Why Klay Thompson Faces Enormous Pressure to Live Up to Superstar Billing

Zach Buckley@@ZachBuckleyNBANational NBA Featured ColumnistAugust 19, 2014

Golden State Warriors shooting guard Klay Thompson before an NBA basketball game against the Utah Jazz in Oakland, Calif., Saturday, Nov. 16, 2013. (AP Photo/Jeff Chiu)
Jeff Chiu/Associated Press

Whether they intended on sending the message or not, the Golden State Warriors indirectly told sharpshooter Klay Thompson they value his game more than that of three-time All-Star Kevin Love.

The Dubs' decision was never as simple as Thompson vs. Love, but that's how it was received by the masses. With enough people subscribing to that theory, and the time that has passed since the start of that debate, perception may well have become reality by this point.

It's hard to pinpoint where the Warriors' trade talks with the Minnesota Timberwolves hit a snag. Thompson's value certainly played a part, but so too did Golden State's other debits (David Lee, Harrison Barnes, possibly a future first-rounder) and "credits" (Kevin Martin's weighty contract) in the transaction.

Still, the narrative took on a life of its own. Once Love's great escape finally opened a door to somewhere other than the Bay Area, the weight on Thompson's shoulders grew exponentially.

"No pressure, Klay Thompson, but you kinda have to be a soul-snatching backcourt murderer next season," wrote Grantland's Jason Concepcion. "At the very least, you need to tighten up that handle."

Even if the idea that the Warriors picked Thompson over Love isn't entirely correct, it's a thought process that Thompson himself might follow. While it undoubtedly turns up the heat he'll feel next season, it also could serve as a feather in the negotiating cap of his camp, as CBS Sports' Zach Harper observed:

Thompson and the Warriors have until October 31 to hammer out a contract extension. If nothing comes together, the 24-year-old will be slated for restricted free agency next summer.

Whether he collects now or later, one thing seems certain: He's about to get paid.

Those aren't my words, either. That was the assessment of Warriors general manager Bob Myers, per Diamond Leung of Bay Area News Group:

Granted, everyone is cashing in at the moment—the ghost of Ben Gordon left this summer with a two-year, $9 million contract in hand—but Thompson is really looking to boost his bank account.

His agent Bill Duffy, according to Sam Amick of USA Today, "has been seeking a max deal in extension talks with the Warriors."

As strange as it may sound, Thompson might actually be worth the investment, although that's more a reflection of the market than his production.

LAS VEGAS, NV - JULY 29: Klay Thompson #21 and Gordon Hayward #39 of the USA Basketball Men's National Team converse during practice at the Mendenhall Center at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas on July 29, 2014 in Las Vegas, Nevada. NOTE TO USER: User
Andrew D. Bernstein/Getty Images

It's hard to make too big a fuss about Thompson getting a mini-max when similar deals were given to Gordon Hayward (four years, $63 million) and Chandler Parsons (three years, $46 million) this summer. Thompson's three-point cannon and defensive versatility helps compensate for the fact his stat sheets aren't quite as stuffed as the others.

Mapping Klay Thompson's Contract Comparables
PlayerPPGRPGAPGTS%Off RtgDef Rtg
Gordon Hayward16.25.15.252.0104111
Chandler Parsons16.65.54.056.5114108
Klay Thompson18.43.12.255.5108106
Basketball-Reference.com

The market has deemed players like Thompson worthy of that type of salary commitment, and the shooting guard's value might be higher with Golden State than anywhere else.

He takes on the toughest backcourt defensive assignment, freeing franchise face Stephen Curry to save his fuel for the offensive end. Thompson's ability to ease Curry's burden put him on coach Steve Kerr's radar before the former player-executive-broadcaster held the position.

"Klay guarded Chris Paul the entire Clippers series," Kerr told Amick. "He has allowed Steph to conserve some energy at the defensive end, and to slide over to a shooter."

While Curry is more than capable of handling his own at the offensive end (24.0 points, 8.5 assists last season), the All-Star starter fared even better with his brother-in-splash at his side. With Thompson on the floor, Curry was a more efficient shooter and more effective distributor, as seen in the table below, with statistics shown on a per-100-possessions basis, via NBA.com.

How Thompson Helps Curry at the Offensive End
PTSFG%3P%ASTTOV+/-
Curry Overall31.947.142.411.35.0Plus-9.8
Curry w/ Thompson31.947.343.011.84.9Plus-11.3
Curry w/o Thompson31.946.540.09.25.6Plus-1.9
NBA.com

"Even if he costs the mini-max (starting at about $15.5M a year, in 2015-16), Thompson does things for the Warriors that they consider integral to who they are and why they can be dangerous in the West playoffs," wrote Tim Kawakami of the San Jose Mercury News.

All of that is said to say this: Thompson doesn't just want a max deal, he's going to get a max deal.

That will only increase the scrutiny of his game, because he doesn't mesh with our image of a "typical" max-contract player.

"He's a catch-and-shoot master. He's a good post player for a guard," Harper wrote. "But he's not a guy that will regularly break a player down off the dribble, which limits just how deadly he can be long-term on offense."

OAKLAND, CA - MAY 1: Klay Thompson #11 of the Golden State Warriors in a game against the Los Angeles Clippers in Game Six of the Western Conference Quarterfinals during the 2014 NBA Playoffs at Oracle Arena on May 1, 2014 in Oakland, California. NOTE TO
Rocky Widner/Getty Images

Thompson is a scoring guard who needs help scoring.

For his career, 66.8 percent of his two-point field goals and 94.3 percent of his triples have come off of assists, via Basketball-Reference.com. He also struggles getting to the foul line. His 2.3 free-throw attempts average last season was the lowest of all 18 points-per-game scorers.

There are warts in his game, and fans will be quick to point them out. Right or wrong, he'll be seen as the player who cost the Warriors a shot at Kevin Love. And if the team meets his contract demands, he'll be sitting alongside Lee atop the Warriors' payroll in 2015-16, per Sham Sports.

If that wasn't enough, Golden State might need Thompson to make the leap so it can follow suit. The Warriors won 98 games over the past two seasons and still parted ways with former coach Mark Jackson. There were multiple layers to that story, but like this Love tale, a single theme was left standing at the end of it all: Good isn't good enough.

The Warriors want to join the other NBA elites, and Thompson may have the biggest say in getting them there. Lee, Andre Iguodala and Andrew Bogut have either hit their peak or left their best years behind them. Barnes has a long way to go after a disastrous sophomore season, and Draymond Green might have already found his niche as a supportive jack of all trades.

Thompson has room to grow and a need to push toward his ceiling sooner than later.

Through the eyes of the public, the Warriors have placed him on a superstar pedestal. The fact that perception might be a bit misguided won't decrease the pressure he's feeling one iota.

 

Unless otherwise noted, statistics used courtesy of Basketball-Reference.com and NBA.com.