Is Klay Thompson Worth a Max Contract?


The Golden State Warriors’ decision to hang on to Klay Thompson instead of including him in a deal for Kevin Love has certainly increased the expectations of Thompson this season and beyond. It has been reported that the Warriors decided not to include Thompson because of what they would be sacrificing on defense. That’s an understandable point of view, but the Warriors also have to be intrigued by not only who Thompson is now as a player, but what he could become.

With contract talks reportedly underway, it’s time to decide what Thompson actually is worth. It’s a safe bet that Thompson will command max or very-near-max money on his next contract, considering the deals players like Chandler Parsons and Gordon Hayward received this summer.

Thompson has developed into one of the best two-way shooting guards in the entire league, he is about to enter his prime, and his game fits nicely alongside counterpart and fellow Splash Brother, Stephen Curry. They form the best shooting backcourt in the league and, according to former head coach Mark Jackson, the best shooting backcourt of all-time.

Thompson already is an elite shooter, and he may be the second best three-point shooter in the entire league, behind only Curry. A few highlights of Thompson’s shooting ability are an outstanding 44.9 percent from 16+ feet last season and an even better 45.8 percent from the corner 3, according to

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Being such a threat from the outside also pays huge dividends for Curry, as the defense can’t focus entirely on him. Otherwise, Thompson will make them pay. The scary part is that his shot may only get better with time.

Thompson showed improvement from the post last season, using his size to back down and shoot over smaller defenders, and this is an area where Thompson will need to continue to improve if he is going to be deserving of such a big contract. Thompson shot 37.8 percent on attempts from 3-10 feet last season and is just 30 percent for his career in this area. Kobe Bryant’s post game is widely considered elite, and he has averaged just above 45 percent for his career from this area, a number definitely in reach for Thompson.

Coming from Washington State, Thompson was seen as only a scorer, so it’s impressive to see how far he has come on the defensive side of the court. Thompson masks Curry’s defensive liabilities and is most often guarding the opponent’s best perimeter player.

According to, Thompson held opposing shooting guards to a below-average 12.4 player efficiency rating last season and an incredibly low 8.3 PER to point guards.  Opponents also shot only 36.3 percent with Thompson guarding them, while turning the ball over on more than 11 percent of their possessions. This suggests that Thompson may already be an elite defender, if not very close to it. As he learns to limit minor mistakes, clean up defensive footwork and positioning, his defense will continue to improve.

Thompson undoubtedly has the potential to be an outstanding player in the league. It’s really just a matter of putting it all together. So is he worth a max contract? The short answer is no.

In terms of what a max contract should mean – being reserved for only the top-tier of players – it’s hard to see Thompson reaching that level. For argument’s sake, let’s say the only players deserving of max contracts were players who have been named to five All-Star teams. Would Thompson be on that list? What about if max contracts went only to players named an All-NBA team? That list gets even smaller.

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We are currently in an era that is absolutely stacked with talented guards. Curry, Eric Bledsoe, DeMar DeRozan, Goran Dragic, James Harden, Kyrie Irving, Damian Lillard, Tony Parker, Chris Paul, Rajon Rondo, Derrick Rose, Lance Stephenson, John Wall and Russell Westbrook are all players with All-Star talent, and there are surely others.

Thompson is a solid player, but he isn’t in the same tier as these guys. If Thompson’s worth were to be based on potential future All-Star appearances, with all of this talent at the guard spots, how many times would Thompson be selected?

While Thompson is undoubtedly a talented player with All-Star potential, he struggles to create his own shot off the dribble and doesn’t finish at the rim like the elite players in the league do. This could improve over time, but without such a talented supporting cast, these issues would be much more noticeable than they are now.

Think about it like this: if the Timberwolves couldn’t make the playoffs with Love on the team, an unquestioned Top 10 player in the league, where would they if Thompson was the team’s best player? I’d say they’d have at least a top five pick in the most recent draft.

Not just the Timberwolves, but how comfortable would you be with Thompson as the best player on any team in the league? What about your second best player? It’s probably best if Thompson were the third best player on the team.  That’s not max contract worthy.

The truth is, “3 and D” players like Thompson come and go. They are glue pieces and are needed on every championship team, but the big money needs to be reserved for the game’s transcendent players, and Thompson is not one of them.