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):
- 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.
- The near-broke Maloofs are desperately in need of selling tickets and jerseys. Jimmer sells tickets and jerseys.
- 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: