The Golden State Warriors number one free agent target is Kevin Love. It’s been that way for the last two weeks. However, in order for them to obtain Love they’d have to give up their prized shooting guard Klay Thompson and David Lee and take back the bad contract of Kevin Martin in return. Are the Warriors making the right decision by choosing, at least right now, to hold onto Thompson or are they overrating him and costing themselves a chance at a championship?
Thompson is one of the top shooting guards in the league. Part of that is because the position he plays is the weakest in the NBA. He’s one of the better shooters in the league and is a solid defender. He gives the Warriors size in the backcourt opposite Stephen Curry, which is certainly a plus. However, upon observation, his game as a whole is still very much a work in progress. He’s not a great rebounder even though he’s 6’7”. For his career he only averages about 3 rebounds per game. He also only averages about 2 assists a game, which shows that he’s either not a great passer or that he doesn’t like to pass the ball.
The two things that stand out while watching Thompson is that he doesn’t attack the basket as much as he should and he also is not a good post-up player for his size. To be fair to him, both of those things really started to come around toward the second part of last season. He got more aggressive attacking the basketball, and showed the potential to be a good post-up player in the future. Thompson only gets to the free throw line about 2 times per game for his career, which still shows that he’s predominately still a jump shooter.
Even with these deficiencies in his game, Thompson will still be offered a max contract, something in the ball park of Kyrie Irving’s 5 year 90 million dollar contract. At this stage in Thompson’s career he isn’t worth that much money. If the Warriors are able to hold onto Thompson and sign him for a contract similar to Curry’s 4 year 44 million contract, that’s fine. Reportedly though, he’s asking for the max contract or something close to that.
Max contracts go to players who carry their team or who are the number one option on their team. As good as Thompson is, he’s a number three option on a championship caliber team. The Warriors need to ask themselves, if Curry goes down with an injury, which everybody hopes doesn’t happen, could Thompson carry the Warriors the way Curry does. From what he’s shown so far, no he can’t.
Also something else that tends to go overlooked is the whole chemistry aspect. It’s easy to see that the Warriors have great chemistry right now. However if Thompson gets a max contract, which would end up being around 7 million dollars more than what Curry makes now, how would Curry take it. Curry might be perfectly fine with it as he seems to be a team guy and as long as Thompson is a Warrior and helps them win championships that’ll be fine with him. However, it’s possible that Curry would take it personally because he knows that he’s the best player on the Warriors team, and that he should be getting the max contract instead of Thompson. That could potentially create a bit of friction amongst the players and management.
Also if the Warriors pay Thompson the max contract, that will limit their ability to sign any other free agents who could potentially help the team. Keep in mind that Harrison Barnes and Draymond Green will be wanting contract extensions in the coming years as well. All of that has to be considered by the Warriors.
Moving on to the other side of the ball now. The Warriors value Thompson’s defense, and in the Warriors mind he’s one of the better defenders in the league who no one knows about. However, upon studying advanced statistics, it shows that the Warriors are overrating Thompson’s defense just a tad.
This is nothing against Thompson, as he’s one of the better defenders on the Warriors team and is a true two way player. He is one of the better two way players at his position, but that doesn’t mean that he’s not a tad overhyped on the defensive end.
According to the new NBA stat Real Plus-minus, which measures a player’s impact on both ends of the floor, Thompson is ranked 75th in the NBA and 27th among shooting guards in defensive plus minus at -0.19. These numbers are a bit deceiving considering that Thompson is forced to guard the other teams best offensive player for most of the game. However, Andrew Bogut, Andre Iguodala and Green are all in the top 12 in that category.
Stats don’t mean everything but judging by the names that are listed on the top of the list, it’s seems pretty accurate. Thompson’s versatility certainly makes him a valuable defender, and he seems better than the overall stats prove, but this shows that the Warriors certainly over value him defensively.
Another stat that proves that Thompson’s not a max player is the PER. Player efficiency rating measures how effective that specific player is to his team in all aspects of the game when he’s on the court. Thompson is 14.32, which is below the league average and ranks him 23rd in the NBA among shooting guards. It makes sense that he wouldn’t be incredibly efficient as Thompson shot 44 percent from the field this last year and only averaged 3 rebounds and 2 assists.
The final stat wins above replacement is a big one. Thompson is ranked 35th in the NBA in this stat, but fifth in the NBA at his position. This stat shows that Thompson is still one of the better players at his position. The Warriors believe that Thompson has the upside to better in all aspects of his game, but paying him a max contract would be a mistake by the Warriors at this stage in his development.
Now of course, this brings us back to Love. If the Warriors are smart they trade Thompson and Lee for Love. Love is the best power forward in the NBA, or at the very least top three. He’s been one of the best rebounders in the NBA for his whole career. He’s developed into a great scorer. He’s not a great defender, but neither was Lee and the Warriors made that work.
To win in the NBA you either need to be 10 deep like the San Antonio Spurs or you need to have more than one star. Love is that second star that the Warriors need to elevate them to the top of the Western Conference. Thompson has potential to be a star, but he’s not there yet. Love automatically gives the Warriors more scoring than last year and with Green, Iguodala and Bogut as defenders the Warriors wouldn’t be missing that much defensively. Also throw in Barnes and newly acquired Shaun Livingston and the Warriors could potentially be a better defensive team than they were last year.
The Warriors holding onto Thompson is a risky proposition. If they decide to hold onto him and try to negotiate his contract down than it makes sense, but if they lose him to free agency because they fail to come to terms on a max contract it’d be a big set back. Obtaining Love takes the pressure off of Curry and will be the stretch four in the pick and roll that the Warriors lacked in last year’s playoffs. Also, having Love would enable Curry to get freed up.
The Warriors need to recognize that Thompson is a valuable player, but not as valuable as they are making him out to be. By adding Love it gets them that second star and elevates them to a top three team in the Western Conference. The Warriors can’t afford a setback and their decision on Thompson will be the key to either seeing it happen or elevating the team to an even higher status.