Klay Thompson: Shot Profile, Struggles, Reasons For Optimism

Golden State Warriors guard Klay Thompson is no stranger to success. With 3 rings, 5 All-Star appearances, and a reputation as one of the greatest shooters ever, expectations were high for him this season. He missed the past two seasons because of a torn ACL and Achilles, so rust is to be expected. However, his level of play so far has not resembled the Klay of old. While rust can certainly help explain this, I believe his shot profile is also responsible for his struggles.

3PT Shooting & Origins of FGA

He has never shot below 40 3PT% in his career, but he is at a 37.6 3PT% this season. The chart below shows his three-point shooting relative to league average along with the percentage of his 3PM that are assisted. For example, he had a +8.9 3PT% difference in the 2014/15 season compared to league average, which means he shot 8.9% better from three than that average. He also had a 90.8% mark in 2014/15, which means 90.8% of his made three-pointers were from an assist to him.

Klay Thompson 3PT: Performance vs Origin

As you can see, Klay is having his worst three-point shooting season by far. He is only 2.3% above league average with the next worst season being 4.2% above league average in 2012/13. The median difference not including this season is 6.1%, a far better mark than 2.3%. The other significant observation is the origin of his attempts. He is at his lowest percentage of 3PM that were assisted (87.4% this season). Klay has never been below 90%, so while the number seems high, it is an outlier. The change suggests Klay is creating a larger number of his 3PA and acting more as a ball handler than as an off-ball shooter. I don’t like this direction for Klay because it moves away from his strength as a shooter off of movement and screens. The other evidence to support this transition comes from his FGA based on the number of dribbles.

Klay Thompson FGA Based On Dribbles

The only other season comparable to Klay right now is the 2014/15 season – their first championship with the Curry, Klay, Draymond trio. He’s taking more FGA on 3+ dribbles while taking far fewer FGA on zero dribbles. Klay is not the player he was in 2014/15, so he should not try to replicate that formula. I don’t like this trend at all for him because he is best suited as a 0-1 dribble shooter who needs only milliseconds of space to get the shot off. The two charts indicate Klay’s increased usage as a shooter off the dribble who creates his own shot. Part of the reason he has struggled and dipped in 3PT% is because of this drastic change in the origin of his shot attempts. He is simply not oriented towards being like Curry; they are both all-time shooters, but they operate in different ways. It almost seems as if Klay is doing too much on the court to prove he is back from his catastrophic injuries. I think the less Klay tries to do on the court, the more success he will have. If he can get back into his role as a lethal off-ball weapon, he can catapult this team towards a championship.

Shot Selection Based On Area Of Court

Perhaps the biggest concern in his shot selection comes from his lack of FGA at the rim. The chart below shows the percentage of total FGA taken in a certain area of the court. For example, 15.3% of his total FGA came from 0-3 feet of the rim in 2011/12. 

Klay Thompson FGA Based On Area Of Court

The sharp decline in the 0-3 feet area is extremely worrisome for a player coming off of devastating injuries. He is taking 13.5% of his FGA from 3-10 feet and 16.6% of his FGA from 10-16 feet – these proportions are both career highs for Klay. He is taking a measly 6.7% of his FGA from 0-3 feet of the rim, easily a career low. His previous lowest percentage from 0-3 feet was 12.1% in 2017/18, which is a much greater number than 6.7%. Why is this trend concerning? It shows that Klay is settling for pull up jumpers instead of trusting his body and fully driving to the hoop. When older players start settling, it sometimes indicates a decline is coming. If Klay doesn’t mentally trust his body to handle contact in the paint, he will never reach his full potential as a basketball player again. 

Why There Is Hope For Klay

While Klay has had worrisome trends to start the season, by no means is he stuck in this level of production. There are still reasons to be optimistic about Klay’s basketball future. First of all, he has only played 28 games so far after missing two full seasons. There will obviously be rust after that long of an absence. Once Klay gets more games under his belt, he will be more comfortable on the court. Perhaps he starts to trust his body more and drives to the hoop instead of pulling up for a jumper. Another reason is the inability of their trio to be healthy at the same time. Draymond was injured right before Klay returned, and Curry was injured when Draymond returned. In Klay’s 28 games, the trio has only been together in 2 games. Curry and Draymond are the two main playmakers for the Warriors, so Klay has had to pick up some slack with one of them always out. Once everyone is healthy, Klay will be able to play off-ball as much as he wants. He doesn’t even have to handle the ball if he plays with the bench unit for stretches because Jordan Poole has shown the ability to run the offense. Overall, Klay’s shot selection and rust from injury is to blame for his slow start. However, there are plenty of reasons to justify hope for his future. 

* Stats from 3/26/22

* Stats from NBA.com & Basketball-Reference

Braxton has been writing for Lineups since December 2021 with the majority of his articles focused on the NBA. He is currently a senior at the University of Pennsylvania where he has spent the last few years working with various UPenn athletics teams and contributing to the UPenn Sports Analytics Group.

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