Is Klay Thompson Really Worth a Max Contract to Golden State Warriors?

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Is Klay Thompson Really Worth a Max Contract to Golden State Warriors?
Ross D. Franklin/Associated Press

Golden State Warriors sharpshooter Klay Thompson is not a max-contract player at this point in his career, but he does not have to be in order to secure that type of raise for his next deal.

The 24-year-old has one year left on his rookie contract and can negotiate his next one over this offseason (it must be signed by October 31 or he'll become a restricted free agent next summer). His rate will be set for the player teams think he can become, not the one he is now.

Although, based on the market's action this offseason, Thompson already looks good enough to receive the mini-max contract for which a player with his level of NBA service is eligible. That deal would give him a starting salary of more than $15 million per year, similar money to the deals signed by Chandler Parsons ($46 million for three years) and Gordon Hayward (four years, $63 million).

If Parsons and Hayward are mini-max talents, then one glance at the stat sheet says Thompson is, too.

Thompson's Numbers Next to His Comparables
Player PPG FG% 3PT% RPG APG PER
Klay Thompson 18.4 44.4 41.7 3.1 2.2 14.3
Gordon Hayward 16.2 41.3 30.4 5.1 5.2 16.2
Chandler Parsons 16.6 47.2 37.0 5.5 4.0 15.9

Basketball-Reference.com

So, what exactly do those numbers show?

For Thompson's camp, they are the justification for the highest possible raise available to him.

"Thompson's agent, Bill Duffy, has been seeking a max deal in extension talks with the Warriors," USA Today's Sam Amick reported.

Duffy's logic is not hard to follow.

"Thompson is an elite shooter and projects as an above-average defender in time," wrote CBS Sports' Matt Moore. "If Gordon Hayward is worth the max, it's pretty easy to make the argument Thompson is."

It's even easier to make that argument if you believe Thompson is already an above-average defender. The defensive measures available to us seem to suggest he is.

He held opposing shooting guards to a below-average 12.4 player efficiency rating this past season, via 82games.com, and yielded a minuscule 8.3 PER to point guards. The players he defended shot only 36.3 percent from the field in 2013-14, via Synergy Sports (subscription required), and turned the ball over on more than 11 percent of their possessions.

Those numbers grow even more impressive when considering the caliber of player he's defending. The toughest backcourt assignment is his, limiting the amount of energy Warriors All-Star point guard Stephen Curry has to expend on that side of the floor.

Rocky Widner/Getty Images

As Amick observed, Thompson's defensive talents help the Warriors maximize Curry's offensive production:

Thompson's task of guarding the other team's point guard is significant here. The Warriors need Curry to continue playing like the face of their franchise that he is, but overburdening him with a backcourt partner who doesn't live up to Thompson's standards defensively is seen as a major threat to this crucial component.

With a three-point cannon in his arsenal—Thompson has attempted 1,329 triples in his three-year career and connected on 41 percent of them—he makes Curry's life easier on both ends of the floor.

"The shooting guard's accuracy and Curry's rise as a playmaker go hand-in-hand - in games which Curry had at least 10 assists, Thompson shot eight percentage points better and boosted his scoring average by nearly five points per game," noted Rusty Simmons of the San Francisco Chronicle.

It comes as little surprise, then, that Curry wants the Warriors to keep Thompson as opposed to letting him go in a trade.

"It's huge," Curry told Simmons of the importance of hanging onto Thompson. "He makes me better, and I try to make him better. How much better he's gotten since Day 1 is kind of scary."

Nathaniel S. Butler/Getty Images

Curry isn't Golden State's only Thompson fan, either.

Andre Iguodala has been one of Thompson's most vocal supporters. Sources described an "organizational split" on the team's willingness to move Thompson in a deal for Kevin Love, via ESPN.com's Marc Stein and Ramona Shelburne, with team consultant Jerry West and coach Steve Kerr both standing in Thompson's corner.

Love, a two-time All-NBA selection, would seem to scratch owner Joe Lacob's itch for splashy acquisitions. However, it would be hard for Lacob to ignore the quantity and quality of Thompson backers inside the organization.

"Lacob is savvy enough to visualize the potential for organizational unease, if not a rupture, should he dismiss the wishes of coach Steve Kerr and chief basketball adviser Jerry West, both of whom happen to be big fans of Thompson," wrote Comcast SportsNet's Monte Poole.

For what it's worth, the pro-Thompson crowd appears to be winning that debate, according to Jon Krawczynski:

Take a minute to process what that stance means.

Love finished the 2013-14 campaign ranked fourth in points (26.1), third in rebounds (12.5), third in PER (26.9) and third in win shares (14.3), via Basketball-Reference.com. That's the type of player potentially available to the Warriors, and it still doesn't seem to be enough of a return for the team to part with Thompson.

Rocky Widner/Getty Images

That shows how much the Warriors want to keep their two-way 2-guard. And, yes, the franchise knows just how costly that might be.

"More and more, I'm hearing that the Warriors brass has game-planned for Thompson's deal heading into the stratosphere starting in July 2015," wrote Tim Kawakami of the San Jose Mercury News.

Thompson's value isn't soaring simply because of what he has already done; it's climbing because of what he could do in the future. He might not have the well-rounded aspect of Parsons' and Hayward's stats, but that has a lot to do with Thompson's role.

Should we knock his marginal impact on the glass? No, not when he's spending so much time chasing track-star point guards around the backcourt.

What about those tiny assist totals? Again, there's a reason those numbers are low.

Curry and Iguodala are Golden State's primary playmakers. Thompson is the Warriors' designated gunner. He had 37.7 touches per game last season, via NBA.com's SportVU player tracking data, fewer than guys like Caron Butler (39.0), Andray Blatche (38.6) and Kris Humphries (38.2).

The Warriors control Thompson's offensive plays. More than 62 percent of his two-point field goals and nearly 95 percent of his threes came off assists last season, per Basketball-Reference. The Warriors look to create his shots, and more often than not, he converts them. He had 728 catch-and-shoot points last season, per NBA.com, putting him nearly 50 ahead of the second player on that list (Dirk Nowitzki, 680).

Thompson has areas he needs to improve. His handles could be a lot tighter and his dribble drives are among the least threatening in the league.

His career-high 3.2 free throws per 100 possessions ranked 46th out of the 55 guards who played at least 2,000 minutes last season, per Basketball-Reference. That number needs to improve, but that might require the Warriors to lighten his load as a catch-and-shoot sniper.

He won't turn 25 until next February. His ceiling is still incredibly high, and even his basement fills a critical need for this championship-hopeful team.

The Warriors are two seasons removed from having any real financial flexibility regardless of how they proceed with Thompson. They have more than $56 million committed to their 2015-16 payroll, via ShamSports.com, with team options that could push that total above $66 million.

Rocky Widner/Getty Images

They need to keep a close eye on their books. But remember—Thompson's track record restricts the amount of money he can receive. He'll still be pricey, but the Warriors can work with his new number.

Frankly, they have to.

If Thompson is the reason the Warriors don't land Love, they can't turn around and balk at his price tag. The market already set the rate, and the public support of Curry, Iguodala, Kerr and West will only solidify it.

Thompson makes Golden State's best player better. It's hard to overstate his value in that respect.

What isn't difficult is earmarking his max-money raise. Between the player he is now and the one he can become in the near future, he's worth that type of investment from the Warriors.

 

Unless otherwise noted, statistics used courtesy of Basketball-Reference.com and NBA.com. Salary information obtained via ShamSports.com.

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