#1 / Guard / Washington St. Cougars
Ladera Ranch, Calif.
Santa Margarita Catholic HS
All-Pac-10 Freshman Team (2008-09)
This is the next in our continuing series of WSU basketball player profiles. A full list of profiles to date will appear on the left hand side of the main page.
National rankings in red
Scouting Report: With the season tipping off tonight, it seems only fitting to profile the guy who is far and away the team's best player.
Klay Thompson could very well be the best basketball player to ever come to Pullman. While it might seem silly to gush so profusely about someone who's only been on campus for about a year, it's hard to argue with what Thompson did over his freshman season and not try to project that out over a career . To play over 80 percent of the team's minutes, essentially being their go-to offensive player and performing the way he did offensively while also playing excellent defense ... well, it's difficult to overstate Thompson's contribution to the Cougs and the potential he possesses.
Offensively, Klay is a tremendously gifted shooter. Thanks to his long limbs and lanky build, he can get his shot off against most any defender. And what a shot it is: That picture-perfect form produced nearly 43 percent shooting from 3-point range as a freshman on 165 attempts -- sixth most in the Pac-10. He's also an excellent passer who has a keen sense of where he fits withing the scheme of the offense.
But for all the offensive accolades Thompson receives (and rightly so), he's a superb defender as well. His offensive smarts carry over onto the other end of the floor, as he's almost always in the right position thanks to deft movement with his feet; to be whistled for only 2.5 fouls per 40 minutes when playing better than 80 percent of the team's minutes is spectacular. Add in the fact that he's one of the better rebounding guards you'll see (only James Harden was better last year in the Pac-10) and that also will block his fair share of shots (his block percentage was just a tick behind 7-footer Jordan Wilkes), and you've got one complete defender.
But no player is perfect, and Thompson had an enormous, gaping hole in his game last year: That absurdly low free throw rate. To play the kind of minutes Klay, shoot the ball as much as he did, and only earn 31 free throws all year ... well, that takes a special kind of passivity when it comes to taking the ball to the rim. (Although, it makes that 97.0 offensive rating all the more impressive, given that it's incredibly hard to be that efficient without a decent number of freebies.)
It's not like Klay doesn't possess the athleticism to get to the rim -- we all saw that on display against Stanford. If he wants to make that next step to a truly elite scorer in the Pac-10 conference, he simply has to make opponents respect more than just his jumper. It honestly shouldn't be that tough of a transition for him, as his long arms should allow him to get into the lane and protect the ball while drawing contact. For Thompson, it will be all about attitude. Does he want to get to the rim?
Given what we know about Klay's work ethic and the reports we've heard and the evidence we saw in the exhibition game ... there's a lot of reason to be confident that he's going to make that next step. He'll be the Cougars' unquestioned go-to guy, which will bring a special kind of attention from defenders. But here's to betting he's more than up to the challenge.
The Cougs will likely go as far as he can carry them this year.
Best Case Scenario: Thompson indeed has improved his ball-handling skills to the point that he's confident going to the rim against most anyone. He's transformed into a dynamic scorer who averages around 20 points a game in Ken Bone's up-tempo style, all the while playing the great defense we've come to expect from him. But beyond that, he uses those skills to carry the Cougs on his back to the NCAA Tournament. He's named Pac-10 player of the year, and Klay contemplates declaring for the NBA draft.
Worst Case Scenario: Klay suffers a catastrophic injury. Smite me for even saying it, but that's truly about the only thing that will keep him from doing his thing. Even if he isn't much improved in getting into the lane, his shot is special enough to still perform.
Likely Scenario: Thompson is indeed better at getting to the free throw line, but the burden of being the Cougs' go-to guy -- as well as the added physical punishment of going into the lane -- takes it toll on him. With all the attention on him, he still has his explosive nights, but also has those nights where he finds the going a bit rougher than last season. He most definitely takes a step forward, but he isn't able to carry the Cougs to the promised land. It becomes pretty obvious that we probably should only count on having Klay through his junior year.