We took a look yesterday at some of the big, team-wide performance issues that have caused a late-season slump for the second consecutive year for WSU -- a macro examination, if you will.
Today comes the micro look. And it's not pretty. It won't shock you to learn that most of WSU's players have regressed in terms of their important individual areas, but I think the visual form in which it is presented will surprise you just a little bit. I will tackle them in order of their minute percentage so you can get a sense of how much each player's play has impacted the team's overall performance.
The thing I want you to remember, though, is that these posts aren't about playing some sort of "blame game"; it's about examining the evidence and trying to figure out what happened. Everything we're looking at played a role in this team's demise this season, but none of it is responsible for all of it.
I originally was going to throw all of the players into one post, but I decided against it because that would get incredibly long. So, I'm going to split them up. First up will be Klay Thompson. And remember, if you don't know what any of these advanced stats are, read this. Scroll down to the part that says "Player Section."
For starters, Thompson has still been good. Please don't take this as a Klay bashing post, because his drop in performance isn't nearly the problem for the team that it was last year, when WSU's offensive efficiency was so closely tied to Thompson's efficiency that however Klay went, the team's offense went. And since Klay most often was bad in conference play, the team was bad in conference play.
However, for the second consecutive year, he hasn't been as good as he was in the nonconference schedule. The drop hasn't been as precipitous, but it's there. His overall offensive rating (or ORtg for short, an efficiency measure where 100 is average) for the season is 106.4 -- excellent, considering he uses more possessions than anyone else in the conference. However his offensive rating in conference is actually just 99.3. For comparison, Derrick Williams' ORtg in conference is 116.7 and Isaiah Thomas' is 116.1; even Jorge Gutierrez has posted a 112.2 mark.
Here's how Thompson's offensive rating has trended compared to those three guys over the course of the season:
The only other player who has dropped like Thompson has been Williams, but Williams' efficiency is still so high that it hardly matters. It's also interesting to note that Thompson's ORtg was pretty much holding steady until a month ago, something I'll revisit in a moment.
On the whole, Thompson has been an average offensive player over his 15 conference games, which is an improvement on his well below average performance in Pac-10 play last year, but it's not what this team was getting from him early on, and it shows in the team's overall offensive efficiency. When you're using nearly one third of your team's possessions when you're on the floor, and you're on the floor for nearly 88 percent of your team's minutes, average individual offensive efficiency is going to more or less lead to an average team offense -- exactly what WSU has.
If you're looking for a culprit for Thompson's slide, there really are two. He's not shooting as well as he was early in the year, and his free throw rate in conference play is just about 20 -- it was 40 in nonconference play. And that FTR has really dropped off lately -- just 14.4 over the past six games. The declines look visually like this (the left Y axis is the FTR, the right Y axis is the eFG%):
Ouch. It looks bad, and that's why so many people are so hard on the kid. But most of you know by now that I think the criticisms are at least a little unfair.
One reason is because Thompson has mitigated at least some of this by elevating other parts of his game, something he didn't really do last year. His defensive rebounding percentage has increased, his assist rate has doubled, his steal rate has doubled ... in essence, he's valuable even when he's not scoring. That's a huge positive for him and for the team, and why the whole "Klay doesn't try hard" or "Klay pouts" crowd is just flat wrong. Lazy, pouting players don't excel in those areas.
My personal theory of what's gone wrong in conference play? He's just tired. I think the fact that his offensive rating was holding steady until a month ago points pretty clearly to that; I also think his increase in turnovers over the past month (which, not coincidentally, is a factor in offensive rating) are also a sign of that.
The last Pac-10 player asked to be this kind of workhorse for his team from the guard/wing position was James Harden. Harden was 6-foot-5, 220; Thompson is 6-foot-6 and (a perhaps generous) 202. While Thompson put on muscle between last year and this, his lithe body still isn't built to take a beating the way Harden's was. That's resulted in a drop in ability to get to the rim, which leads to fewer free throws and a greater number of low-percentage 2-point shots (hello, turnaround jumper).
What Thompson really needed was someone else to pick up the load this year. He didn't get it, and his play inevitably suffered -- even if it took a while.
Faisal Aden. Marcus Capers.