What Not Trading for Kevin Love Has Meant for the Golden State Warriors

Opting for Klay Thompson instead of Kevin Love has allowed the Warriors to develop into a juggernaut.

After winning 51 games and losing to the Clippers in the first round of the playoffs last season, the Warriors front office knew a change was needed for its exciting young team to get over the hump.

However, after a summer full of Kevin Love rumors that never came to fruition, it turns out that the only change the Warriors needed was in their coaching staff. Steve Kerr has instilled a brand of basketball that lends itself to ball movement and spacing, in stark contrast to Mark Jackson who would often get isolation-happy late in games.

The impact on the Warriors’ offense has been obvious, and the team is first in the league in assists, field goal percentage, offensive rating, effective field goal percentage, true shooting, and pace. In addition, Golden state is third in three-point percentage and second in assist percentage.

As for advanced stats, In addition they are also number-one in our in-house nERD metric (which is an aggregate statistic that takes into account numerous offensive and defensive factors) and fourth in offensive efficiency. So, you could say they are having a decent season offensively.

With the Splash Brothers, we always knew the Warriors had the potential to have an explosive offense, but the real change for the Warriors has been on the defensive end. Even without their anchor in Andrew Bogut for much of the season, the Warriors are first in the NBA in defensive efficiency and in opponent field goal percentage.

After a summer of “what ifs,” the one deal the Warriors decided not to make has defined their whole season. Not giving up on Klay Thompson , and freeing up the power forward position for Draymond Green has turned the Warriors into a stifling and overpowering juggernaut. When the Splash Brothers get going, and the crowd at Oracle starts to get loud, it seems as though there isn’t a team that can keep up with this year’s Warriors.

While Love may one day make the Hall of Fame, the Warriors’ decision to pass on him may be the reason they win a championship this year.

Klay and Draymond

After the Warriors purportedly refused to include Klay Thompson in Kevin Love discussions this summer and then gave Thompson a $70 million extension, the onus was on Klay to elevate his level of play. Klay has risen to the challenge, and has provided the Warriors with the second star they have been looking for. Take a look at his raw numbers this year compared to his previous three years.


Klay has elevated his game across the board, posting career highs in field goal percentage, three point percentage, assists, and points per game. In addition, his efficiency has vastly improved, as he is 15th in the league with an individual nERD of 8.2 (ahead of Kevin Love’s score of 7.2). This means that Thompson would add 8.2 wins over the course of a season as a starter on a team. He has also seen a six-point increase in overall player efficiency (currently at 20.6 compared to last years dismal PER of 14.3). Klay has justified every penny of his extension.

But, as good as Klay Thompson has been, it is really Draymond Green’s emergence that has catapulted the Warriors to the top of the West and made fans forget about what could’ve been with Kevin Love. Kevin Love is a great scorer but lacks a penchant for defense. This is where Draymond shines.

Draymond Green is first in the NBA in defensive box plus/minus, individual defensive rating, and defensive win shares. If he continues playing at this level, Draymond would be the first player under 6’9’’ to lead the NBA in defensive win shares since Truck Robinson in 1977! Draymond brings an incredible defensive presence to the power forward position that was severely lacking from David Lee in past years. Despite being listed at 6’7’’ (and likely being even shorter), Draymond is sixth in opponent FG% at the rim (with the five players ahead of him all being 6’10’’ or taller). Opponents are shooting 40.4% against Draymond and 5.4% worse than normal against the burly power forward.

His speed and length on the perimeter allows the Warriors to stymie pick and rolls, and his physicality in the paint makes life difficult for penetrating point guards. Although in a vacuum, Kevin Love may be the superior player, for this Warriors team, Draymond Green is simply the better fit based on these results. Draymond is doing a terrific job at picking his spots on offense and is a key reason that the Warriors are ranked first in the league in defensive efficiency.

In retrospect, trading for Kevin Love, which would have almost assuredly blocked Green’s development and likely would’ve forced the Warriors to start a replacement level shooting guard, would have been a massive mistake. With his great shooting, and pesky defense, Thompson has solidified himself as a top-five two guard and has provided the Warriors with a legitimate second star.

Draymond Green has been called the “heartbeat” of the Warriors by beat writers and coach Kerr himself, and it is fair to wonder whether this season’s success would be possible if he was replaced with Love. The Warriors’ decision to stand pat has left them with one of the most balanced, explosive, and deepest rosters in the NBA. With Lee, Shaun Livingston, and Andre Igoudala, the Warriors have, basically, three starting-caliber players -- per our nERD scores -- coming off the bench to supplement their explosive starting five.

The Warriors have great shooting, ball movement, and, most importantly, tremendous defense. Thanks to the decision the Warriors did not make last summer, we could be looking at a parade in the Bay Area this summer, as the Warriors have a 27.2% chance to win the NBA Finals this year according to our math.