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With All Due Respect...

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Come on Perk

Reggie Miller #31

First of all, I hope you all survived the last two episodes of The Last Dance (I guess Game 6 of the 98 ECF never happened), but we’re here now, we all have our hair again, and we’re inching ever closer to the hopeful reboot of the 2020 NBA season.

I was extremely busy last night and largely detached from social media and the outside world; waking up to this was....uhhhh interesting. I had a lot planned for my morning, but couldn’t get anything done as this was consistently plaguing my mind. So strap in!

Right off the bat, you might think “Mark is off his rocker writing an article about a tweet,” and you know what, you may have a slight point there. But, I have a major issue with comparing players like this. if you’re going to do it, at least try and do it in a fair way. I’m going to break this down and explain why I think this is such a discredit to both players involved.

Similar Build, Different Players

When I think of Reggie Miller and Klay Thompson, I think of two supremely talented silky smooth shooters. Yes, both guys are roughly the same height (Klay Thompson was 6’7 until the official NBA heights were taken prior to this season), they generate(d) a lot of their looks off-ball and through motion. While you can still draw some small comparisons between the two, that’s where the similarities end for me.

To be fair to Klay, he’s a better defender than Reggie ever was. Take what you want from All-Defensive team votes/selections; strictly speaking on tape, Klay is much stronger at the point of attack, largely due to having a far more filled out frame than Reggie. Klay routinely guards opposing teams’ best perimeter player and warrants the defensive acclaim he has received throughout his career. Pivoting towards Reggie, I want to posit that the major reason for why Reggie was never seen as a great defender, is because of the energy expenditure he put forth on the offensive side of the ball. Any Pacer fan can recall the 90’s and Reggie cutting baseline to run off an endless wave of Davis screens.

I don’t think Reggie would’ve become the same kind of defender Klay has become simply due to his own body’s ability, but with more energy to spend on that end, he would certainly have a different reputation as a stopper. Even with his offensive load, Reggie still guarded competently and in the playoffs was routinely matched up with opposing star wings; guarding Jordan in the Eastern Conference Finals, early Ray Allen with the Bucks, and Reggie Lewis when he and Chuck Person met the Celtics in his first playoff foray. Reggie had good length and would compete as a defensive player; for a guy averaging nearly 40 minutes per game in the playoffs during his prime, that’s solid.

Different Roles/Talent Gap

One of the first things that comes to mind for me is that Reggie was the number one option much of his time in Indiana, and he didn’t really have a a true number two until he was largely out of his prime.

Klay has never been a number one option and for a large portion of the run Golden State went on, he was a tertiary option.

This is not on knock on Klay, but it’s important to note for Reggie. There’s a significant difference between being a team’s sole offensive engine with a steep drop-off in offensive talent down the roster, and having two Hall of Famer’s (or even just one pre-KD) who are among the greatest offensive players of all-time.

Klay had the benefit of the gravity created by Steph and Durant. If you’re unfamiliar with the basketball use of the term, gravity is the way in which a player draws defenders to them with or without the ball; how attached to the hip/cognizant is the defense of a given player. The gravitational pull of Kevin Durant is ten-fold the gravity of Derrick McKey, Rik Smits, or Mark Jackson.

While Klay has certainly seen intense levels of defensive attention, he’s never seen the consistent level that Reggie dealt with for the majority of his career.

There’s also this misconception that Reggie never did anything with the ball in his hands.

Reggie wasn’t going to pull out a shammgod in the middle of the playoffs, but he was deadly with a mid range pullup and surprisingly savvy at getting to the rim. During his peak years (1990-2000), Reggie averaged 6 free throws per game the mark of an above average finisher. For reference, Klay topped out at just over 3 free throws per game and has hovered around two for most of his career.

Not everything came off the dribble, but in watching Reggie, he is quite simply one of the best off-ball cutters in league history. The amount of open layups he generated for himself due to a quick pivot or head fake is extraordinary. He wasn’t going to ISO 35 possession a game, but to say he couldn’t score with the ball in his hands is a fallacy.

Klay can score off the dribble, but he doesn’t do it often; according to stats.nba.com, since the 2014 season, over 50% of Klay’s shots have come without dribbling, and when including shots taken with one dribble prior to shooting, nearly 75% of his shots are accounted for.

In a role that has been more the bolster of a great offense than than the fulcrum of one, it’s difficult to antiquate how well Klay would adapt to a role similar to Reggie’s. Maybe he would excel and we’d see new aspects of his game we’ve never or rarely seen. Conversely he could struggle, but I’m not interested in speculating on that.

Pace & Style of Play

While in general the pace of play has increased in recent years, the pace in the early 90’s (start of Reggie’s prime) is similar to today’s. According to basketball reference, the average pace of play from 1990-93 was roughly 97 possessions per game. For reference, the 2017-18 season’s average pace was 97.3 possessions per game.

However, from the mid 90’s to early 00’s there was a steep decline in pace; from 1995-04, the average pace was about 91 possessions per game which is an incredibly steep drop off. While the change of pace has often been talked about and sometimes overblown, the biggest difference has been the efficiency bloom. Aka more three’s, as well as less non-star players shooting from the mid-range (If you think the mid-range is completely dead please read some of Seth Partnow’s work, it’s fantastic).

For instance; the league average effective field goal percentage (FG% accounting for threes) from 1990-2006 was 48.3% with a peak of 50% in 1995 (the year the three point line was moved in to 22 feet), and the two other highs in the concurrent years; 96 and 97. Thre point attempt rates really skyrocketed from 2015-2017 and EFG% along with it; from 22.4 3pg to 27 as league average. League EFG% has been above 50% since 2016 and climbed to 52.1% in 2018.

My point for this really long statistical ramble; A.) the era these two players existed in are very different B.) Reggie’s numbers would be quite different if he played today.

In his most 3-point driven season, Reggie fired off 6.6 per game. Klay has averaged more than that for his entire career (7 pg) and eclipsed 8 per game twice, consequentially his two highest scoring seasons.

Even shooting a significantly lesser amount of three’s, Reggie has been remarkably more efficient. Let’s look at their age 24-28 seasons.

Reggie & Klay 5 year comparison

Player Traditional Splits Traditional Percentages True Shooting TS% Differential (Above lg avg) 3pt Attempt Rate 3pt Attempts PG
Player Traditional Splits Traditional Percentages True Shooting TS% Differential (Above lg avg) 3pt Attempt Rate 3pt Attempts PG
Klay Thompson 21.6pts/3.7rbds/2.4 asts 47.1%fg/42.3% from three 58.90% plus 3.92% 44.60% 7.7
Reggie Miller 21.8pts/3.4rbds/3.6 asts 50.2%fg/39.2% from three 63.60% plus 10.28% 29.90% 4.3
Reggie from 90-94 & Klay from 15-19 Basketball Reference

If you put prime Reggie in today’s game, his offense would pop like no other. He would undoubtedly shoot more threes and his scoring numbers would blossom before our very eyes.

Rings are Overrated

Klay Thompson was a large part of three incredible title teams, but the idea that having a title makes you a better player than someone is frankly nonsense. Is Robert Horry better than Charles Barkley by that logic? Horry was a good player in his own right, but my point is that while being on a title team is great, I don’t think that inherently makes an individual great.

If Reggie has different talent around him or doesn’t run into some of the greatest teams of all-time, maybe he wins a title or many. It’s all hypothetical. But, Reggie never had the same kind of surrounding talent that Klay has experienced in Golden State. That’s not to diminish what Klay has done in the league, more to emphasize the problems with comparing them or saying Klay is better. Klay/Steph/KD were Jordan and Pippen for anyone in the West. Reggie’s second best teammate was probably Rik Smits until the 2000 season when Jalen Rose broke into the starting lineup. It’s hard to win as a lone star, and even harder when pitted against two of the greatest players of all time in Pippen and Jordan

Conclusions

Context is key. Without it, we lose so much of what made these players who they are. Let’s stop trying to put them in boxes and categorize them because their numbers look similar. We can appreciate greatness without having to compare it. But, if you do, do it the right way, and be fair in your assessment/judgement.

All-Star voting is biased and often the best players on the best teams receive the nod. Klay has deserved every single one of his, but Reggie certainly deserved more. His game was much less appreciated in an era predicated on the complete opposite of what he did. Reggie was on some phenomenal teams, but largely missed out due to being on some largely average teams in his early prime, and poor voting.

Thus far, Klay Thompson has been an incredible talent, but to outright say he is a better player than Reggie is a stretch. He just turned 30, maybe he gets a chance to be the number one option and we can stack up his performance then. For right now, it’s clear cut for me. Reggie did more with less and is one of the most efficient players of all time. He played in an era that was largely abhorrent of his skillset, and yet he was still one of the greats.

With all due Respect to the Great Reggie Miller, Klay Thompson is not the same player, nor should we even be having this discussion. We’ll talk when Klay retires someday.