Apr 21, 2014; Los Angeles, CA, USA; Golden State Warriors guard Klay Thompson (11) shoots against Los Angeles Clippers guard Chris Paul (3) during the second quarter in game two during the first round of the 2014 NBA Playoffs at Staples Center. Mandatory Credit: Richard Mackson-USA TODAY Sports

Golden State Warriors: Can Klay Thompson Become An Elite Player?

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With the Minnesota Timberwolves and Cleveland Cavaliers finally agreeing to a deal that would send Kevin Love to Cleveland, any chance of seeing the All-Star power forward in a Golden State Warriors jersey basically died. The Warriors also made their message loud and clear when no trade was made that they believe Klay Thompson is capable of much more than what we’ve seen in his already impressive NBA career.

A proposed Warriors/T’Wolves swap reportedly involved Love going to the Dubs for David Lee, Thompson and possibly even Harrison Barnes. Despite being included in a package with the All-Star Lee, Thompson was considered the centerpiece of the trade for Minnesota.

While making the deal would have netted the Warriors the league’s premiere power forward and the stretch four type of player that new coach Steve Kerr reportedly coveted this offseason, the team would have been left with some major defensive issues. Thompson is not quite an elite defender, but he’s about ten times the defender his replacement, Wolves guard Kevin Martin, would have been. Plus, Love’s defensive game is not much better than what the Warriors have currently with Lee.

The Warriors have worked hard over the past few seasons to change their offense-only reputation, and even the opportunity to acquire Love wouldn’t change their new defensive-minded strategy. The thought of losing Thompson though convinced the Warriors to stand pat for now.

In just three seasons in the NBA, Thompson has already helped the once hapless Warriors to two straight playoff appearances and has seen nearly all of his offensive stats steadily increase with each passing year. It almost goes without saying what a huge contributor Thompson has been beyond the three point line, as he ranked among the top ten in the NBA in three pointers attempted, made and three point field goal percentage last season.

At just 24 years old entering the 2014-2015 season, it’s easy to see why the Warriors were so reluctant to move Thompson, even for a player of Love’s caliber. But with Thompson reportedly seeking a max contract, the Warriors inability to pull the trigger on a Love deal is being put into question.

According to Sam Amick of USA Today, Thompson could be seeking a contract worth up to $19 million annually, a number that, at this point, seems too high for a player of Thompson’s caliber. If Thompson were to receive such a lucrative contract, it would rank him as one of the 15 highest paid players in the NBA, and the highest paid player on the Warriors, making nearly twice as much as All-Star and team leader Stephen Curry.

Thompson has some serious potential in the NBA, but maybe not $19 million worth of potential. This is still a player who’s career high player efficiency rating is 14.9, which is just a shade below the league average.

Luckily for Thompson and the Warriors, Basketball-Reference puts Thompson in some very good company based on similarity scores to this point in his career, including his teammate Curry, World B. Free and even Kobe Bryant. Granted, Bryant was only 20 years old going into his fourth season and Curry had reached close to elite status after his third season, so Thompson still has work to do before he is worth max money.

The Warriors took a big risk in not acquiring Love when they could have. However, by not trading for Love, the team’s strategy since owners Joe Lacob and Peter Guber took over stayed consistent, more defense and build a solid core through the draft.

On top of that, it’s possible that the current Warriors roster assembled hasn’t reached their full potential yet. Having a head coach on board whose coaching actually comes from a playbook and not just words of inspiration should show huge improvements for many of the team’s young players like Thompson.

The 2014-2015 season will be a big one for the Warriors and their performance will have a huge effect on their future plans, especially when it comes to Thompson. He has already accomplished a lot in just a short time in the NBA, but despite that, he will need to show some major improvement before the Warriors make such a huge and likely risky contract offer to him.

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Tags: Golden State Warriors Klay Thompson

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