With Klay Thompson skyrocketing up mock draft boards as Thursday night's 2011 NBA Draft approaches, all that "should he or shouldn't he" talk from earlier this year is starting to look pretty silly.
If I had a dollar for every time a reader left a comment on this site to the effect of "Thompson should return for his senior year because he still needs to work on his game," I could take my wife out to a nice dinner at El Gaucho. A very nice dinner. With an expensive bottle of wine.
That doesn't necessarily mean we were all crazy; when Thompson initially declared, most of the draftniks projected him as a late first rounder at best. But at this point, it's becoming clear that NBA executives from teams such as the Milwaukee Bucks, Golden State Warriors and New York Knicks think Klay's game is ready enough, thank you very much. He's now projected to potentially go as high as No. 10.
So, the question becomes: What do they now see that so many of us didn't see watching him up close and personal 35 times this year?
The NBA Finals was the most recent example of the importance of having guys on your team who can consistently make 3-point shots. Trailing 2-1 in the series, Dallas won the last three games of the series by a total of 22 points, and outscored Miami by 33 points from the 3-point line in those games.
For terrific deep shooters in this year's draft, like Klay Thompson, this couldn't be better news. If nothing else, he's got excellent size and great range as a shooting guard, and proved over three years of college action to be truly talented as a shooter. There's a lot of hit and miss about his overall game, but having that kind of shooting ability in a 6-foot-7 frame should provide enough of a safety net to ensure he'll be one of the first 15 names announced on draft night.
The message: 6-foot-7, dead-eye shooters don't grow on trees, and even if Thompson didn't do much else well, he'd be a valuable commodity in the NBA.
Thorpe goes on to pick apart Thompson's game, and though he sometimes makes head-scratching comments that make me wonder how much he actually watched Klay and WSU -- he describes the Cougs' style of play as "plodding" despite checking in at just under 70 possessions per game this year (70th nationally), and says, "Although his stats don't show this, I think Thompson will be a good ball mover on offense when he does not have a shot, and this will lead to some assists," despite Klay's stats (both raw and rate) showing without a doubt that he does know how to move the ball -- he does make one keen observation:
Thompson may not be very athletic now, but he is certainly gifted running ball-screen action, where he's able to get all sorts of great looks. That requires many hours of practice, and it's clear Thompson has put in the hours because he's an expert at using the screen to create the driving angles he needs to get penetration or to create enough space to launch an uncontested jumper.
I think that's the second part of the equation with Thompson's evaluation. If there's one thing we have seen and noticed over the past three years, it's that Klay has added something to his game every season -- something that shows up both on film and in his stats. He transformed himself from opportunistic jump shooter as a freshman to dynamic go-to scorer as a junior. And it wasn't an accident -- it was done through hundreds of hours of work at the gym when nobody was watching.
So, while Thompson isn't yet a finished product -- something we all know -- he possesses a valuable skill set that will allow him to contribute immediately while also possessing a demonstrated history of working his tail off to continually improve his game. Knowing the family that he came from, if I'm a GM, I'm taking great comfort in that fact. Thompson is driven to be great, and that first million-dollar contract isn't likely to change that.
That's why he's moving up draft boards. And while it would have been fun to see Thompson put a new skill on display next season in crimson and gray, it's also going to be fun watching him do it in the league.