When Golden State ultimately rebuffed a trade that would swap Klay Thompson for Kevin Love, many NBA fans were a little shocked. Of course, Love would then get traded to Cleveland for Rookie of the Year Andrew Wiggins while Thompson locked up a four year, $70 million contract to stay in the Bay Area.
It’s looking like both Minnesota and Golden State are thrilled they didn’t pull the trigger. The Timberwolves have a budding star in Wiggins whose price tag and age make far more sense than the overlooked Splash Bro for a rebuilding team with another top overall pick in this month’s draft. Meanwhile, Klay had a fantastic breakout season while Draymond Green implanted himself as one of the best starting power forwards in the league.
The injured Love won’t appear in this year’s Finals, but he says he’s planning on playing in Cleveland next year. If that really is the case, the Cavaliers, Warriors and Timberwolves will always be inextricably linked in this odd series of transactions that have helped decide the NBA’s Game of Thrones.
Even if Klay ultimately ends up as the least valuable of the three stars, Golden State made the right move. Thompson’s elite shooting is at its most potent when paired with a living god like Stephen Curry. Most importantly, keeping the same core intact allowed Steve Kerr to conjure up massive improvements from within. The upgrade from David Lee to Draymond at the 4 has been momentous enough to garner Green the most first-place votes for Defense Player of the Year this season. (He finished second to the equally deserving Kawhi Leonard.)
Thompson was already a fascinating figure entering the Finals for all the aforementioned reasons, but the ugly concussion he suffered in Game 5 against Houston firmly planted him front and center. Thompson is a potent offensive weapon who can knock down threes almost as well as Curry and navigate the floor in a manner that can only be described as Korver-esque.
Last summer, Klay beefed up his driving and ball-handling skills as a member of Team USA’s gold-medal winning team at the FIBA World Cup. This season, Klay upped his averages in field goal and three-point shooting, free throw shooting, rebounding, assists, blocks, steals and points. He played 3.5 minutes per game more last season. These improvements combined with his potent shooting gravity make Thompson a nightmare to keep track of when you also have to track the greatest shooter of all time.
Yet Klay lost his groove against the Grizzlies after a stellar opening series versus New Orleans. Against the Pelicans, Thompson put up 25 points per game on 49 percent shooting overall and from three. He made a similar percentage of shots in the next round but averaged just 17.8 points as the Grizzlies did a superb job denying him looks. He hit half his threes or more in the final four games of the series, but he never topped his season scoring average of 21.7 points a game (he averaged over five and a half minutes more against Memphis than in the regular season).
Klay hit the worst stretch of the playoffs in the opening three games against Houston. He made just four of 22 triples (18.2 percent), averaging only 15 points in about 33 minutes a game. The Dubs won all three games behind Curry’s greatness, so Klay’s struggles were understandably obscured. But for Golden State to go all the way, they need Thompson to be himself.
That’s why it was so encouraging when he drained 10 of 19 threes to close the Rockets out. It’s also why Klay’s diagnosed concussion rightfully threw a wrench into Warriors’ fans early title celebrations. Before taking an inadvertent knee to the head, Klay drilled four threes in 22 minutes in Game 5. I couldn’t have been the only one thinking that we were finally getting a “Klay Game” after so many classics from Steph. The Warriors have taken a lot of flak for their mishandling of Thompson’s concussion, but to their credit, he never actually returned to the game.
Now that he’s been fully cleared to play in the Finals, which Klay Thompson will we get? The limited but dangerous Klay of years past who doesn’t crack 20 most nights, or 2014-15’s dynamic ball-handler who dropped 37 points in one freakin’ quarter this season?
Golden State can probably survive and prevail with the lesser version of Thompson. But the flamethrowing team that has seized the NBA by the neck made its dough with both the Splash Bros operating at full effectiveness. If Klay picks up where he left off in Houston, the Cavaliers are toast.