The once very loud rumors surrounding Kevin Love’s impending trade to the Golden State Warriors have now cooled off.
It seems both front offices have reached an impasse over which players are to be included in the trade. The Warriors have reportedly been hesitant to include Klay Thompson in any trade deal, preferring instead to offer struggling sophomore Harrison Barnes. The Wolves, meanwhile, have been insistent on receiving Thompson and trading Kevin Martin away.
This potential trade has left many fans divided: break up the Splash Brothers or miss the chance at arguably the best power forward in the league.
Not many will dispute that Love is a significant improvement over David Lee. The question here is: what is the difference in production between Thompson and Martin?
Contract and Age
Thompson has youth on his side, as he is only 24. Furthermore, he is still on his rookie contract, which will only cost the Warriors $3 million if they decide to keep him next season. His level of production on his low-cost contract deal is a bargain for the Warriors.
Martin, on the other hand, is 31 and is slated to make $21.3 million over the next three years. Martin will be 34 entering the last year of his contract, and will still be paid $7.4 million if he decides to opt in (which he most likely will).
However, the contract shouldn’t be a major deterrent for the Warriors when considering the trade. Martin has yet to show signs of his game deteriorating over the past 2-3 seasons. Furthermore, the Warriors could keep Martin for one season, and use the stretch provision to waive him – with the remaining $14 million paid out over five years (if they wish to do so). By choosing to do that, the Warriors can free up to $7 million in cap space to sign free agents with.
Thompson is entering the final year of his current contract, after which he will become a restricted free agent. During this time, the Warriors can make an offer for Thompson (if they are interested and are under the salary cap). There are no guarantees that he will re-sign with the Timberwolves once his contract is up. At the end of the day, the Kevin Love trade might just end up being a Thompson one-year rental for Minnesota.
Thompson, one half of the “Splash Brothers” is known for his shooting prowess. Mark Jackson even referred to Thompson and Curry as the “best shooting backcourt in the NBA,” a title that not many would dispute. That said, many have argued that Thompson benefits from playing with Curry, as so much defensive attention is on Curry at times that Thompson is left wide open on the perimeter. Furthermore, I would like to add that Curry is such a threat from 3-point range that adding any competent 3-point shooting guard next to Curry could challenge for the title of “Best Shooting Backcourt in the NBA”.
Here is a comparison of two players:
|Player A||Player B|
|Points Per Game||18.4||19.1|
|Assists Per Game||2.2||1.8|
|FG% / 3pt FG% / FT%||44 / 42 / 80||43 / 39 / 89|
|Free Throws Per Game||2.3||5.0|
|% assisted 3pt FG||95%||89%|
|Effective Field Goal %||53%||49%|
|Minutes Per Game||35.4||32.0|
Player A is Klay Thompson. Player B is Kevin Martin.
A comparison of the important statistics when it comes to offense shows that both players are quite similar in shooting percentages. Thompson may be a better 3-point shooter, but a larger portion of his shots are assisted. Martin played on a Timberwolves team bereft of three-point shooting options – he and Love were the only threats on the starting lineup, and Ricky Rubio (his point guard) was notorious for being classified by Grantland as the “Worst Shooting NBA Player in NBA History”.
Martin relies on his pump fakes more as part of his offensive repertoire, which results in more free throw attempts per game. However, Thompson has the luxury of relying on his burgeoning post-up game for more reliable points. Thompson had 111 post-up attempts, and shot 48.6% from those post-ups against opponents. In fact, Thompson had more attempts and scored more efficiently than Martin on pick-and-rolls, post-ups, spot-ups, off-screens and hand-offs.
However, these statistics need to be taken with some caution. Martin’s and Thompson’s roles on their respective teams were different. Martin was relied upon more frequently than Thompson was, as reflected in their usage rate (25.0% to 22.6%). In Minnesota, Martin would be asked to shoot more frequently whilst under more defensive pressure, as teams would start helping off Rubio (due to his inability and hesitancy in shooting).
Martin, if moved to the Warriors, would be asked to play a role similar to the one he played in Oklahoma City. There, he was the third option behind Durant and Westbrook. The beneficiary of many open looks, Martin scored more efficiently but took fewer shot attempts. Behind Curry and Love, two of the most potent three-point shooting threats in the NBA, Martin would presumably thrive.
The point here is that the difference in offensive output between the two is negligible. Many have forgotten Martin’s ability as a three-point threat, and have been quick to downplay his offensive production.
Again, I reiterate my previous point: Curry is such a lethal three-point threat that any competent three-point shooter paired next to him will thrive.
This is where many of the Thompson’s supporters will point to and back their decision to keep Thompson on.
It is no secret that Thompson receives tougher defensive assignments than Curry does due to Curry’s deficiencies in defense. Thompson spends most of his time on more potent offensive threats, as he is able to use his lateral quickness and size to his advantage. Curry, of slight frame, finds it hard to battle around screens to keep on his man, even though he did express a desire to play a bigger role on defense last year.
Defensively, the statistics show that Thompson is a superior defender than Martin is. A quick look at Martin’s opponent’s shot attempts shows that Martin is usually hidden on an offensively challenged player. This is reflected by the relative low shot attempts that opponents have against him (431 attempts compared to 886 attempts against Thompson). Even then, opponents shoot a better percentage against Martin. Martin struggles especially in defending post-ups and in isolation.
Thompson’s defensive win shares are double that of Martin’s (3.2 to 1.5) and the eye test shows Thompson to be a better defender than Martin. Martin can be lazy on the defensive end, unwilling to fight through picks and often zones out off the ball, leaving his man with an open cut and an easy look at the basket. These errors on the defensive end resemble that of Curry’s, and having those two on the floor could lead to open season for the guards.
Statistically and basing on instinct, Thompson is the better defender. Opponents shot only 36.3% against him, and he is assigned the tougher guard each night. As I mentioned previously, having Martin and Curry could be unplayable defensively, with opposing guards having a clear path to the rim each time.
The evidence for both parties are in, and the case is now up for deliberation. Many fans will cite Thompson’s defensive influence as a reason to keep him, while others will contend that the difference in overall production is negligible and could be leveraged to chase a superstar. Both sides are right of course, and at the end of the day, if the Warriors front office could keep Thompson while acquiring Love, it would be the steal of the offseason.
However, if they decide to go through with the trade and lose Thompson, it might not necessarily mean dark days lie ahead for the Warriors defensively. They could look to sign a 3 and D guard to pair with Curry on the starting lineup, and have Martin on the bench with Livingston. Or, they could shift Andre Igoudala to the shooting guard spot, and have Harrison Barnes play as a small forward.
Personally, I think obtaining the best shooting power forward is key for the Warriors if they intend on contending for a championship. The risks are present, but there are also escape routes if needed.
But that’s just my opinion. What’s yours?