Klay Thompson and Jimmy Butler have been the best two-way shooting guards the last five years. Thompson was a lottery pick in the 2011 draft, drafted after Jimmer Fredette. Jimmy Butler was the 30th pick in that same draft, selected after Norris Cole and Cory Joseph. Thompson has 3 titles and is trying to win his 4th. Jimmy Butler has 4 All-Defensive selections and is trying to win his 5th.
Perimeter defense separates contenders from everyone else. A team has to have a guy who can inhibit penetration. And who can get in the face of a 3-point shooter. And rotate quickly off a double. Thompson and Butler can do both but why is Butler rewarded and Thompson, a NBA champion, is not?
First, the style of play. Butler is a gritty player who uses his body to intimidate and defend. He has a strong motor, good footwork and can be a bully on the court. When he decides to key on a scorer, he can be relentless and annoying and the refs let him get away with things other players cannot. His toughness is his calling card.
Klay Thompson is a finesse player and defender. He doesn’t use his body as much as he uses his mind and his length. He is prepared. He knows the tendencies of those who he is guarding and the way he uses his length to inhibit them is just as effective as bodying someone up. He has tremendous footwork, quick hands and anticipation. Klay also has more to worry about because his backcourt partner is an average defender and so Klay often has to make up for Steph’s mistakes. Jimmy Butler can look over at Ben Simmons for help. It’s a lot easier.
This season, among shooting guards, Jimmy Butler is ranked 4th in defense, trailing Josh Hart (Lakers), Danny Green (Raptors) and Andre Iguodala (Warriors). Klay Thompson is ranked 90th, trailing Avery Bradley and Lance Stephenson. (Defensive Real-Plus Minus).
Has it affected the Warriors, the supposed defensive decline of Klay? (Last season he was ranked 24th and Jimmy Butler was ranked 3rd).
The Warriors are 17th in Opponent Points per Game, 15th in Defensive Efficiency, 3rd in Opponent Shooting Percentage, 12th in Opponent 3-Point Percentage.
Last season, they were ranked 15th in Opponent Points per Game, 9th in Defensive Efficiency, 2nd in Opponent Shooting Percentage, 5th in Opponent 3-Point Percentage.
The Warriors point differential (offense/defense) is just +5.6. Last season, it was +6.0. In 2016-17, it was +11.6. For the second straight year, they will not win 60 games. It happens to NBA dynasties. Year after year, they slow down.
The Warriors played 103 games last year, 99 games in 2016-17, 107 games in 2015-16, and 103 games in 2014-15. Attrition is natural.
Time may be running out for Klay Thompson and All-Defense. There are 10 spots. Shooting guards usually get 2 or 3 nods. Last year, it was Jimmy Butler and Robert Covington who, ironically, were traded for one another this season. Both are physical defenders who get into the body of the scorer they are guarding. Victor Oladipo was also selected, another physical guard.
In a month, Klay Thompson will be required to (possibly) guard James Harden and/or Jamal Murray, and/or Russell Westbrook, and/or DeMar DeRozan. He will do it Klay’s way. It may not be good enough for All-Defensive. But it will be good enough for ring number four and that’s what people remember.