Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Building an NBA champion: should the Warriors trade Klay Thompson?


Steph Curry and Klay Thompson are the Splash Bros and have already been called the greatest shooting backcourt in NBA history. Any Warriors fan will quickly point out to you how valuable Klay has been as a partner-in-crime to Steph Curry’s verging superstardom. I have been shouting for as long as I can remember that Klay Thompson even brings something to the Warriors backcourt that Steph does not: defense. A lanky 6’7” guard who weighs in at under 210, he has the height to guard forwards (see above link) but also the skillset defensively and quick enough feet to guard the likes of Chris Paul, as he did in the 2014 NBA playoffs.

The problem is that a sexy backcourt doesn’t win NBA championships. Great players win championships. To the credit of Joe Lacob, Bob Myers, and the Warriors front office, they have clearly been all about getting to that level. Warriors blogger, Justin Taylor, was not exaggerating when he said last year that Joe Lacob has saved basketball in Northern California. But with the Splash Bros™ getting more positive press than Durant and Westbrook's relationship (oh wait…), the Warriors do not want to part ways with Klay Thompson. If you browse through my Twitter page, you may or may not find a strong opinion dismissing any idea of a Thompson trade.

Golden State’s desire to contend for a title means tough decisions will have to be made. The team needs a second bona-fide All-Star/superstar like Kevin Love to compete with Westbrook, Durant, and Ibaka. One roadblock is Klay Thompson’s open market value at a SG position in the NBA that is not very deep. Warriors beat writer, Marcus Thompson, pegged Klay Thompson’s value at $12 million (per HoopsRumors) – a value that seems very reasonable based on comparable 2013-14 players’ salaries. (Ironically enough, this would make him earn more in salary than Steph Curry.)

If Thompson were to be paid $12 million starting in 2015-16, that would mean the Warriors would have more than $50 million combined committed to Curry, Iguodala, Lee, and Thompson. With the cap at $63 million, that makes little room for error and additional player personnel. So from strictly a financial standpoint, moving Thompson and Lee would free up almost $27 million…enough to put a superstar alongside Steph Curry, Andre Iguodala, and Andrew Bogut.

Kevin Love recently told Newsweek that Curry was the player he’d most like to play with, saying that the Warriors’ All-Star is “so unselfish…[and] can really, really score.” Kevin Love has the superstar credentials to fit the bill as a second offensive force with Curry.

Another approach that hasn’t been considered yet is grabbing a premiere point guard and placing Steph Curry at the 2. Curry has the best shot in the NBA, and was second in the league behind Kyle Korver for catch and shoot eFG% at almost 70 percent. While his eFG% of about 55 percent on pull-up shots was also top-five in the league, that 15 percent difference could be positively exploited if a true point guard sets him up with more catch and shoot opportunities.


Curry is clearly well ahead of the pack in C&S. Also does well in pull-up, but not as great relative to rest of league.

I said it earlier in the discussion of Klay Thompson’s market value: the SG position is weak in the NBA. As a result, Curry often plays the weaker/slower of the two guards on defense which often happens to be the shooting guard. Some people might initially cite Curry’s size as a problem for him at the two, but Allen Iverson made it work even though he was shorter than six feet. And the NBA doesn’t have any prime Kobe Bryant’s or Dwyane Wade’s to wreak havoc from that position. Curry will be insulated by this league-wide weakness and his own team, with good perimeter defenders (Andre Iguodala and Draymond Green) and interior defenders (Andrew Bogut).

As entertaining as it is to watch Curry weave in and out of defenders and throw crazy one-handed dimes, his turnover rate is high. Curry was sixth in the league in assists in 2013-14 at 8.5 a game, but his 2.27 AST/TO ratio was the lowest of any player in the top 10. (Strangely enough, LeBron at 11 is significantly worse, with a 1.81 AST/TO ratio.) Putting a more conscientious distributor could prove valuable to not only Curry personally in terms of shot selection but also the team’s overall ability to prevent fast-break opportunities. And of course, with 48 minutes a game to go around, there will be time that Curry could run the point with the second unit, among other options. By no means would moving Curry to shooting guard totally remove his playmaking ability on the court. A move like this should make Curry and the team more efficient.

Bringing in a true point guard gives the Warriors flexibility to mix-and-match lineups. We have seen time and again that going small can work. The most recent example of course being Scott Brooks moving Russell Westbrook to the 2 and giving Reggie Jackson extended minutes as the point guard. Phoenix was the surprise of 2014 even though they just missed out on a playoff opportunity in the deep Western conference. They played two point guards together for the majority of the year, Eric Bledsoe and Goran Dragic, both under 6’5” and less than 200 pounds.

Danny Ainge has claimed that Rajon Rondo is not on the trading block, but he has already blown up the better portion of the 2008 champions…so why not go for the whole explosion?


Other attractive options include Dante Exum, Kyle Lowry (unrestricted FA), Eric Bledsoe (restricted), Ty Lawson (three years/$37 million left on contract with DEN), Jrue Holiday (three years/$32 million left on contract with NOP), and Jeff Teague (three years/$24 million left on contract with ATL). Maybe Kendall Marshall (9 assists and 3 TO per game last season with LAL), who led the league in three-point accuracy at one point in the season, is also worth pursuing. The beauty of the majority of these names is that a package of Lee/Thompson/Barnes or two of those three would position Golden State to also pick up a power forward and/or role players.

These point guard options will be less expensive to acquire than a superstar like Kevin Love or Carmelo Anthony. The acquisition of Kevin Love is option #1 for the Dubs, but if that fails, there are other options that the Warriors can consider. I have preached about the value of a Chris Bosh acquisition for the Warriors. Admittedly, Kirk Goldsberry’s recent article highlighting Bosh’s value to the Heat and Bosh’s own willingness to take less money to stay with a champion dims the light of this opportunity. Maybe Kobe Bryant should have taken notice if he really wants to win that sixth championship?

In a perfect world, the Warriors would have Curry-Thompson-Iguodala-Love-Bogut in their starting five. In a perfect world, the Splash Bros stay together for 6-8 years and go down as the best shooting tandem in history.

But this isn’t a perfect world and the NBA is a business. The Warriors made two franchise-altering decisions in the past couple years in moving Monta Ellis and firing 50-win coach, Mark Jackson. As distasteful as it is, trading Klay Thompson may be the final step necessary to become a top team in the Western conference.

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