Through the first two months of the season, we can say with some certainty that there are at least three elite NBA skills to be found in this rookie class -- Ricky Rubio's passing, Enes Kanter's rebounding, and Kyrie Irving's overall, for lack of a better word, existence. At this point, it feels safe to add a fourth skill to that relatively short list: Klay Thompson's ability as a catch and fire jump shooter.
Klay Thompson's Off-Screen Shooting
In a class full of above average spot-up shooters, only one has successfully added the extra dimension of screen-shooting to his game. About 30 percent of Klay Thompson's possessions have come through screen usage this year (for reference, Ray Allen is at 34 percent and Richard Hamilton at 29 percent), and Thompson ranks in the top 10 of all NBA players in screen play efficiency.
Two things stand out immediately about the Warriors' screen game. The first is the underlying simplicity. Golden State runs Thompson from baseline to wing through a down screen over and over and over, often without even switching up wings. It's a play that has long been a staple of Ray Allen offenses, spanning back to his Milwaukee days, but the fact that Golden State runs it so frequently and with minimal variation is fascinating. Executed properly, it puts Thompson in a zone he's very comfortable shooting from:
But even more striking than the simplicity is the surprising efficiency with which defenders close out Thompson's shots. Thompson simply doesn't get the sort of clean release (seen above) from his primary screeners (generally David Lee, Ekpe Udoh, Dorell Wright or Dominic McGuire) many NBA shooters do. And it's mostly because the Warriors don't execute on down screens the way Boston does with Kevin Garnett, who actively seeks out the trailing defender to clear him out.
Instead, trailing defenders are often allowed to follow Thompson all the way through, with the screen itself serving more as traffic cone than roadblock. McGuire is the biggest offender and has served as the down screener an alarming amount, especially given his paltry 250 minutes on the season.
Thompson, to his credit, has handled this well too, forcing the overplay when his defender comes through too hard. He misses the layup badly here, but his decision to slice into the lane after Marcus Thornton easily circles the Udoh screen is the correct one and is something he does quite often:
There's reason to believe Klay Thompson's even better at shooting off of screens than we've seen thus far. Whether we'll see it happen this season in this particular Warriors system is an valid question. But even now the current results, affected by questionable screens or not, are hardly worth complaining about.
All stats, above and below, are through Wednesday's action and come via Basketball-Reference, Hoopdata and MySynergySports.com. "Efficiency differentials" refer to the difference in points/100 possessions from the league average of the relevant season.
||Cavaliers||+8 offensive efficiency differential, 27.7 percent usage, 34.2 percent assist rate, 16.5 percent turnover rate
|Irving returned in style against Indiana on Wednesday, dropping 22 points (on 12 shots) and five assists against just one turnover. SBNation's Andrew Sharp and Mike Prada commented yesterday on Irving's position among the top first and second year players in this season's Rookie Challenge; his passing game lacks the panache of Rubio's, but he more than makes up for it in so many other ways.
||Timberwolves||-2 offensive efficiency differential, 39.9 percent assist rate
|That Minnesota's recent slide coincides with Rubio's shooting slump doesn't necessarily imply the latter has single-handedly caused the former, but Rubio's 13-37 performance this week certainly hasn't helped matters. His assists have been down too (the fact that a 7.8 APG average on the week deflates his seasonal figures is a testament to just how good he has been).
||Nets||+2 offensive efficiency differential, 24 percent usage, 11 percent assist rate, 12 percent turnover rate
|The Nets got Brooks back this week from his injury, and while it's taken him a couple games to get going, we'll give him the benefit of the doubt for now.|
+4 offensive efficiency differential, 15.7 percent defensive rebound rate
|Leonard hasn't had the biggest of roles in the latter half of this latest Spurs winning streak, which is a bit strange given his instrumental performances in wins over Memphis and OKC earlier in the month. He drops this week due to the return of Brooks.
15.6% offensive rebound rate, 25 percent defensive rebound rate, +0 offensive efficiency differential, 18 percent usage
Business as usual for Kanter -- at this point, we simply have to accept that his offensive development will be slow as molasses. As anyone that's watched the Jazz will tell you, that's more of a result of his role in the offense than anything; the majority of his looks still come via second chance efforts. Kanter had one real, deliberate, drawn-up post play this week. The result was a travel against the Grizzlies' Hamed Haddadi. But his elite rebounding will keep him on the middle of this list pretty much all season.
|6.||Nikola Vucevic||Sixers||10.4 percent offensive rebound rate, 22.6 percent defensive rebound rate, +3 offensive efficiency differential, 18 percent usage
|The evolutionary successor to Dongaila continues to race up the rankings. He's been a force off the ball, but he's also quite intriguing to watch in the P&R. Moving while setting a pick is an art form; the best screeners in the league all do it without getting caught. Vooch is no different. On a good number of screens, Vucevic rolls a sort of low hip/knee-check (quadricep-check?) into his motion as he steers clear. The result is something that looks like a screener innocently peeling, almost stumbling away in a different direction but is really a bit more sinister.
|7.||Markieff Morris||Suns||20.0 percent defensive rebound rate, -3 offensive efficiency differential
|Three-point contest snubs entered the national dialogue this week. Should Joe Johnson have made it? How about Mario Chalmers? And how can you even write the number "three" in a sentence that doesn't also include "Trevor Ariza"? (You can't). The standard for rookie three-point shooting is set by the guy in the No. nine spot, but Phoenix's Markieff Morris has been outstanding in his own right. On the season, he's shooting 43 percent (taking almost four looks per 36 minutes), and his shot is characterized by a very easy, natural release. We shouldn't be overly surprised either. Over his sophomore and junior years at Kansas, Morris converted 45 percent of his treys.
||-4 offensive efficiency differential, 15.8 percent usage, 15.7 percent defensive rebound rate
|The efficiency free-fall of Houston's Parsons continues, but that said, his performance against Oklahoma City on Wednesday was mighty impressive. Parsons denied Kevin Durant on the Thunder's final two possessions, a drive and pull up from the left elbow and a drive and floater from the right block, with OKC down by one point in each case. The Rockets pulled out the win thanks both to Parsons' defense and his strong offensive game (14 points on 12 shots, with a pair of assists), a return to the sort of line he put up with more regularity earlier in the season.
+2 offensive effiency differential, 59 percent true shooting, 48 percent threes, 20 percent usage
+15 offensive efficiency differential, 16.9 percent usage, 56 percent true shooting
Milwaukee is the proud owner of two of the league's top six rookies in PER, though the "proud" aspect of things is certainly up for debate. Neither Tobias Harris nor Jon Leuer has received minutes with any sort of consistency. Since his 19 points on nine of 11 shooting at Chicago, Leuer's rapid relegation down the pecking order would startle a Leeds United supporter.
Dropping out: Kemba Walker, Derrick Williams
On the fringes: Brandon Knight, Iman Shumpert, Isaiah Thomas, Gustavo Ayon.