2011 NBA Draft: Klay Thompson's Defense Still In Question After Workout With Golden State Warriors

Washington State guard Klay Thompson has repeatedly been linked to the Golden State Warriors, who have the 11th pick in the 2011 NBA Draft. After a workout on Friday, the Warriors interest in him reportedly remains strong and Mychal Thompson - Klay's father and a former top NBA draft pick himself - is maybe even more excited about the chance for Klay to play for new Warriors coach Mark Jackson. Nevertheless, the question remains whether Thompson is actually the best fit available for the Warriors in a draft lacking for star potential. That begins with the questions that surround Thompson's defensive potential at the next level.

Among the more interesting things about the Golden State Warriors hire of Mark Jackson was the stark contrast in responses from NBA fans and those we might consider insiders.

While the fans who listened to Jackson recycle catch-phrases on television jeered the beleaguered franchise for adding to a long list of unproductive decisions, NBA coaches, executives, and players have publicly praised the move as a step toward prosperity with a promising young coach.

But you can probably count 1978 #1 draft pick Mychal Thompson among those who liked the hire, so much so that he'd be ecstatic if his son, Klay, was selected by the Warriors with the 11th pick in the 2011 NBA Draft, according to Marcus Thompson II in a San Jose Mercury News article.

Washington State sharpshooter Klay Thompson impresses Golden State Warriors during workout - San Jose Mercury News
"He'll be very happy if I come here," Thompson said of his father, who played for the Los Angeles Lakers when West was running the team. "He knows coach (Mark) Jackson will be demanding. He said he'll be perfect for my game. "... I think my dad would be really pleased if I ended up here."

Although Thompson's stock is rising so fast that he might not even be around when the Warriors' pick comes up, the Washington State guard appears to be high on the Warriors' list too.

Thompson has been linked repeatedly to the Warriors at #11 in the 2011 NBA Draft and apparently did little to hurt his chances of being drafted by Jackson and his staff after a workout yesterday, according to reports by Bay Area media.


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At 6-foot-7, he fits at least one thing the Warriors definitely need - a big guard in their rotation who they can pair with either of their smaller guards Stephen Curry or Monta Ellis, one of the most exciting, if defensively challenged, backcourts in the league. And although Thompson is known for his scoring prowess - particularly his noticeably improved aggression and confidence in taking advantage of scoring opportunities this year - among the most impressive things about his development over his three seasons at WSU is his improved ball handling and passing ability.

As he's became a larger part of Washington State's offense by the year, he's become more efficient as a distributor - in terms of how often he creates assists on the floor and his weighted ratio of assist production compared to turnovers - which is a promising sign of growth. In a Warriors offense that features Curry, Ellis, and wing Dorell Wright - another starter whose primary role on the floor is scoring - adding a player who can come in and alternate between a distributing and scoring mindset sounds like an outstanding fit.

However, where questions will continue to come up about Thompson is on the defensive end, where the Warriors have not only been perennially at or near the bottom of the league, but also expect to have a renewed focus based upon everything Jackson has said publicly since his hire.

Concerns about his athleticism are linked quite directly to his ability to defend the type of elite athleticism found even on lower tier NBA teams. That's not to say that he can't be a great team defender - his court awareness is as good as any and he very well could be an outstanding defensive piece within a strong team concept.

But DraftExpress Director of Scouting Joseph Treutlein makes an outstanding point about Thompson's defense that relates pretty strongly to his defensive fit with the Warriors.

DraftExpress: Finding a Niche For: Klay Thompson
His problems can be hid somewhat on good defensive teams, and his apparent effort level and capacity for playing good team defense will certainly be useful, though he'd have a lot of work to do to even become an average NBA defender overall.

Thompson's defensive problems should be equally pronounced at either the shooting guard or small forward positions, and the questions for teams will be how much can they coach him up and whether his offensive strengths do enough to outweigh his defensive shortcomings.

For the Golden State Warriors, there might be an additional question beyond whether Thompson's offensive potential outweighs perceived defensive shortcomings: do their defensive needs outweigh their offensive needs and are there other players available that could fill those needs more appropriately?

If indeed the Warriors choose to keep both Curry and Ellis - as repeated by both Jackson and the front office - they absolutely need to surround them with defensive players to make up for their defensive shortcomings. Last year's first round draft selection of Ekpe Udoh, though perhaps not exciting, was a step in that direction as a promising help defender on the interior who is capable of defending in space. But this team 26th in the league defensively for a reason - there's a painfully obvious dearth of defensive-minded players on the roster. And unfortunately, one of the Warriors' biggest weaknesses - isolation defense - also figures to be a struggle for Thompson at the next level, as suggested by Jeff Nusser of SB Nation's Coug Center.

In contrast, depending on what mock draft you look at - and on what day - the best players available are all projected as strong defensive players, or at least players with the potential to become so: Bismack Biyombo, Florida State junior Chris Singleton, and Texas freshman Tristan Thompson, to name a few. While every one of those players has somewhat glaring offensive limitations, there's a strong argument that if the Warriors are to spend a draft pick on an imperfect player with upside, they'd probably be well-advised to go with a defensive player given their current roster situation.

Klay Thompson could indeed improve defensively - or simply prove all of the doubters wrong - to the point of being the perfect fit for the Warriors on both sides of the ball. Maybe Jackson - and assistant Mike Malone - could even come in and simply make this a better defensive team with a stronger coaching emphasis on defense. On the other hand, while these other players are riskier because of glaring offensive weaknesses, their potential to become great defenders for the Warriors makes them far more intriguing and potentially better fits.

Normally, conventional draft wisdom - especially for a team for whom the playoffs are a like a galaxy far, far away - is to take the best player available. Depending on who you talk to, that could be any one of these players. So in a draft full of prospects that probably project closer to role players than stars, the a) fit with the team and b) potential for growth within that situation probably takes on greater significance than usual.

Drafting is never a precise science and that's no less true in figuring out Thompson's fit with the Warriors. But what we probably can say is that while Mychal Thompson could be right that Mark Jackson might be good for his son, there are other players who are very possibly better for the Warriors relative to Klay Thompson.

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