What Will Klay Thompson’s Role Be Next Season?

When the Golden State Warriors picked Klay Thompson with the number 11 pick in this year’s draft, there was a swirling sense of mixed emotion. Actually, mixed emotions is an understatement. This draft pick sent varying amounts of panic throughout Warriors fans. Klay Thompson is not really known for his defensive prowess, so this was slightly concerning. Especially since Mark Jackson, the new head coach, has preached defense as the new identity of the Warriors, so this pick was not exactly a ringing endorsement. Some fans felt confusion and discomfort with the pick. Some felt utter joy, for various reasons. Some believed that Klay Thompson was an extremely valuable asset, and the Warriors were lucky to draft him. Others felt joy simply because this might have signaled the departure of Monta Ellis. No matter what the overall consensus was on this pick, we all knew this draft would be weak, so we had to go in with relatively low expectations. With that in mind, Klay Thompson seems to be an acceptable draft pick for the Warriors.

The real question though is, what will Klay Thompson’s role be this upcoming season (if there ever is one)? Some analysts believe that he is ready to be a starter. This seems pretty drastic, so instead, let’s assume he’ll be a role/bench player. It makes more sense to examine how effective he can be, not just in the league, but specifically for the Warriors. Let’s start with the positive side. Klay Thompson has a strong all-around game. He has a high basketball IQ, he moves without the ball gracefully, and can score in large numbers. His game has been compared to Brandon Roy, which is a fantastic model to follow. Like Brandon Roy, they both have solid, reliable jump shots, they have good size for shooting guards (Thompson is 6’7″ and Roy is 6’6″), they are strong ball handlers, and they can both easily score 40 points on any given night. Last season with Washington State University, Thompson averaged 21.6 points, 5.2 rebounds, 3.7 assists, .9 blocks, and 1.6 steals while shooting 43.6% from the field, 39.8% from 3 point range, and 83.8% from the free throw line. These all appear to be strong numbers, but what’s a little concerning is that for a shooting guard, he collectively only shot 42.3% from the field in 3 seasons in the NCAA. Just for comparison, Brandon Roy played 4 seasons at the University of Washington, and over those 4 seasons he shot 51.2% from the field. Brandon Roy was ultimately drafted higher, but Thompson’s field goal percentage is still of some concern if his game is so similar to Roy’s.

Brandon Roy

This leads into the more negative aspects of Thompson’s game. Thompson has been criticized for his lack of athleticism especially in transition. When driving to the basket in a half-court offense, Thompson can be athletic only against a certain type of defender. However, during fast breaks, his slow food speed is exposed. He can’t always react fast enough to quick defenders in a half-court or full-court set, and this can inhibit his ability to drive to the basket. He also has never shown a strong commitment to defense. Thompson’s coach Ken Bone at WSU discussed Klay’s defense and said, “I do hope he continues to work on his defense. He has shown, at times with us, where he could really guard. He has great basketball instincts, he competes well, he has about a six-foot-nine wingspan – but he didn’t always play great defense.” Klay Thompson is a hard worker, and if given the right motivation (from his former or current coach), he could become a much better defender. If Coach Mark Jackson actually follows through on his claim to distribute playing time based on who plays defense, than Klay Thompson will have no choice but to improve his overall defense. We’ll have to wait and see if Thompson is able to respond to this challenge.

In a perfect world, let’s assume that Klay Thompson will improve his defense enough that Mark Jackson is comfortable playing him consistently. Will Thompson step up and become a solid rotation player or even fill the 6th man role for the team? I believe that Klay Thompson can become the Warriors’ 6th man. He might not win Rookie of the Year or anything, but he could truly become a consistent, effective contributor on this team that so badly needs a stronger bench presence. Jerry West clearly believes that Thompson is going to be an impactful player, otherwise he wouldn’t have had the strongest voice in the draft process for the Warriors. The whole coaching staff and management chose to believe in Jerry West and essentially let him decide who they would draft. Since management has strongly implied that Monta won’t be traded, it seems that Klay Thomspson should aim towards the 6th man role. He can fill in the back-up minutes for both Monta and Dorell Wright, so he’ll have many opportunities to become the “leader” of the bench. He has the perfect style of play to become that spark off that bench. He can score in bunches and if he becomes a better defender, it will be very difficult for Mark Jackson to not have him as the 6th man. Klay Thompson will need consistent minutes (about 25 minutes a game) to develop into the all-round star player that so many analysts saw during this draft process. If Klay Thompson is able to improve his defense, improve his transition game, and improve his leadership skills, he will become an effective and efficient player for the Warriors this upcoming season.

Watch these highlights of Klay Thompson:

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