Why Do the Warriors Love Klay Thompson So Much?

What's so special about the shooting guard that might be holding up Kevin Love talks?

Once the Finals end, the NBA turns into a very, very crazy league. Thanks to the shorter contracts brought on by the current collective bargaining agreement, nearly every summer sees big names come up for free agency. Of course, the insanity doesn’t end once the contracts are signed. Fans have an insatiable thirst for trade rumors, and there have been plenty of them swirling around one name for months: Kevin Love.

While the Cleveland Cavaliers debate whether or not to include 2014 number one overall pick, Andrew Wiggins, in a deal for Love, there’s another standoff in reported trade talks going down on the west coast. The Golden State Warriors, long rumored to be a preferred destination for Love, have been adamant in trade talks that they won’t include shooting guard Klay Thompson, according to many reports.

Now, with rumors that Cleveland is suddenly willing to offer up Wiggins, Golden State’s stance may be softening. It should be, too, as multiple outlets have reported that the Timberwolves actually prefer Thompson to Wiggins. That makes plenty of sense, too. General manager Flip Saunders hired himself to coach the team, and he obviously wants to bring back pieces that can keep them competitive if he indeed decides to deal his star.

How Good is Klay Thompson?

Thompson is a very nice player. The son of former Lakers star Mychal Thompson was picked 11th overall by the Warriors back in 2011 after a productive career at Washington State. He’s steadily improved and has become one of the best shooting guards in the league in his three seasons, one of the few young talents at the shallowest position in the NBA. By our nERD metric, he was one of the 10-best shooting guards in the league in 2014, finishing with a 2.2 nERD score, meaning that Klay paired with four average NBA players would finish two games over .500 for a season. That’s solid. It’s probably fair to assume Thompson will get better, too, as he’s just 24 years old. Add in that he’s been the picture of durability in his three seasons, missing just one game, and Thompson appears to have the makings of a burgeoning star.

Whether or not there’s room to improve, there’s no debate that Thompson is one of the best volume three-point shooters in the league. He finished third in attempts last season, behind teammate Stephen Curry and Damian Lillard, and he’s hit better than 40 percent in all three of his seasons. That’s a major factor in Golden State’s success as a let-it-fly squad that’s made some playoff noise over the past two seasons. They’re 12.8 points per 100 possessions better with Thompson on the floor (111 to 98.2).

But removed from the Gunners’ Anonymous meeting that Golden State was during Mark Jackson’s tenure, is there any evidence that Thompson would still be this rising star? It’s easy to assume that Klay’s shooting prowess benefits greatly from playing alongside the NBA’s best shooter in Curry. Some numbers do bear that out.

2013-143FGA/G3FGM/G3FGM (% Assisted)3FGM (%Unassisted)
Klay Thompson2.86.694.65.4
Kevin Love2.56.685.814.2

Only 5.4 percent of Thompson’s made threes last season were unassisted, compared to nearly triple that for Love, per That number is more jarring when you remember that Thompson is a guard with far more ball-handling responsibilities than Love. Add in that Love’s point guard, Ricky Rubio, is nowhere near the shooting threat that Curry is and that split looks even more like a chasm.

2013-14Min.FG%3FG%TS%eFG%3FGA (%Assisted)3FGA (%Unassisted)USG
Thompson overall286844.341.755.553.394.65.422.6
Thompson w/o Curry50042.739.751.548.996.63.424.3

Thanks to the site, we can look at just how much of an impact Curry has on Thompson’s game. As you can see, while his numbers certainly don’t fall off a cliff when he’s operating without Curry, Klay does take a dip in effectiveness without his Splash Brother while somehow seeing his number of assisted three-pointers rise. While Thompson is still an above average shooter without Curry, his true shooting and effective field goal percentages both dip to levels below what you’d expect for such a marksman.

Of course, Thompson’s importance to the Warriors goes beyond his shooting. Even though he shares the wing with lockdown specialist Andre Iguodala, Thompson often draws the task of guarding the opponent’s best perimeter player, which could play as big or more of a factor in Golden State's hesitation. Look no further than the Warrior’s first-round series with the Clippers, when Thompson spent long stretches guarding point god Chris Paul. A stingy defensive team to begin with, the Warriors were three points better per 100 possessions last season with Thompson on the floor (101.8 on, 104.8 off). Love is well-known for being a minus defender, but he’s also never truly played with a rim protector. If he gets sent to the Warriors, he’ll more than likely be playing there with Andrew Bogut as his frontcourt partner. That’ll help mask some of Love’s deficiencies.

Replacing Thompson’s production at the 2-guard slot won’t exactly be an easy task, but a guy who can score 18 points per game and play solid defense is a lot more common than what Kevin Love can do. The "3-and-D" player is definitely en vogue and sought after around the league. But Love is the only player in league history to ever average 26 points and 12 boards for a season while hitting as many threes, 190, as Love did last season. Knock the number of made threes down to 100 and you still find only one name on the list.

While Thompson is among the best in the league at what he does, the evidence doesn’t show that he’s an offense-carrying superstar just yet. The prospect of pairing one of the most dangerous power forwards in the league with the NBA’s premiere three-point threat should be too much for a team in win-now mode to pass up. The alternative is maxing out Thompson next summer and hoping their over-30 cogs, Iguodala and Bogut, can stay healthy enough to keep Golden State in the hunt.

Hopefully, the Warriors realize that before Love ends up in Ohio.