The Golden State Warriors have been the primary Kevin Love suitor for the past couple of weeks as trade rumors have popped up for the first time. Flip Saunders has been hesitant to even discuss a trade for the star forward, but for some reason the Warriors’ package has caught his eye.
Most pundits see Warriors forward David Lee’s contract (2 years, $30.5 million) as a burden, but Saunders seems particularly concerned with the teams performance next season versus preparing for the future via a rebuilding project, giving Lee’s value a boost. Minnesota is a small market team and the fans are starving for wins, but you can’t build a contender through brute force alone, which Minnesota seems intent on doing.
The heart of GSW’s potential package for Love is shooting guard Klay Thompson, already one of the best shooters in the league. There would hypothetically be other assets involved coming from the Warriors, but Thompson is the real prize. However, despite Thompson’s development over the past few years, it’s surprising that any team would consider him the centerpiece to a deal for perhaps one of the league’s 10 best players. What’s even more surprising is the fact that reports out of Golden State indicate the team isn’t convinced they should give up Thompson for Love. This is absolutely absurd.
There are a few main problems with taking Thompson back in a trade. First, he’s still a fairly one-dimensional offensive player. He’s an unbelievable long range shooter (41.7% from 3 on almost 9!!! Att/48), but beyond that, I would argue Thompson is overrated on both sides of the ball.
It starts in the pick and roll, where Thompson has struggled to create for himself or others. Thompson shot 41.7% out of the pick and roll this season and 21.7% from 3. He also turned it over on 12.4% of his pick and roll possessions ending in a shot, turnover, or free throws per Synergy Sports. Thompson was worse in isolation plays, shooting just 30.8% and turning the ball over 11% of the time. Thompson has improved out of the pick and roll this season, but these possessions (p&r and isolations) still only account for 16.1% of Thompson’s offense this season. Nothing too special.
What these stats tell us is that Klay Thompson simply can’t yet puncture a defense in any kind of meaningful way. Spot ups, Catch and shoot opportunities off screens and transition possessions accounted for 62.4% of Thompson’s offense last season, down from 69.1% the season before. He has also recently shown some interesting post up potential, but not enough to really move the needle in his offensive evaluation.
Klay Thompson has gotten better every season he’s been in the league, but there are still questions about how much room for growth he has left. He’s now 24 years old and past the primary stage of development. Essentially, Thompson is still going to get better, but it’s unrealistic to think that he’s somehow going to develop above average NBA ball handling and finishing skills, especially at a high enough volume to be considered a true star.
His usage rate of 22.6% was nothing special, it’s hard to imagine a scenario in which it gets much higher. He finished at almost 56% within 8ft of the rim this season-a respectable mark-but he did so on less than three such attempts per game, and they accounted for only 18.9% of his shots.
Klay Thompson is going to be an elite NBA floor spacer with a little bit of versatility (potential p&r, post game, etc/), but nothing close to what Kevin Love can provide. There is some merit to the argument that Thompson is a high level wing defender, but on a team like the Warriors with Iguodala on the Wing and Bogut protecting the rim down low, shooting guard defense just isn’t as important, relatively speaking. They would probably be fine defensively without him.
This is an extremely controversial opinion, but I don’t think the Warriors would see a drastic decline in shooting guard production in downgrading to Kevin Martin if the Warriors were to take him back in a deal. Martin isn’t as good as Thompson on either side of the ball, but the fact is the Warriors are going to run most of their primary action next season through Steph Curry (and potentially Kevin Love). Throw Andre Iguodala and Shaun Livingston into the mix and I think between them they can absorb most of Thompson’s peripheral skills. His elite shooting will obviously be missed, but Martin’s quick release and solid 3 point stroke (38.7% from deep last season) should provide enough floor spacing for the centerpieces to operate.
Last year, Martin was (barely) more efficient than Thompson points per possession (via Synergy), mostly because he draws way more fouls. He was also much more productive in transition. Thompson had a slightly higher assist rate (10.2 vs 9.2), but Martin had a higher PER (16.3 vs 14.3). Martin finished with similar efficiency but at a much higher volume inside of 8ft.
Klay Thompson is much better and younger than Kevin Martin. But on a team with multiple offensive stars, Martin functions almost as well. Klay complements stars, he isn’t one himself.
The other problem with taking back Thompson is his impending restricted free agency next summer. Minnesota would be able to keep Thompson, but at what cost? Thompson could command a max contract depending on his play next season, which would leave the Wolves with absolutely no flexibility. Ricky Rubio will also need a new contract after next season, and considering the long term money the Wolves have already committed to Nikola Pekovic, the Warriors deal basically forces them to commit to a Rubio-Thompson-Pek-Lee? core for next couple of years. That core probably isn’t good enough to make the playoffs in the West any time soon. Even if they did sneak into the back end of the playoffs they won’t contend.
Minnesota’s point differential (2.7) was much better than their record (40-42) this season, mostly due to disastrous crunch time play by the Wolves on both sides of the ball. It’s hard to attribute this to Love as he’s not a consistently elite isolation player. Minnesota’s guards struggled to create any kind of offense off the dribble at the end of games and their offense became stagnant.
Ricky Rubio was a disaster at the end of games offensively and the Pek-Love combo was unable to alter shots at the basket on the other side of the ball. This Wolves roster didn’t really complement Love’s skill set effectively, but this trade doesn’t fix either of their major problems, namely their lack of both dribble penetration and rim protection.
Looking at Golden State’s potential future, there is little doubt that high pick and pops with Steph Curry would send Love’s (and his team’s) offensive efficiency through the stratosphere. Seriously though.
Love’s ability to stretch the floor will be extremely useful on high screens and his excellent post game would come in handy as well. With Bogut anchoring the defense down low Love would have a defensive center he could rely on to stop penetration. Love takes a lot of heat for his defense, but considering his impressive defensive rebounding numbers and size, he can easily be hidden defensively. Why Steve Kerr wants to keep Klay Thompson in favor of Kevin Love I simply can’t understand.
In any case, the Wolves should not lock themselves into this situation. If they’re going to deal Love, they need to consider a rebuild, or at least getting picks or younger assets for him to invest in the long run vision for the team. Dion Waiters, Anthony Bennett and a future first just isn’t going to get it done, but surely there’s a better offer out there than the one from Golden State.
This may be the only trade I have ever seen where the team that would “lose” the trade is initiating talks, while the team that would clearly “win” won’t pull the trigger. I guess for now these rumors will remain an enigma.