Splash Brothers Will Prove Golden State Warriors Right About Kevin Love Trade

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Splash Brothers Will Prove Golden State Warriors Right About Kevin Love Trade
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The Golden State Warriors had an obvious, pressing need for perennial All-Star Kevin Love.

That is not a unique trait, either. Every NBA team could use a 6'10", 260-pound bruiser with a generational gift on the glass, a throwback feel for outlet passing and a high-volume, high-efficiency three-point stroke.

What differentiates the Dubs from most other clubs, though, is they had a realistic shot to bring in the big man over the offseason. They reportedly had a place on his initial short list of destinations, via ESPN.com's Marc Stein and Ramona Shelburne, but an "organizational split" on the inclusion of sharpshooter Klay Thompson played a major part in killing those talks.

With Love having now officially teamed up with LeBron James' new-look Cleveland Cavaliers, the Warriors are set to break camp with most of the same faces from last season's 51-win squad. While that might seem like a massive missed opportunity to some, there are high-ranking members within the organization that could have seen shipping out Thompson under the exact same light:

It's a gamble of the highest order, and one sure to put an unrelenting spotlight on Thompson and the Warriors during the 2014-15 season.

"Both sides are now married to the same pressure over a decision made this summer that will have huge ramifications on the present and future of this franchise," wrote CBS Sports' Zach Harper. "Whether that means All-Star selections for Thompson or conference finals appearances for the Warriors remains unclear."

The answers to those questions will only come with time. However, there are already reasons for Warriors fans to feel good about this decision.

Ben Margot/Associated Press

For starters, this was never as simple as a Thompson-or-Love argument. John Q. Public might have been married to that idea—it was the easiest way to debate the rumor after all—but Facebook would have chosen two different words to describe the situation: It's complicated.

The Warriors didn't bet on Thompson alone. They saw the whole of a Thompson-Stephen Curry-David Lee core as being greater than the sum of the individual parts that would have been left over after a transaction that would have almost assuredly brought Kevin Martin (plus the three years and $21 million left on his deal) along with Love.

Some might argue that a player of Love's ilk warrants shouldering such a cost. But that undersells what the Warriors currently have on their hands, both in terms of talent and chemistry.

Thompson isn't a perfect player. What he is, though, is a 24-year-old who has grown exponentially throughout his first three seasons and still has so much room left for upward mobility.

Charting the Steady Growth of Klay Thompson
Season PPG TS% Off Rtg Def Rtg WS
2011-12 12.5 54.5 102 111 1.7
2012-13 16.6 53.3 102 107 4.3
2013-14 18.4 55.5 108 106 6.7

Basketball-Reference.com

Think about what the numbers in the table above represent. They show a player making strides at both ends of the floor, someone grasping what it takes to maximize strengths and minimize weaknesses.

Because these trade talks thrust him onto the same pedestal as an already developed All-NBA player like Love, the warts in Thompson's game have been dissected under a microscope.

The stat sheet says Thompson doesn't do nearly enough on the glass (career 3.1 rebounds per game) and offers next to nothing as a distributor (2.2 assists). It highlights his limitations as an individual creator, as 66.8 percent of his career two-point field goals came off of assists. In isolation plays, he shot a woeful 30.8 percent from the field last season, via Synergy Sports (subscription required).

Without the proper context, he is easily painted as a glorified three-and-D wing. Needless to say, if that was truly all he brought to the table, the Los Angeles native would be prepping for the Gopher State's bitterly cold winters right now.

But Thompson is still Bay Area-based for a reason. For this franchise, and more importantly for its face, his value is hard to overstate.

As an offensive safety valve and defensive protection, Thompson makes life easier for Curry. The Warriors' road to relevance starts with their superstar floor general, so anything that improves his effectiveness makes Golden State's championship chances that much stronger.

USA TODAY Sports

"I love playing with him," Curry said of Thompson, via Rusty Simmons of the San Francisco Chronicle. "He makes me better, and I try to make him better. How much better he’s gotten since Day 1 is kind of scary. He’s such a great two-way player, and he isn’t anywhere close to hitting his ceiling."

That is one part of this story that has too often gone untold.

Some have treated Thompson as if this is the best he can be. That, of course, overlooks the development he's already enjoyed and misses the monstrous opportunity for growth still in front of him.

It also fails to recognize how Golden State's system has contributed to Thompson's specialist-style box scores. He attempted a league-high 7.6 catch-and-shoot field goals last season and converted such three-point looks at a 43.6 percent clip, via SportVU player tracking data provided to NBA.com.

With a rising playmaker in Curry (career-high 8.5 assists last season), a proven one in Iguodala (4.9 dimes a night for his career) and one of the NBA's best passing frontcourts (Lee and Bogut), the need for Thompson to consistently find his own shots couldn't be lower. And his active, accurate three-point cannon (career 2.4 made triples per game on 41.0 percent shooting) stretches defenses out to make these passers more potent.

He helps Curry present pick-your-poison scenarios to opposing defenses. Either teams sacrifice potential help defenders to keep the two in check, or they risk the Splash Brothers dousing the net in kerosene and striking a match from distance.

For as good as the two work offensively—the Warriors averaged 111.3 points per 100 possessions with them on the floor, which would have easily ranked as the league's best offensive rating—it's Thompson's play at the opposite side that really makes him an indispensable piece of Golden State's puzzle.

He takes on the toughest defensive backcourt assignment on a nightly basis, regardless of what that entails. Some games he's chasing around track-star point guards. Other nights, he'll match up with bigger, stronger slashers out on the wing.

It was his defensive versatility that first put him on the radar of new Warriors coach Steve Kerr.

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

Whatever fuel Curry isn't burning defensively he can unleash at the opposite side. The Warriors need him at his best offensively, and his slight 185-pound frame can only withstand so much damage.

He said he would "try to be physical" if forced to defend himself, via Sam Alipour of ESPN The Magazine, and teams have tried to employ that strategy to contain his outbursts. Thompson allows Curry to keep himself ready for those inevitable challenges.

But that might not even fully appreciate Thompson's defensive ability. One former Warriors assistant told Bleacher Report's Ric Bucher that Thompson "is a much better defender" than Iguodala, who earned All-Defensive honors for the second time in his career last season.

Rocky Widner/Getty Images

Thompson adds to the Warriors' offensive firepower and helps build their defensive walls. Two-way talents are hard to find, and Golden State would have been without one had it lost him.

The track records of Curry, Lee, Love and Martin show both lethal scorers and defensive sieves. Players like Iguodala, Bogut, Draymond Green and newcomer Shaun Livingston leave their biggest imprints on the defensive side.

Thompson is different. He impacts the game both ways, and as he told Bay Area News Group's Marcus Thompson II, this is only the beginning:

In year four, I'm looking to take a huge leap like I did last year.

... If you want to be a championship player, you have to play both ends. We've got some great players in this league who are two-way players. Kobe Bryant. LeBron. Paul George. Kawhi Leonard. I'd love to be known as a guy who gets you 20 points and locks down the best offensive player.

Whatever the Warriors were getting back in the defunct Love trade talks, they weren't getting one of those guys. They already have one of those rare breeds, and theirs is only starting to scratch the surface of his full potential.

That's why Golden State made the call that it did, and that's why it looks like it was the right move to make.

 

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

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