Klay Thompson is mulling the possibility of taking a pay cut next summer to stay with Golden State, but what if he decided to leave and blaze a new path?
You probably know Klay Thompson as the other Splash Brother. Or maybe you know him as #ChinaKlay. Or maybe you know him as the guy who dropped 60 points in less than 30 minutes. Or maybe you know him as arguably the greatest spot-up shooter ever. No matter the means, you know who Klay Thompson is. The sometimes forgotten member of the Golden State Warriors mega-ultra-death team is set to hit free agency in 2019, and he told Marcus Thompson and Tim Kawakami of The Athletic that there’s the chance he takes a Kevin Durant-level pay cut to stay with the team.
“I probably could, yeah. That much? I don’t know. I don’t make as much as Kevin off the court. … If it’s a few million … It’s a blessing whatever contract I sign. I would definitely consider it ‘cause I don’t want to lose anybody.”
Klay signed a four-year extension back in 2014 that was worth $69 million. This past summer, Durant inked a two-year deal for just $51.2 million, which was significantly less than the max — about $9 million less, to be exact. He can afford to do that thanks to a slew of endorsement deals, which Thompson alluded to. Klay isn’t the global icon that Durant is and that’s fine. When it comes to producing on the basketball court, few shooting guards are better, but his play style is what would make him being the first-option so interesting.
He’s steadily improved every year since coming into the league in 2012. The 27-year-old is hoping to stay in Golden State for the remainder of his prime and possibly for his career; I’m going to speculate this because getting paid less isn’t an issue. Over the last three seasons, Klay has made the All-Star team each year and landed on two All-NBA teams. He’s the definition of a sniper, and a relatively-light workload allows him to be effective defending the litany of star guards in the Western Conference.
Since 2015, the only player in the NBA who’s made more threes than Klay Thompson (783) is Stephen Curry (1,012). Over that same stretch, only three players have shot a better percentage from deep:
- Kyle Korver (44.9 percent)
- J.J. Redick (44.6 percent)
- Curry (43.6 percent)
- Thompson (42.5 percent)
The accuracy goes all the way to his days at Washington State, and Golden State’s system has utilized Thompson’s skill set perfectly. No one on the roster is afraid to make the extra pass, and Thompson winds up receiving it because the defense isn’t as focused on him. Even before Durant, teams had to pick their poison because the Warriors were so unselfish and that prevented opponents from keying in on one guy. If you stayed pinned to him, you’re unable to help on a drive to the basket; if you help on a drive to the basket, you’re leaving Klay open. That style is why 83.5 percent of his buckets last year were assisted.
When you watch him play, the first comparison is Reggie Miller. They’re built similarly and are almost identical stylistically. One of the only discrepancies is that Miller wasn’t known for his defense, and Steve Kerr employs Thompson to guard the likes of Russell Westbrook and James Harden.
Although Klay Thompson’s arguably the second-best shooter in the game, his arsenal isn’t limited to that. Given his size, he can shoot over smaller defenders and doesn’t need to have the explosive athleticism that his peers have. He can play in the post and isn’t afraid to bust out a nifty fadeaway if the angle to attack the basket isn’t there. From the mid-range as a whole, Thompson converted on 44.8 percent of his 373 attempts last year. A lot of those are the product of defenders closing out so violently. When you have a shooter who’s as accurate as Thompson is, your instinct is to chase them off the perimeter. That’s an entirely different problem when playing the Warriors.
You need to help on a Durant or Green or Curry drive, and they don’t mind dishing to the open man, who’s Thompson. He catches and is set to shoot but realizes that you’re charging at him like a bull. All it takes to get a wide-open jumper is a rip-through and one dribble. The idea of helping on someone’s drive is basketball 101, but it gets tricky because Draymond, Steph and KD are going to occupy a team’s three-best defenders. A younger or less-talented defender isn’t going to have the same discipline or skill level to contain a player of Thompson’s caliber.
Placing Klay on a new team changes a lot from a schematic perspective, but he’ll still produce at an All-Star level. Thompson averaged 22.1 points on 17.3 attempts as a second-option 2016. The three-ball would still be a vital part of his game, but an aggressive Klay Thompson has everything necessary to attack the basket and draw fouls, which is the only line in his box score that doesn’t jump out at you. If we’re still making the Miller comparison, that’s where I give Reggie the edge.
Also Read: The Issue With Composite NBA Player Rankings
It’d be fascinating to see Thompson be the leader of a team and I believe he’d perform great individually, but the roster composition would have to be strategic. Point guards and playmakers who are comfortable and versatile enough to do anything and everything on the offensive end dominate the NBA landscape. Klay is not a versatile playmaker. His basketball IQ is eh and his passing leaves a lot to be desired. But we don’t chastise him for it because that’s not his job and also because he’s not the leader of his team. Would you be mad at an electrician for not fixing your toilet?
My first action as an executive with Thompson as my centerpiece is to get an All-Star caliber point guard to play alongside him as quickly as possible. That’s the reality of today’s game. Klay’s backcourt mate will need to mask all of his deficiencies, like what the Toronto Raptors have done with Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan. Lowry is the floor general who puts everyone where they need to be, but Toronto doesn’t need to rely on him to create all of their points. That’s why they have DeRozan. He’s a better shot creator and one of the NBA’s premier scorers (even though the analytics say he’s detrimental).
The drawbacks with the Compton native are that he’s a liability defensively and, like Thompson, is a lackluster passer and decision-maker. That’s where Lowry comes in. Despite being listed at 6-0, he’s strong and has a gritty attitude that’s annoying to deal with. Toronto can now hide DeRozan by putting him on the other team’s weaker guard. On the other end, Lowry worries about being an extension of Dwane Casey. If passing is the right choice, he does that; if he has the better chance to score, he’ll take it. All of DeRozan’s concerns are running the sets designed for him or creating a bucket in isolation.
With Klay, it’d be a bit different. Having a floor general would still be paramount, but he wouldn’t have to be one of the best defensive guards in the league. Thompson is much better on that end than DeRozan is and he can hold his own with anyone. That’s why he and Curry worked so well. Steph alleviated all the worries about creating offense.
The rest of the team would come together organically. It wouldn’t deviate much from how any other team constructs a roster — sign role players who complement your stars by doing specific jobs. Little would change and Klay Thompson as the leader of your squad would just put his game under a brighter light. His scoring numbers would rise a bit, and he’d remain an All-Star, but I don’t see that team winning a championship, especially given the sheer amount of talent on so many organizations.
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