This article was originally published on Golden Gate Sports.
Klay Thompson is an underrated defender. All Warriors fans know that he’s a great shooter; he’s a Splash Brother for a reason. One of the highlights of Thompson’s sophomore season, though, was his improvement on the defensive end.
Thompson might not have the astute instincts on defense that great defenders like Andre Iguodala or Tony Allen have, but he has learned to use certain qualitites to his advantage. First of all, he is a versatile defender. He has the ability to guard point guards, shooting guards, and small forwards.
Second, he can guard pick-and-rolls well, which is a valuable skill for a shooting guard. Thompson has shown the ability to effectively stop his opponent from driving or kicking off of a pick-and-roll. According to Chris Palmer of ESPN.com, among players with at least 200 possessions guarding the ball handler in pick-and-rolls, Thompson gave up the fewest points per possession last season, with 0.686. In order to compare, Paul George of the Indiana Pacers was named to the 2013 All-Defensive Second Team, and he gave up 0.783 points per possession.
Third, he has quick reactions and can move his lower body quickly. He moves his feet quickly and can keep his opponent in front of him. This benefits his teammates, because then he doesn’t need other help defenders to slide over, which would expose the paint or the basket. His quickness also allows him to guard smaller players, such as point guards, effectively. He proved this in the playoffs when he hounded Tony Parker and Ty Lawson and disrupted their rhythm.
Lastly, he uses his size and length to his advantage. His 6-foot-7 frame allows him to be physical, force tough shots, and do hard, quick close-outs. Thompson uses his length to guard bigger shooting guards or small forwards.
Thompson still has room for improvement though. First of all, he can learn to limit his fouls. Sometimes, he can be too aggressive on defense, which leads to him reaching in or shoving too much.
In Game 1 of the Western Conference semifinals against the San Antonio Spurs, Thompson fouled out with 3:57 left in the fourth quarter. At that point, the Warriors were up by 16 points, and Thompson had held Parker to 12 points on just 4-of-15 shooting. After he fouled out, Parker scored six points on 3-of-3 shooting, and the Spurs went on an 18-2 run to send the game to overtime. Thompson needs to limit his fouls next season in order to stay on the floor for the significant moments during games.
Second, he can work on blocking more shots. Last season, Thompson only blocked 0.5 shots per game, and, in the postseason, he only blocked 0.6 shots per game. The next step for him is translating his impressive size and length into more blocked shots.
Third, he can rebound more. During defensive possessions, he could bring more intensity on the glass. Great rebounders simply want the ball more than everyone else, regardless of their size.
Again, because of advantageous size for a shooting guard, Thompson should be able to average around five or more rebounds per game. In the 2012-2013 regular season, Thompson averaged 3.7 rebounds per game, and, in the postseason, he averaged 4.6 rebounds per game. Thompson should rebound around the same amount or more, given his height, as other shooting guards such as Kobe Bryant, who averaged 5.6 last season, James Harden, who averaged 4.9, or Dwyane Wade, who averaged 5.0.
Lastly, Thompson can improve on his help defense. His one-on-one defense already improved significantly last season, but, this offseason, he should focus more on his help defense. A great defender is able to not just contain the player they’re guarding, but also clog passing lanes and anticipate plays. By doing this, Thompson will be able to get more steals and force more turnovers, which will help make him an elite defender.
Thankfully for Thompson, there’s another versatile defender on the Warriors that he can learn from. Iguodala is quick and has good length too. Iguodala is an elite defender in the NBA, so Thompson should try to learn as much from him as possible in order to become a better overall defender.
If Thompson improves on limiting his fouls, blocking more shots, rebounding more, and helping more on defense, then he could potentially become an elite defender in the NBA. This would certainly help bring the Warriors to a whole new level defensively too. Defensively, the sky is the limit for Thompson.