I’m not breaking any news when I say that Klay Thompson’s performance in the 2021-22 season wasn’t his best work, or anything close to it.
That’s not at all to say it was bad. The beloved shooting guard was still a key member of the Golden State Warriors championship-winning team. He was still a starter in each of the 32 regular season games he appeared in, and in all 22 postseason contests. He won an ESPY for Comeback Athlete of the Year, and it was incredibly well deserved.
But after two and a half years on the sidelines, two major lower body surgeries, and thousands of hours of rehab, it wasn’t surprising that Klay’s play wasn’t on par with the performance that earned him five straight trips to the All- Star Game during the Dubs’ dynastic run.
His efficiency took a huge hit, as he shot 38.5% from distance, marking the first time in his career he failed to hit the 40% mark. His true shooting percentage, normally sky-high, was comfortably below league average. And his defense was not at the level that we’ve come to expect.
But while those struggles might not have surprised you given what Thompson had to overcome, and the rust he accumulated along the way, here’s something that probably will surprise you: the advanced stats still loved him.
The go-to all-encompassing advanced metric these days — trusted by many a front office analyst — is EPM (Estimated Plus-Minus). And according to EPM, Klay ranked No. 40 in the league this year, and fourth on the Warriors, behind only Steph Curry (No. 4), Gary Payton II (No. 30), and Draymond Green (No. 36). And less you think that EPM is just a random hodgepodge of numbers and players, here are the five players directly ahead of him: Anthony Davis, Green, Deandre Ayton, DeMar DeRozan, and Marcus Smart. And here are the five directly behind him: Derrick White, Al Horford, Domantas Sabonis, Jaren Jackson Jr., and LaMelo Ball.
Pretty good company.
Check out other advanced stats, and you’ll find a lot of the same.
There are probably a lot of reasons why Thompson graded out so well despite what seemed like a down season. The most obvious is that Thompson is an exceptional player and a future Hall of Famer — even when he’s not at his best, he’s still really good. It was also very clear that opposing teams were not buying that Klay was rusty — even on the days where he racked up missed shot after missed shot, opponents sent multiple defenders his way, tried to give him no space even when 30 feet from the hoop , and went over every screen to try and take away his jumper. Even when Curry was on the bench, you could see just how much the offense was opened up by Thompson’s gravity. That allowed the offense to function much better when he was on the court, despite some shooting percentages that weren’t too fun to look at.
Still, there’s a reason that there’s a disconnect between the advanced metrics and the public perception of Klay’s play. If he repeats his 2021-22 next season, he’ll have an unquestionably strong impact on the team’s quest to repeat — but won’t be viewed in the same light that he used to be viewed in.
So I’m curious: will he return to All-Star form, and don the celebratory jersey in February 2023?
There are two big reasons to think he won’t. The first is that you can’t assume he’ll be able to rinse off all the rust by the time the season rolls around. He may never, for that matter. And the second is that the West is absolutely stacked.
Look at this list of names:
Karl Anthony Towns
If Klay is the make the All-Star team, then a whopping 11 names on that list will have to be omitted (assuming there are no injury replacements). And that’s not even counting breakout seasons from candidates like Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and Jalen Green, resurgent seasons from players like Domantas Sabonis and Russell Westbrook, or potential West Coast additions of Kyrie Irving and Kevin Durant.
But the reasons to think Thompson will make his sixth All-Star Game are perhaps even more prominent. Namely if he was able to be something like the 40th-most valuable player in the league despite being covered in rust and shooting poorly (relative to his all-world expectations), then imagine how good he might be after shaking some of that rust off , having a full offseason without rehab, and getting to partake in training camp.
If you take 2021-22 Thompson, bump his three-point shooting up to 41%, and improve his defense a little bit, and you have an All-Star on your hands.
It might not happen. But then again…it definitely might.