Around the trade deadline, rumors of a potential Klay Thompson for Eric Gordon trade surfaced. A particularly astute observer may realize that this trade never came to fruition. However, the concept of a Klay Thompson trade has not been entirely eliminated. Though they may appear set for the future, the Golden State Warriors are a team in flux. With Jarrett Jack and Carl Landry’s possible departures looming, next year’s roster may be dramatically different from the one that challenged San Antonio in the second round.
By the 2014-2015 season, several of the Warriors’ major contracts expire, giving them the flexibility for several major moves. Stephen Curry appears to be a star worth building around, and the Warriors must determine if the current core sets the team up for success better than another attainable option.
Thompson’s playoff performance demonstrated many of his basic merits and flaws. He played excellent defense on several wings as well as Ty Lawson and Tony Parker, and won the Warriors a few games with hot shooting. However, in between the performances that have inspired national praise, Thompson is inconsistent at best, and was easily defended by Kawhi Leonard. Though being shut down by a defender of Leonard’s caliber is no great shame for a developing player, Thompson did not display any of the skills necessary to contribute offensively when he can not get open for his own shots.
That adjective, “developing” is the reason why Thompson’s future is so uncertain. Had he already reached his ceiling, he would be an entirely expendable piece, but the potential for Thompson to improve his dribbling ability, defense, finishing, shot selection, passing and general basketball awareness makes a trade for equal value difficult to justify. For Thompson, the areas needing improvement constitute a majority of a basketball players’ function, but the potential for any significant improvement in any of these categories, combined with several of Thompson’s already above-average skills, renders him as more than just another quality young player.
A Thompson trade would most likely target a player similar to Eric Gordon, but there are several other possibilities. The Warriors may believe that the lack of an off the dribble penetrator limits the team’s success. While Thompson is able to get into the lane, usually as defenders overplay his jump shot, he lacks the explosion and handle to consistently penetrate from the wing. Even when Thompson gets into the lane, he is not consistently productive.
Thompson’ penchant for creatively, misguidedly and consistently missing layups is one of his biggest flaws. Be it a jump from one side of the hoop to attempt a Carly Landry-esque reverse layup on the other, or a jump away from the defender while trying to toss up the layup across the body, “Klayups” are one of the many consistently entertaining aspects of Warriors basketball. This season, he shot 51.1 percent in the restricted area, slightly below league average, and was dreadful from slightly farther out.
Targeting a dribble penetrator is a simple enough idea, but as Thompson’s layups so often remind the unsuspecting viewer, even the simplest tasks can be difficult. Despite what the preceding paragraph may suggest, young players on rookie contracts have an inherently high value in the NBA. The modern dedication to floor spacing gives Thompson and his ability to function as a “three- and-D” type player an important role in the league regardless of potential improvements.
Given Thompson’s relatively impressive playoff performance, any Thompson trade will likely bring back a potential or actual All-Star. Even if the Warriors believe that a dribble penetrator more consistent than Curry is necessary a trade, may not be necessary. Harrison Barnes, especially towards the end of the season, flashed potential as a secondary ball handler. Barnes has the speed and athleticism to get to the rim and finish when he gets there, and along with Thompson, is expected to improve dramatically as he gains experience.
The Warriors would be unwise to completely ignore all Thompson trade offers, but openly shopping Thompson when the market has little of attainable equivalent value to offer is not a more desirable alternative.
Klay Thompson has several flaws, but also has a very attainable potential to become a high-level player. Trading David Lee may be a path worth exploring, but Lee’s value, both on the market and to the Warriors, is a topic worthy of another article.