The Golden State Warriors still covet Kevin Love, but not at any cost.
ESPN’s Marc Stein reported that a deal would have been “clinched by now” if the Warriors “relented on their refusal to part with Thompson.” The Minnesota Timberwolves want more than what the Warriors are offering— a package built around David Lee and Harrison Barnes. And rightfully so. Love made the all-NBA second team last season and is arguably the best power forward in the league.
What makes less sense is why the Warriors have “taken Thompson off the table,” as ESPN’s latest headline suggests. The 24-year-old Thompson is a fine shooting guard, one of the best three-point shooters in the league and a fan favorite, but nowhere close to being one of the NBA’s best perimeter players.
It’s not as though the Warriors would be mortgaging the future for a short-term boost, either. Love is 25, just a year older than Thompson. Last season, Love was fourth in the league in scoring (26.1), third in rebounding (12.5), while leading all power forwards in assists (4.4). Thompson was a slightly better three-point shooter (41.7 percent to Love’s 37.6 percent), but what the Warriors would lose in spacing at one position, they’d gain at the power forward spot.
Let’s look at their shooting charts, courtesy of Nylon Calculus.
Thompson excels at one of the most important shots in the league, the corner three-pointer and ranked 20th in the league in catch-and-shoot three-point percentage (44.2 percent) for players who attempted at least one per game, per SportVU player tracking data.
However, the Warriors would change the geometry of the court at a different position. David Lee has attempted a total of 13 three-pointers in four years with the Warriors. The idea of an unguardable Stephen Curry-Love pick and roll should make casual fans and stat geeks alike salivate.
Now this is the part where you start yelling at your screen: “Will somebody please think of the defense!”
Thompson established himself as the Warriors’ primary point guard defender, to hide Curry, their defensive turnstile, on the opponent’s least threatening perimeter player. The Warriors were tied for 10th in points allowed per 100 possessions (99.5) and Thompson was a part of their most used lineup (along with Curry, Andre Iguodala, Lee and Andrew Bogut), which played 819 minutes together and was even stingier on defense, allowing 97.4 points per 100 possessions.
Again, it comes down to opportunity cost. Thompson is a solid defender, but the Warriors have three above-average perimeter defenders in Draymond Green, Barnes and Iguodala. Trading Thompson could also free up playing time for Barnes, who excelled in an expanded role a year ago, depending on whether the Warriors take back (and play) Kevin Martin.
Love is a polarizing figure within the advanced metrics community, as some argue that he sacrifices rim defense to selfishly chase rebounds. However, the player he’d be replacing, Lee, isn’t exactly a defensive stalwart, so the drop-off would be minimal.
If the Warriors refuse to budge with Thompson, then they could very well lose out on Love altogether. The Cleveland Cavaliers could offer a more enticing package built around first overall pick Andrew Wiggins, who offers more potential at a cheaper price than Thompson in the coming years. It would make sense for the Warriors to act quickly before the Timberwolves take Love off the table and miss out on a franchise player.