Jun 15, 2014; San Antonio, TX, USA; Miami Heat forward LeBron James (6) calls a play during the first quarter against the San Antonio Spurs in game five of the 2014 NBA Finals at AT&T Center. Mandatory Credit: Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports

Where Does Klay Thompson Stack Up Among Max Players?

Word on the street is Klay Thompson is looking for a max contract extension from the Golden State Warriors.

If he were granted this request, he would be the lone member of the Max Contract Club that is on the Warriors roster. There are currently 22 players in the league that have the maximum salary allowed based on their NBA age, experience, and achievements. The collection is an interesting mix of players that deserve to be paid based on production, players that have the potential to become league stars, and players that make way too much money for their play out on the court. Adding Thompson to this list would push the number of players to 23.

The natural question that is brought up when discussing Thompson as a max player is: “If the front office pays Klay the max, how does he stack up against the rest of the maximum salary players?” The list created below will attempt to place Thompson somewhere within the 22 other players making maximum salary based on each player’s current ranking, added to their forecasted ranking three years from now. The rankings designated to each player were arbitrarily chosen by me, so feel free to gripe in the comments section if you find issues. The logic behind using the two values is that a lot of players are paid a large salary based on the expectation of what they could be as opposed to their current production. The addition of the two values yields a final ranking that takes current and potential production into account. So, the values are:

Current Player Ranking (Of Max Contract Players Only)
Future Player Ranking (Ranking Three Years From Now. Again, Max Contracts Only)
Combined Ranking (Current Player Ranking + Future Player Ranking)

Before going into the list, another note: If two players have the same combined ranking score, the older player gets placed in the higher spot in the ranking based on the assumed increase of production by a more experienced player. For example, if Kevin Love and LeBron James end up with the same combined score, James will be ranked higher in the list because he is 29 years old compared to Love’s 25.

Without further ado, the list is below. Let’s see where Klay Thompson stacks up.

Group 1: Worth Every Penny

These are players that fully live up to the money they are receiving. In fact, these players probably deserve more salary based on their value but are restricted by the CBA.

1. LeBron James (Age: 29, Current Rank: 1, Future Rank: 2, Combined: 3)
2. Kevin Durant (Age: 25, Current Rank: 2, Future Rank: 1, Combined: 3)

If LeBron James is number one on this list, then Kevin Durant is 1a. Durant could eclipse James, in terms of production, as early as next season. Being near the top of this list implies that a player is being underpaid based on the value to their team, franchise, and city. Because Durant is only 25, he has not even hit his peak as a player, which will make his contract seem even more valuable in the coming years. The question with Durant is: How much longer will he be getting paid by the Thunder as oppose to someone else?

3. Russell Westbrook (Age: 25, Current Rank: 3, Future Rank: 3, Combined: 6)
4. Blake Griffin (Age: 25, Current Rank: 5, Future Rank: 4, Combined: 9)

Group 2: Had To Do It

Whether a team is from a small market or simply not very good, management may have had to overpay for these players based on their semi-desperate attempt to not lose the asset. These players are still very good, but not first group quality.

5. Kevin Love (Age: 25, Current Rank: 8, Future Rank: 5, Combined: 13)
6. Chris Paul (Age: 29, Current Rank: 4, Future Rank: 10, Combined: 14)

Most people, including myself, believe Paul is still one of the top players in the game. However, he will be older, less of a player, and overpaid when he nears the end of his max contract. But what choice did the Clippers have? Paul was in an elite class of coveted free agents sought after by nearly every organization. He was going to get a long max contract from someone no matter what. The Clippers wanted to make sure it wasn’t their cross-town rivals or anyone else.

7. Paul George (Age: 24, Current Rank: 9, Future Rank: 6, Combined: 15)
8. James Harden (Age: 24, Current Rank: 11, Future Rank: 7, Combined: 18)
9. Marc Gasol (Age: 29, Current Rank: 7, Future Rank: 12, Combined: 19)
10. Derrick Rose (Age: 25, Current Rank: 12, Future Rank: 9, Combined: 21)

Based on talent and age alone, Rose should be much higher up this list. He probably should be in the “Worth Every Penny” category. However, two lost seasons raises questions about his ultimate future in this league. The good news about his Bulls contract is that it’s insured, protecting the Bulls against dead salary cap money. But in order for the Bulls to get where they want to go, Rose needs to be in the top-five discussion again. With so many question marks going forward for this young talent, it’s hard to place him anywhere other than around the middle of the pack.

11. Kyrie Irving (Age: 22, Current Rank: 13, Future Rank: 8, Combined: 21)
12. Dwight Howard (Age: 28, Current Rank: 6, Future Rank: 16, Combined: 22)

Howard has the largest drop from current rank to future rank of anyone in this list, with 10 spots. That may end up being a little harsh, but we’ve seen what happens to players who rely on their athletic ability and strength for the majority of their production after they begin to wear down with age. Look for Howard to resemble the drop off that Dwyane Wade had at the guard position, but for a post player. Wade never really developed a shooting touch and relied on strength and athletic ability to dominate games in his early career. Howard has never shown defenders a reliable post move that will allow him to be effective for long after his athletic ability begins to deteriorate. If Howard heads down the Wade path, his contract will be an expensive burden for the Rockets.

13. John Wall (Age: 23, Current Rank: 14, Future Rank: 11, Combined: 25)
14. Carmelo Anthony (Age: 30, Current Rank: 10, Future Rank: 17, Combined: 27)

Group 3: We Shall See

Do these players have max contract production? No. But their age and flashes of brilliance gives front offices the desire to lock up the asset and take a calculated risk.

15. Klay Thompson (Age: 24, Current Rank: 16, Future Rank: 13, Combined: 29)

Klay Thompson falls into a delicate category of players looking to earn a max salary. The team responsible for extending him has to take a calculated risk to decide if the player is going to get better as he heads into his prime and make a max contract more justified.

At this point, Thompson’s production doesn’t suggest max player. He’s a scorer who hasn’t yet averaged over 20 points a game. Even though some would consider him young based on only three years of NBA experience, he’s old for his experience at 24 because he declared for the draft as an upperclassman. He’s gotten lucky because the shooting guard position is so shallow in the NBA. His agent could take his production against the league’s shooting guards and justify a max contract to an organization.

Thompson’s hidden value is in his ability to be an elite perimeter defender. He’s not an athletic freak, but his extreme length for his position allows him to bother wings and opposing point guards. Locking that aspect up is enticing as a Warrior fan because it allows Thompson to guard the opposing team’s best guard and allow Stephen Curry to hide on defense.

Does Thompson deserve a max deal? Probably not. Will he get one? Most likely yes.

The Warriors have basically demonstrated their plan of locking Thompson up for a long time by not trading him for Kevin Love. There would be no reason to hold onto Thompson to simply allow him to walk once his rookie deal expires. Golden State’s front office is too smart to not have a plan with this, and everyone in the organization, especially Jerry West, loves Klay Thompson.

Another sneaky part of this whole deal is keeping your best player satisfied. Stephen Curry was not happy when Mark Jackson was fired last offseason. Would the front office rip his heart out again by not locking up his backcourt teammate? The NBA is a league that is driven by stars. Having stars alone doesn’t necessarily win championships every season, but it definitely translates into sustained winning. It would not be surprising if the Thompson camp used Curry as leverage for making the deal happen. Management knows how important it is to keep Curry happy and in the Bay Area. Based on this idea I think the chances of Klay Thompson being extended for a max deal are high.

16. Chandler Parsons (Age: 25, Current Rank: 18, Future Rank: 14, Combined: 32)
17. Gordon Hayward (Age: 24, Current Rank: 17, Future Rank: 15, Combined: 32)

Group 4: How Much Do They Make?!

This is the group that does not deserve to make anywhere near their annual salary. These contracts are not just a result of GMs making bad decisions, although the majority is of this nature. The other aspect is a franchise rewarding a player based on past production. For example, a player wins the franchise their first championship or holds a legacy within the organization.

18. Chris Bosh (Age: 30, Current Rank: 15, Future Rank: 18, Combined: 33)
19. Rudy Gay (Age: 27, Current Rank: 19, Future Rank: 19, Combined: 38)

Rudy Gay actually played well in Sacramento last season and got some of the haters off his back. However, he still makes way too much money for the player that he is. At 27, his present and future ranking should be about the same in terms production. No matter what age he is, Gay should not be making a max salary. The Kings salary cap situation is a pretty scary sight. They haven’t committed to a full rebuild with DeMarcus Cousins as the centerpiece. Maybe once Gay comes off the books and signs for a reasonable contract somewhere else, the Kings can start to build a sound core and franchise. I’m still rooting for Mike Malone!

20. Roy Hibbert (Age: 27, Current Rank: 21, Future Rank: 20, Combined: 41)
21. Deron Williams (Age: 30, Current Rank: 20, Future Rank: 22, Combined: 42)
22. Eric Gordon (Age: 25, Current Rank: 23, Future Rank: 21, Combined: 44)
23. Joe Johnson (Age: 33, Current Rank: 22, Future Rank: 23, Combined: 45)

So there you have it. Based on Klay Thompson’s current and future production, he would rank less than average of the players making max salary if he were granted the same treatment. The Golden State Warriors must make the decision whether or not to extend Thompson when he is done with his rookie contract. Based on the love affair that the front office has for him, it’s hard to imagine the Warriors not signing him to a max extension. If they weren’t planning on having him as a cornerstone of the franchise they would have traded him for Kevin Love already.

Here is the full table with all player rankings for this list.

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Tags: Golden State Warriors Klay Thompson NBA Free Agency Salary Cap

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