Warriors should eye former top 5 pick as potential Klay Thompson replacement

Orlando Magic v Golden State Warriors
Orlando Magic v Golden State Warriors / Thearon W. Henderson/GettyImages

If Klay Thompson's social media activity on Friday is anything to read into, the chances of the veteran sharpshooter returning to the Golden State Warriors in free agency is becoming more remote.

Should Thompson depart the only NBA franchise he's ever known, the Warriors will be left in desperate need of three-point shooting and with very little financial means of finding a suitable replacement.

The Golden State Warriors should eye Mario Hezonja as a potential replacement for Klay Thompson should he depart in free agency

Given they'll be limited to the taxpayer mid-level exception at best, Golden State won't be able to replace Thompson's production as such, but rather try and find someone to fit the role. One player who could fit that mould is Mario Hezonja, the former fifth overall pick who could be back on the radar of NBA teams according to Marc Stein on Sunday.

"Mario Hezonja, drafted No. 5 overall by Orlando in 2015, last played in the NBA in 2019-20. Don't be surprised to see him back in the league next season after stints with the Magic, New York and Portland. Hezonja spent the past two seasons at Real Madrid and is increasingly coming up as a free agent to watch this offseason when it comes to an NBA return."

Marc Stein

The easiest perspective would be to view Hezonja as nothing short of a bust who never showed any semblance of being an effective or winning NBA player, and one the Warriors should therefore steer well clear of regardless of Thompson's free agency decision.

Hezonja shot 41.7% from the floor and 31.9% from three-point range across his first NBA stint, while he also failed to record a plus-minus above zero in any of his five seasons. But perhaps a deeper look would unearth an optimistic outlook on the potential of him returning to the league and having a positive impact.

Entering the 2015 NBA Draft, Hezonja was viewed as one of the best shooting prospects available, with notable draft analyst Kevin O'Connor even offering a clip comparing him to none other than Thompson who, at the time, was just beginning to forge his legendary résumé.

Hezonja was never able to showcase that shooting consistently in his time with the Magic, Knicks and Trail Blazers, yet has seemingly rediscovered it since returning to Europe to play for Real Madrid over the past two seasons.

The Croatian shot 45.3% from deep on nearly five attempts per game across 33 Euroleague appearances this season, with that having come on the back of 46.8% from beyond the arc on 4.3 attempts in 2022-23.

Hezonja's attitude may have been what let him down in his first stint, having been described as the "cockiest NBA Draft prospect in years" by O'Connor in June 2015. Perhaps that may have corrected itself with time and more maturity, and might also be better cultivated at a winning franchise like Golden State who have had a level of success Hezonja's previous NBA teams never got close to.

Speaking of winning, Hezonja has been part of a Real Madrid team who won the Euroleague title in 2022-23 and whom lost the Final to Panathinaikos this season. Maybe that's another sign of potential growth, or at least an appreciation of what winning takes at a high level.

Hezonja has already drawn comparisons to another former fifth overall pick in Dante Exum who's resurrected his NBA career following a stint in Europe. If the 29-year-old is set on trying to follow a similar path, perhaps the Warriors are the team to help make it happen.