Steve Kerr’s plan to push Klay Thompson to power forward could end in disaster for Warriors

The addition of Chris Paul in the offseason along with Draymond Green’s ankle injury to kick off the year has presented Warriors coach Steve Kerr with an interesting lineup question. Kerr told reporters after the first day of training camp that he would try out a starting five of Paul, Stephen Curry, Andrew Wiggins, Klay Thompson and Kevon Looney in the team’s first preseason game on Saturday.

That lineup will clearly be undersized. Paul (6-0) and Curry (6-2) will form one of the smallest backcourts in the NBA. Looney is one of the toughest and strongest players in the league, but he’s also a 6-9 center.

The real challenge will come at power forward, as Kerr announced that he would be pushing Thompson into the frontcourt rotation.

DAMIAN LILLARD TRADE GRADES: Breaking down deal for Bucks, Suns and Blazers

Thompson has primarily bounced between shooting guard and small forward throughout his career. Basketball-Reference estimates that he’s played just one percent of his minutes at power forward. But Kerr believes in Thompson, as he explained on Tuesday.

“Klay would guard the four man. He’s so physically strong. He’s so used to guarding post-up players after switches. We’re thinking Klay can guard as a four this year,” Kerr said. “We’re going to put him in coverage where he’s having to defend the pick-and-roll as a four. That would be a different job for him. We’re planning on doing some of that and seeing how he does.”

While Kerr has faith in Thompson, he hasn’t done well historically in those matchups. He’s listed at 6-6 and 220 pounds, which gives him a considerable size disadvantage against some of the bigger teams in the league.

When he has had to defend power forwards and centers, they’ve instantly taken him down into the post and used their strength advantage against him. It has not been pretty.

Thompson’s one-on-one defense will be under a microscope when bigger guys try to take him down into the paint. Less noticeable but just as important is the lack of weak side rim protection that the Warriors will have with Thompson at power forward.

Thompson’s pedestrian block numbers (0.5 blocks per game in his career) look even worse on film. Virtually all of his 29 blocks last season were the result of swipe-downs when low-pointing the ball. He had very few vertical contests. Opponents shot 4.4 percent better within six feet of the basket with Thompson as the primary defender, putting him in the bottom 14 percent in the league, per Crafted NBA.

And it’s not as though other players will be able to cover for him. Wiggins and Looney are decent rim protectors despite each averaging well under a block per game. Paul and Curry offer zero rim protection.

The lack of size on the roster also brings up the obvious question of how that group will rebound. While Thompson’s numbers look good on the surface (3.1 defensive rebounds per game in his career), the vast majority of his rebounds last season were balls that bounced directly to him. He rarely boxes opponents out — only Jordan Poole and Ty Jerome had a lower percentage of contested rebounds on the team, per NBA Stats.

MORE: Why Rui Hachimura should take last spot in Lakers’ starting lineup

All of those defensive warts could turn Kerr’s experiment into a disaster. But there is some upside. If Thompson is guarded by power forwards, then they stand very little chance against him on the other end of the floor.

Thompson is one of the premier movement shooters in the game, and power forwards won’t be as acclimated to navigating so many screening actions. If Kerr does roll with Thompson as his power forward, then maximizing the team’s offense may be the way to go.

Luckily for the Warriors, this is a short-term problem. Green should make his return to the lineup soon, and that will spark the even more interesting discussion of which Warrior should be taken out of the starting lineup to make room for him.

Kerr’s preseason strategy will likely show how undersized the entire team is. Maybe that will force one of Paul, Thompson or Wiggins to accept a role off the bench.

Share with your friends!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Get The Latest Sports News
Straight to your inbox

Subscribe to our mailing list and get interesting stuff and updates to your email inbox.

Thank you for subscribing.

Something went wrong.