Golden State Warriors Better Off Letting Klay Thompson Hit Free Agency

Before the Golden State Warriors invest 10s of millions of dollars in Klay Thompson, before they try to lock down one of the NBA‘s brightest shooting guards, they should do something else first: wait.

Wait, wait, wait. Then wait some more. There isn’t any rush here.

Although the deadline to sign fourth-year players to extensions is Halloween, the Warriors have no reason to operate within said time constraints. Such is the position of power—yes, power—they enjoy.

If an extension isn’t agreed upon by the Oct. 31 “deadline,” Thompson will enter restricted free agency next summer. And if he gets that far, the Warriors can, well, rest easy.

Restricted free agency is a joke for teams. They hold all the leverage. Any offer sheets players sign can be matched. Incumbent squads are free to lowball contract proposals until then, not unlike the Phoenix Suns did with Eric Bledsoe

Only the Suns relented, signing Bledsoe to a five-year, $70 million contract that was not the byproduct of a competing offer, according to Yahoo Sports’ Adrian Wojnarowski. The outcome there was unique in its abruptly topsy-turvy development. Understanding that players of Bledsoe‘s ilk wouldn’t flock to Phoenix otherwise, perhaps the Suns valued wrapping him up while they could more than saving a few dollars.

Whatever their intentions, the Suns re-signed Bledsoe. And while the market for his services was nonexistent, this wouldn’t have ended much differently if Bledsoe were fielding phone calls and offers left and right.

That’s the advantage teams hold in restricted free agency. Today’s rules are such that ironing out extensions before the market sets a player’s price only makes sense if he’s clearly cut from transcendent mold, or if the extension in question can be viewed as a steal (see Stephen Curry in 2012).

Neither exception applies to Thompson at the moment.

Sam Amick of USA Today previously revealed Thompson’s agent, Bill Duffy, was seeking a max extension. That’s no discount.

To justify the asking price, Duffy has been busy drumming up his client’s skill set. Said Duffy to Amick

I don’t want (Los Angeles Lakers star) Kobe Bryant to go crazy, but there’s some uncertainty as to who he is right now (because of injuries that limited him to six games last season). But I think Klay Thompson right now is the top two-way, two-guard in basketball. I think when you look at his body of work, when you look at what he accomplished guarding point guards on a regular basis (last season), I think it’s pretty clear.

Nothing about what Duffy says is “pretty clear.” Meeting his contract demands obviously isn’t a no-brainer either; otherwise, negotiations would be nearing conclusion.

Tabling Thompson’s contract situation gives the Warriors another season to evaluate their shooting guard against those claims. Likewise, it gives Thompson the opportunity to rationalize them, because right now they’re absurdly ambitious and hardly reflective of his individual standing.

Thompson’s shooting stroke and defensive acuity are well-known. The latter is more important when playing alongside Curry, who can defer the opposition’s toughest guard assignment to his backcourt brother.

But while that increases his internal value, playing beside Curry hasn’t forced Thompson to expand his game beyond shooting and defending.

Scoring is his bread and butter, his steak and potatoes and his apple pie. And yet he’s painfully reliant on Curry’s marksmanship and playmaking. His already unimpressive field-goal percentage declines when Curry is on the bench, and he often looks out of place when he puts the ball on the floor.

More than 75 percent of his made baskets came off assists last season, and 62.4 percent of his offensive possessions came within spot-ups, in transition or off screens, according to Synergy Sports (subscription required).

“To show that another way, Thompson, who ranked No. 29 in points per game, checked in at No. 96 in Scorer Rating, a new metric developed by myself and Bleacher Report’s Kelly Scaletta,” wrote Bleacher Report’s Adam Fromal. “He was hurt most significantly by that same extreme inability to create for himself.”

Equally troubling, Thompson doesn’t stand out in many other areas. He doesn’t rebound particularly well (3.1 per game for his career), nor is he a playmaker himself. Double-teams eat him alive, and he picks up his dribble far too early for someone who hasn’t perfected Dirk Nowitzki fadeaways.

Of the 44 guards who appeared in at least 50 games and averaged 30 or more minutes last year, Thompson finished 41st in assist percentage. Joe Johnson (37th) was better. So was J.R. Smith (36th). He wasn’t even close to DeMar DeRozan (27th).

There’s also his frequent disappearing acts to consider, as SB Nation’s Eddie Maisonet talked about right around the time Kevin Love negotiations fell apart: 

All of these numbers will likely go up on a bad team, but the biggest concern with Thompson has nothing to do with the stat sheet. It’s that he has a tendency to be on the Milk Carton All-Stars.

Time and time again, Klay Thompson will become virtually nonexistent in games. There are moments where Thompson will make virtually anything he throws near the rim, but there are moments where he doesn’t get involved.

This is the player seeking a max contract? The one who, through three NBA seasons, has yet to post an above-average player efficiency rating? The one who, per Amick, basically removed Golden State from contention for Love?

The Warriors already rolled the dice by deeming him untouchable in Love negotiations. Knowing he’s still an unfinished product, they owe it to themselves to wait and see if Thompson’s actually a star.

“We value him in the highest way,” general manager Bob Myers said, per the San Jose Mercury NewsDiamond Leung, “and we want to keep him on this team for a long time.”

Even if the Warriors cherish Thompson enough to pay him immediately, there’s no harm lining his pockets later. Worst-case scenario has them matching the max contract he would cost them now. And if there’s a team out there willing to go that high next summer, it means Thompson had a season worth rewarding, rendering the matter of compensation a non-issue.

Standing pat for the time being doesn’t only prolong the inevitable, to be certain. It buys the Warriors peace of mind after digesting the facts for another year.

At that point, Thompson is either worth his asking price, or he isn’t. Or, quite preferably, the Warriors’ intent to retain him could scare other suitors away, positioning them to sign him at the discount he isn’t currently giving.

That Thompson cannot combat this tactic makes it an easier call. He can shop around all he wants next summer, but the Warriors will have final say. Signing his qualifying offer worth $4.2 million, playing through 2015-16 and reaching unrestricted free agency the following summer would be the only way he regains leverage.

Chances of that happening, though, are slim. Nothing out there suggests Thompson and the Warriors are at odds. It’s even less likely there would be a torched bridge money couldn’t repair if anything happens between now and then. 

Just as there isn’t any incentive to locking Thompson up this second, there’s no additional downside to waiting.

All the Warriors risk doing is paying Thompson what he isn’t worth now, later.


*Stats courtesy of Basketball-Reference and unless otherwise cited. Salary information via ShamSports.

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Working around the aforementioned obstacles and signing one of these five could be a great low-risk, high-reward opportunity (except in the case of the first player in the slideshow, who will eventually command a hefty contract).

In the following slides, organized by position, you’ll read why each player is still available and what he has to offer a team this season.

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