they say, is the rub.

The fact of the matter is that Thompson – like Reggie Miller – cannot guard NBA two-guards. Not well. He just doesn’t have the foot speed. (If you’ve ever wondered why someone of Thompson’s great offensive gifts dropped to #11 in the draft — this is the reason.)

That doesn’t mean he can’t become a great NBA player.  It just means that if he becomes a starter, he will need to be surrounded by great defensive players.  And, like Chris Mullin, he will need to be hidden on defense.  In Mullin’s case, that meant playing 10 second-half minutes at power forward.  In Thompson’s case, it will probably mean playing exclusively at small forward.

This is why Klay Thompson is a terrible fit for the Warriors.  The Curry/Ellis backcourt is one of the best in the NBA. But it needs protection. It doesn’t need Reggie Miller coming off the bench. It needs Tony Allen coming off the bench. Wilson Chandler. Matt Barnes. Kelenna Azuibuke. Raja Bell. Mario Elie.

Brandon Rush. Charles Jenkins. (Gulp) Dominic McGuire.

Joe Lacob’s touting of Klay Thompson for ROY is so ridiculous, so absurd that it makes my head spin.  And worry about the damage he might have done to the Warriors’ chemistry.  One can only hope that Klay Thompson is mature enough to realize Lacob’s absurdity, as he pines on the bench this season.  Because pine on the bench is what he’s going to do, if Mark Jackson truly values defense in his wings.


Thinking about the Klay Thompson problem got me thinking, of course, about what Don Nelson would have done with him.

I think it’s clear that Nellie would have “loved” him, as he loved Mullin and Anthony Morrow.  But he would have fretted about playing him, and hunted for places to hide him on defense.  We all know that he played Mullin at power forward for at least 10 minutes a game — and that is when RunTMC were at their best.  Anthony Morrow he — unsuccessfully — tried everywhere:  At point against Andre Miller; at small forward, power forward, and even at center one time, against Channing Frye.

I don’t think there’s much doubt that Nellie would have made a “point-forward” out of Thompson.  He would play him at small-forward, as he did Reggie Williams.  (By the way, there was zero chance that Reggie Williams was coming back when Thompson was drafted. They are very close to the same player — hopefully.)  But I very much doubt that he would ever play Thompson ahead of Dorell Wright, who is a very accomplished point-forward himself.  And a much better defender.

And I don’t think Nellie would play Thompson ahead of Brandon Rush. For the same reason. Don Nelson prized defense in his wings.

Which leads me to my final Klay Thompson musing:  Would Don Nelson have drafted Klay Thompson?

Maybe.  If he really felt that Thompson was a bona fide offensive genius, of the Chris Mullin order.

But it’s worth noting that Nellie, who was quite possibly the greatest GM in NBA history, never drafted a wing player like Thompson in his career.


Every wing player that Don Nelson felt was worthy of first round selection was a great defensive player. Every single one: Sidney Moncrief, Paul Pressey, Mitch Richmond, Latrell Sprewell, Josh Howard.

Food for thought.

(Also in this series of 2011-12 Golden State Warriors previews:



30 Responses to The Klay Thompson Problem

  1. Thanks Feltbot!
    Thompson a ROY candidate? Sure, that’s a salesman’s ploy to create some buzz which is to be fully expected from any owner. He’s not going to win, but he’ll be on the list.

    I like Thompson’s offensive game and agree with you – his shooting woes are similar to when Curry couldn’t hit a shot his first few weeks in the NBA (preseason) – his great shooting touch is there, but confidence takes time.

    If Thompson fails to be able to guard 2s, then he can play the 3 over time with strength as he’s got good length. I’m a big fan of D. Wright whose game has some holes as well, and there are plenty of minutes to go around in this compacted season. With the nice acquisition of Brandon Rush – minutes at the 2 will be competitive.

  2. I disagree with you in that this guy Thompson looks to be so talented offensively (and sufficient defensively) that the coaches won’t be able to keep him off of the court. He’s going to get plenty of minutes at the two and three. Wright is not that great of a defensive player, and Thompson on offense gives you an additional dimension beyond what D Wright can give you. Thompson will be a nice offensive boost off the bench, and he’s much quicker than RWilliams, who was slow as molasses.

  3. Feltbot: I don’t quite understand when you state that Thompson can’t guard SG’s. Surely, he has the length to stay with SG’s taking three’s. Three’s are starting to account for at least 20% of all shots taken. And most teams, for some inexplicable reason, leave perimeter player’s virtual open to shoot three’s.

    Even with significant playing time, do you his opponent would take it to the hoop more then 4 times when he is on the court. Don’t you think even if he fails to guard his men on some of his opponent drives, the interior defender would stop the drive? I can see you claiming he might not get back quick enough when his opponent is involved in a fastbreak, but not many SG’s are able to recover in time in those circumstances. His opponent taking it to the hoop on 4 possessions doesn’t seem significant since most teams take 70-85 FG attempts in a given game.

    He looks quicker then Mully. I’m just not sure he hurts us on defense as much as you say. He surely appears capable of creating steals and causing turnovers.

  4. Defense isn’t just speed, skill and determination count too. Pokey old Jason Kidd did a fine job on Kobe in the playoffs, for example. But as a rookie, Thompson probably will get run off the court by speedy guards. He couldn’t possibly know how to handle them at this point.

    Agree totally with your take on the ROY talk. It was a surprisingly clueless thing for Lacob to say. Do you think Lacob sees Thompson as a bigger Curry? If not, if it’s just hype, I hope he spoke to his rookies (Thompson AND Mark Jackson), to tell them not to pay attention. Jackson shouldn’t have to worry about who Lacob thinks should be playing.

  5. Just a thought: Especially in light of Curry’s renewed ankle problem, Mr. Jenkins could get more PT than Klay Thompson this year.

  6. After David Lee’s performance last night, it looks like Jackson read your previous post.

    Well, what about Klay playing some point, as he did last night? This ankle of Curry’s is worrisome. It was exciting to see Curry last night, going for loose balls, etc. He always seems to know where they’re going and he made a lot of other defensive moves that didn’t show up in the stats.. But he’s got to learn to protect himself. Two or three times last year he had serious sprains stepping hard on another player’s foot. (Doing the same put Randolph out for months.) And that happened once or twice his first season, as it did his last year at Davidson, when he was brought back early. He may be running double digits of sprains on that ankle. But last night he only backpedaled a little hard.

    Davidson beat Kansas the other night, btw. It was Kansas who beat Steph’s Davidson in the regional finals by two points in 2008, the year Kansas went all the way. On that team Mario Chalmers–and Brandon Rush!

  7. “Klay is ready today. He’s ready today. He’s a big-time talent,” Jackson said. “I’ve seen coaches who would never play rookies, but that’s not my train of thought. Klay Thompson will play right away. There’s no question about it. He’s that good.”

    “This is almost the perfect situation for him,” said Mychal Thompson, Klay’s father and the No. 1 overall pick in the 1978 draft. “If he couldn’t be a Laker, I wanted him to be in the Pacific Division and playing for the Warriors.”

    “… It’s a perfect role for him. He’s 6-foot-7 and moves his feet well, defensively. He knows how to get into the passing lanes, and he’ll block shots as a guard. He’ll bring a different facet to their game.”

    “He’s virtually a point guard, being a ball-handler and being able to be a playmaker. They’ve got the best shooting backcourt in the NBA.”

    “Jerry is the consummate professional in this league and a great talent evaluator,” said Mychal Thompson, whom West brought to the Lakers in a 1987 trade. “I told Klay that if Jerry West thinks a lot of you, that validates you as a player.”

    “You don’t want to let him down. You want to justify his choice of bringing you to the Warriors.”


    Klay Thompson was a lottery pick, which in and of itself screams high expectations from the team making the pick.

    If you’re a high number one pick in the draft the “pressure” to perform at a high level is there, and will always be there, irrespective of whatever is said by others, be it Lacob, Jackson or Klay’s very own father.

    Unless Klay turns out to be a volume scorer who’s NBA shooting prowess never lives up to his college reputation and hype, I think he’ll be just fine with the Warriors. There were other parts of his game vs the Kings that I liked while admitting that was the only time I’ve ever watched him play (missed the opener and very seldom watch college BB).

    Bottom line is that Joe Lacob’s comments concerning ROY were probably the least onerous made in regards to putting pressure on the kid (how about starting with your dad telling you you don’t want to let Jerry West down?), not to mention the career expectations that naturally come with being a lottery pick.

    Hopefully he can handle his “situation” and be fine. I’m anxious to watch him play.

    • Good point, Steve. There are Big Expectations for the rookie no matter what Lacob says. But keeping the boss from looking foolish shouldn’t be necessary, and I’m more concerned about the pressure on Jackson to use Thompson when maybe he’s not the best choice for the situation at hand.

  8. Video debate: Western Conference Finals prediction.

  9. Ralph Lawlor is doing the Clippers/Lakers broadcast on NBA TV right now. Highly recommended!

  10. Worth the listen: Colin Cowherd interviews David Stern.

  11. “New coach, new attitude, same old promise in Golden State”

  12. Nice Column as usual Feltie.

    Agree about Lacob’s ego on picking Thompson for ROY. Let us hope it was more of a marketing ploy. However, you can also wonder who was AVAILABLE when the Dubs selected Thompson. Not sure there was a better ‘fit’ as you say.

    I have seen both games, and I like Thompson’s edge and some of the skills you discuss. In fact, our bench is much deeper this year, and Thompson if coming off the bench can be used like Nellie used Morrow.

    Also, the Curry injury reminds us of the Warriors propensity for injury, and it may be likely as much as we dread it, Thompson will be used in the same five as Brandon Rush, say if two or three of our starters are out. Hate to say it but it has happened in the past.

    Finally, he could be used as trade bait for a latter season deal if another NBA team has defenders able to ‘protect’ Thompson and thus realize his offensive skills.

    Dang I miss Nellie!

  13. Kobie was at tonights game, he jabbered with Luke the whole game!

  14. Maybe explains the Warriors open roster spot?

    Marc Stein: Rockets’ signing of Dalembert takes them out of Kyrylo Fesenko bidding, but hearing Heat and Warriors still pursuing Ukranian free-agent C Twitter

  15. I agree with you that Thompson ‘s chances of winning ROY are slim. But our agreement is probably rooted from different places. The reason why I’m not drinking the Klay Thompson kool aid is because, I’ve been watching Klay play since he was in the 9th grade playing AAU ball. First let me tell you, he was a PG when he went to WSU. They must have seen his stroke and moved to SG. not to mention he has grown 3 inches since high school. Outside of his last two years at WSU, Klay has never been really all that exceptional of player. To me, he is basically a streaky shooter with crazy range. However, I felt he was better at PG in AAU, and in high school. At the time, he was a 6’4 PG with handles, and could shoot. Also, I don’t know how Klay has Jacob, Mark Jackson, and co, thinking he is better than he acutually is. But regardless, it was way wrong for Lacob, and even Mark Jackson for that matter, to make their ROY statements regarding Thompson. Besides them being wrong, they have put a lot of unnecessary pressure on Thompson. The Warriors should go ahead and try Klay at PG. Think about it. A 6’7 PG. Just sayin

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