DeMar DeRozan and Klay Thompson

DeMar DeRozan had the first 50 point game of his career on New Years Day. It was the first 50 points ever in Toronto Raptors history. DeRozan was having a career year already for the Raptors. His 52 points in overtime against the Milwaukee Bucks only added to his All-Star case. He said, “Trying to add something every single season and just try to put it all together as I get older.”

Older? DeRozan is 28 and is hardly Old Man River. It sound’s ludicrous and farfetched to think of him as ancient but next season he will be in his tenth year.

Here was what was written about DeRozan, the USC scorer, pre-draft:

DeRozan’s offensive limitations are pretty significant if trying to project him immediately to the NBA. He struggles to change directions with the ball and possesses very little explosion first step, making him almost completely unable to create his own shot. If forced to dribble the ball more than once or twice, he is liable to get stripped or look out of control. The fact that DeRozan’s jumper doesn’t have much range, he cannot play pick and roll, is not a great passer, possesses just an average basketball I.Q. and his understanding of how to operate in the half-court is limited, makes him a clear-cut project for the NBA. (Jonathan Givony, Draft Express, February 2009)

Two years after DeRozan was drafted, another Californian entered the draft.

But on the June draft night in 2011, there was disappointment for Klay Thompson and his family.  Jimmer Fredette was drafted before him. Derrick Williams, Bismack Biyombo, Jan Vesely were drafted before him. The only logical explanation was that Klay was buried on television. His Washington State games were on way too late for the scouts. His personal workouts exhibiting his shooting skill weren’t the kind to wow GM’s and he didn’t have the Jimmer resume of College Player of the Year and his team didn’t get in the NCAA tournament even though he had an impressive 21.1 ppg his junior year.

This is what Draft Express said about Klay pre-draft:

There are many questions surrounding Thompson’s game and how it will transition to the next level due to his lack of great athleticism and struggles on the defensive end. Thompson’s lack of great athletic tools is somewhat concerning. Transitioning from a first to likely third or fourth option will help, while his high motor, constant off-ball movements and feel for getting open, likely will be his biggest assets. His first step is underwhelming and he lacks much in the lane of advanced ball-handling. While there are some concerns about Thompson’s athleticism hurting his offensive game at the next level, the bigger concern lie on the defensive end, where he is noticeably lacking in lateral quickness and is taken off the dribble often. His lack of greast athleticism will likely always limit him from becoming an offensive focal point.” (Finding a Niche for Klay Thompson, Joseph Treutlein, Director of Scouting/Analytics, Draft Express, May 24, 2011)

Draft Beauty Contest Year Drafted Draft Selection Biggest Bust from Draft Class (1st Round)
Kobe Bryant 1996 13 Dontae Jones, # 21 (Knicks) 15 NBA games
DeMar DeRozan 2009 9 Christian Eyenga #30 (Cavs) 51 NBA games
Klay Thompson 2011 11 JaJuan Johnson #27 (Nets) 36 NBA games

The trajectory of both DeRozan and Thompson were way off. But compared with history, there were entering a vacuum. There hadn’t been great young shooting guard talent in a while. It was a desert of average and not great.  There was Dwyane Wade in 2003, and then who else? It was striking, the average shooting guard talent, when there had been so much domination. Michael Jordan. Kobe Bryant. Tracy McGrady. Dwyane Wade. Vince Carter. Clyde Drexler. Reggie Miller. Ray Allen. George Gervin.

DeRozan and Thompson reinvigorated the position. James Harden, C.J. McCollum, Bradley Beal have made this eras shooting guards on par with those of the past.

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DeMar DeRozan has an old school game. He is an iso player that can beat anyone off the dribble and finish through contact. He can post-up in the paint. He has Kobe Bryant’s usage rate of nearly 30%. He’s a good mid range shooter. He isn’t as good a playmaker as his mentor Bryant was but he makes big shots and last season he had 16 games of 30 points. Two years ago, he  scored a career high, 27.3 points a game, and last season had a career high offensive rating of 114. He isn’t shy about talking about how Bryant has affected and influenced his game. “He told me what he did when he was young in his career.” Score. Watch film. Score.

Kobe System, Year 9 Age Points FG% 3-Point% Assists # of 30+ Point games
Kobe Bryant, 2004-05 26 27.6 43.3% 33.9% 6.0 30
DeMar DeRozan, 2017-18 28 23.0 45.6% 31.2% 5.2 16

Klay Thompson has perfected everything that didn’t define Bryant. He consistently leads the league in catch and shoot points. He isn’t an iso player and rarely beats his man off the dribble to get to the rim. He doesn’t post-up. His usage rate is 24%. He is in constant motion, has a quick release and is an extraordinarily efficient scorer, making 48% of his shots last season, a career high, 44% of his three-pointers, a career high. He excels from every area of the floor except midrange. He has the Bryant championship narrative, a first NBA title in his fourth season, a second title in his sixth season, a third in his seventh. Idolizing Bryant has helped him remain disciplined. “I just remember watching him workout, how methodical and attention to detail he gave to every drill. It inspired me.” And when college junior Thompson was caught with marijuana, Kobe sent him a text. Thompson recalls it by saying, “just go out there and kill.”

Defending Champion, Year 7 Age Points FG% 3-Point% Assists # of 30+Point Games
Kobe Bryant, 2002-03 24 28.5 45.1% 38.3% 5.9 42
Klay Thompson, 2017-18 27 20.0 48.8% 44.0% 2.5 3

Like DeRozan, Klay Thompson had his first 50 point game in January. It was his fourth year, against Sacramento. It took him only 32 minutes to score 52. He made 11 out of 15 threes, 9 out of 10 free throws, 5 assists, 4 steals and two blocks for a 25 point win.

52 Pick Up Points FG% 3Point% Assists Steals
Klay Thompson, 1-23-2015 52 64% 73% 5 4
DeMar DeRozan, 1-1-2018 52 58.6% 55.6% 8 1

Nearly a decade after they were drafted, and at the top of their game, and in their prime, Klay Thompson and DeMar DeRozan are doing things the scouts never expected from either of them. Premiere shooting guards of their era (as is James Harden), they are setting the standard for the shooting guards that follow them, as they themselves followed  great scoring guards like Bryant and Wade. Copy, yes, everyone does, it is a sign of respect. But be original. Do you. Thompson and DeRozan make buckets but they do it differently than the past greats but the results are just as dynamic and necessary for their team and the league.

It may be a new season, but it is the same familiar and exceptional story for DeMar DeRozan and Klay Thompson, despite the DeRozan trade. Look at what just happened in  2017-18.  In December, a shooting guard (James Harden) had back to back 50 point games. In January, a shooting guard (DeMar DeRozan) had a 50 point game. In June, a shooting guard (Klay Thompson) won his third ring. In June, a shooting guard (James Harden) was league MVP. In July, a shooting guard (DeMar DeRozan)  was traded for an iconic talent.

That it’s a make or miss league is not cliché. No one does it better than the talent at the two spot. They are making shots, winning titles and awards, and leaving immortal footprints.