Second-Tier Universe Cup Part 5

Article Length: about 1,600 words.


As always, catch yourself up on part 1part 2, part 3, and part 4

Klay Thompson 2015-16

Notable Accolades: Regular Season – All-NBA 3rd Team, All-Star, 6th in Total Field Goals, 2nd in Total Three-Pointers, 10th in Total Points,  and 9th in EFG%,

Playoffs – T-2nd in Total Field Goals, 1st in Total Three-Pointers, T-4th in Total Free Throws, 1st in Total Points, 4th in OWS, and 5th in WS

Regular Season/ Playoff Stats

basketball reference

basketball reference

Regular Season/ Playoff Advanced Stats

basketball reference

basketball reference

Nobody in the history of the NBA can get hot like Klay Thompson (maybe his running mate, Steph). Between his 37-point quarter and his 60-point outburst with only 11 dribbles (kinda), Klay has followed behind J.R. Smith’s footsteps with being the top guy you don’t want to see making a couple of shots in a row though Smith still reigns supreme as the most sporadic shooter while Klay’s best is much better than Smith’s.

3rd-quarter highlights start at the 2:05 mark.

What I really admire about Klay’s scoring ability is that he doesn’t seem to fear the moment. I’m thinking specifically back to when the hipster OKC team blew a 3-1 lead against the Warriors before it was cool. During Game-6 when the Warriors were down 3-2, Klay came out and dropped 41 points while hitting 11 of his 14 field goals from three (he shot 11/18 from three). What caught my attention about his scoring that game was that he seemed to his a big three any time the Thunder tried to make a run. He stared elimination straight in the face and fired away. I love that mentality.

Klay’s shining beacon in this game starts at the 3:47 mark. With five minutes left in the game and down 96-89, He receives a hand-off from Draymond about six-feet behind the three-point line. His feet aren’t set (usually his right foot is slightly forward), Russ is right in his grill, and there’s sixteen seconds on the shot clock, but he takes the shot anyway. Of course, he buries it.

Beyond his scoring though, Klay Thompson is lauded as one of the best two-way players with his formidable ability to switch 1-4 on defense (he did an excellent job of muscling up Kevin Love in the 2017 Finals). Interestingly though, his advanced defensive metrics show him as a net-negative defender. While often a volatile tool, advanced defensive numbers still provide a solid accessory to the eye-test; however, Bleacher Report describes why Klay’s numbers aren’t impressive:

Thompson rarely records defensive rebounds, which does factor into the equation since ending possessions is necessary before vacating the less glamorous end. He often switches onto the other team’s best backcourt member, which depresses some of his individual numbers by virtue of him drawing monumentally more difficult assignments.

– Adam Fromal, “Metrics 101: The Top 5 NBA Defenders at Every Position,” 2017

Klay is an excellent defender without racking up defensive statistics – blocks, defensive rebounds, and steals – which explains why Russell Westbrook’s advanced defensive numbers look good: he gets steals and lots of defensive rebounds.

Among all these numbers though is one concerning metric to which I often look: On/Off numbers which I pretty much cite in every article. While I always try to make clear that these are not end-all-be-all stats, they provide good context for who is helping the most on  a team. With that in mind, the two Venn Diagrams below show every possible combination of Curry, Draymond, and Klay in Golden State’s 2015-16 lineups. The numbers show how lineups with that player (or combination of players) performed compared to their competition (On/Off data from

2015-16 Regular Season

basketball reference

2015-16 Playoffs


First of all, this provides too many rabbit holes to pursue at this time (I’ll share the results of 2016-17 lineups including Durant at a later time), but one huge takeaway is that Draymond is extremely underrated and that those who argued for him as MVP weren’t totally crazy. The main statistics that scare me though are Klay’s negative and middling impact on the court. How is a player with that scoring efficiency, spot-up ability, and defensive switchability a net negative on the greatest regular season team in history? I honestly don’t know the answer to this question.

In a move that I might regret in this hypothetical tournament, I’m going to turn away from these numbers and pick Klay purely off his transcendent shooting ability, elite “Chameleon” work on defense, and the fact that he has a championship under his belt. Also, we cannot overlook the fact that all his teammates seem to love him and his laid back attitude. The Warriors ultimately lost the championship this year, but Klay still played with the confidence and swagger that only a winner can have. With that all in mind, let’s look at his skillset:

Playmaking Scoring Defense Rebounding
Klay 4 8 7 4

Shawn Marion 2006-07

Notable Accolades: Regular Season – All-Star, 4th in Defensive Player of the Year Voting, 1st in Total Steals, 6th in Defensive Rebounds, 9th in Total Rebounds, 4th in Two-Point Percentage, 10th in Offensive Rating, 6th in Defensive Rating, 6th in WS, 8th in BPM, 9th in DBPM, and 4th in VORP.

Playoffs – 5th in Total Blocks

Regular Season/ Playoff Stats

basketball reference

basketball reference

Regular Season/ Playoff Advanced Stats

basketball reference

basketball reference

As I mentioned in my last article, Shawn Marion is the perfect example of a player who played ten years too early. Sure, he was spectacular next to Steve Nash, but he was often shoe-horned into the small forward position because of his size. Today, Marion would be the perfect 4, small-ball 5, and, if need be, 3. It’s tough to really describe how good Marion would be now because he has no contemporary. Some might say Draymond because of their similar size and incredible abilities to guard 1-4 (and sometimes 5) effectively, but Marion was much more athletic and a better rebounder than Draymond while Draymond was a much better facilitator and better defender.

The most intriguing thing about Marion is how he thrived off chaos both on offense and defense. On offense, he didn’t provide traditional post or wing scoring at all. Sure, in the half-court he could spot-up well enough and cut at an elite level, and on defense he could respectably guard the other team’s best player (regardless of position), but he wasn’t the best at either of those. If you watch the “Seven Seconds or Less” Suns, you’ll see that Marion ran fastbreak lanes as well as anyone, crashed the offensive glass like somebody four inches taller, and scored of awkward floaters and flip shots. You’ll also see that he (successfully) gambles in passing lanes, sneaks around for weak side swats, and jumps around to put a hand in everyone’s face. He had some of the fastest reflexes I’ve ever seen in the NBA, and the speed with which he completed a second jump is rivaled by only “Super Smash Bros.” characters. Simply put, Marion had an endless motor. Between 2000-2007 (seven total seasons), Marion averaged 80.25 games a year and 39.1 minutes per game. The last player to average more minutes than that in a single season was Luol Deng…..back in 2011-12.

Despite middling reviews by Bill Simmons back when he did his annual trade column, my appreciation from Marion also stems from his ability to thrive as the third banana on a team. When he played alongside Nash and Stoudemire, two players who were better than him on offense, Marion still quietly found his role on the team.

This leads into my three-pronged response as to why I chose his 2006-07 year over 2005-06 year when he stepped-up after Stoudemire’s season-ending knee surgery and helped the Suns battle their way to the Western Conference Finals. First, his numbers aren’t that much better as the second banana to Nash. His role as the third (or less) option was optimal for him. Second, since they made the Western Conference Finals in 2006, Marion now has the late-in-the-playoffs jitters out of his system. He’s shed most of his wide-eyed apprehension from standing at the precipice of the Finals. Third, his defensive numbers during the 2007 Playoffs were absolutely insane. Below are two simplified On/Off charts so that you can truly appreciate how game-changing his defense was (side note: NBAWOWY data doesn’t go back this far, so I couldn’t separate the players any further).

Phoenix Suns 2007 Playoffs On/Off Numbers

Player % Total Minutes Played Off. Rating: On Court Off. Rating: Off Court
Shawn Marion 86 111.2 111.9
Raja Bell 83 111.2 111.8
Steve Nash 78 112.5 107.1
Leandro Barbaosa 66 108.3 117.1
Amar’e Stoudemire 65 113.1 107.7
Boris Diaw 44 109.6 112.7
Kurt Thomas 40 109.5 112.4
James Jones 32 112.9 110.5


Player Def. Rating: On Court Def. Rating: Off Court Net Rating
Shawn Marion 102.2 127 24.1
Raja Bell 104.9 108.9 3.4
Steve Nash 105.8 105.2 4.8
Leandro Barbaosa 106.3 104.3 -10.8
Amar’e Stoudemire 105.6 105.6 5.4
Boris Diaw 109.6 102.3 -10.4
Kurt Thomas 99.3 109.7 7.5
James Jones 111.9 102.6 -6.9

Despite being a (slight) net negative on offense, Marion managed to lead the top-eight rotation payers in Net Rating by a ridiculous margin thanks to his defense. When Marion wasn’t on the court, opposing offenses scored an otherworldly 127 points/100 possessions on the Suns. The team clearly just fell apart on the defensive end any time Marion took a break.

Although Marion somehow never made an All-Defense team during his NBA career, he was voted in the top-ten for Defensive Player of the Year three separate times (5th in 2004-05, 7th in 05-06, and 4th in 06-07). Marion is the forgotten defensive monster of the 21st century.

His theoretical skillset is as follows:

Playmaking Scoring Defense Rebounding
Marion 3 6 9 8

We only have three players left at this point, so the main core of the team is complete. The team has some hard-nosed, endless motor, tough-as-nails dudes, so it’ll be interesting to see how it all fits together.

Since the main core is finished, I gave the last three spots to a couple players on whom I’m giving a chance. They show incredible potential in some ways, but they also present some big drawbacks. Stay tuned to find out who they are!


All stats from basketball, and nbawowy.



2 thoughts on “Second-Tier Universe Cup Part 5

  1. Pingback: Second-Tier Universe Cup Part 6: Concluding the Roster | nbacademic

  2. Pingback: Second-Tier Universe Cup Part 7: The Coach, Team Strategy, and Defending the Cuts | nbacademic

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