Did Klay Thompson Prove He’s a Max Player This Offseason?

It isn’t easy for NBA players to greatly improve their profiles over the offseason, but Golden State Warriors sharpshooter Klay Thompson managed to do just that.

From his featured role in the ill-fated Kevin-Love-to-the-Warriors trade talks to his prominent position with Team USA’s gold medalists at the 2014 FIBA Basketball World Cup, Thompson’s status grew to heights previously unseen by the 24-year-old.

But did they rise high enough to warrant the max-contract demands that USA Today’s Sam Amick reported were made by Thompson’s agent, Bill Duffy? That’s a question the Warriors front office needs to figure out by October 31, the deadline to ink Thompson to an extension and prevent his potential path to restricted free agency next summer.

The Warriors, unsurprisingly, haven’t yet tipped their hands on the matter. They have, however, publicly proclaimed how much they cherish their two-way 2-guard and stressed that they want him to stick around as long as possible.

“We value him in the highest way,” Warriors general manager Bob Myers said, per Bay Area News Group’s Diamond Leung, “and we want to keep him on this team for a long time.”

Of course, the team’s stance would have been equally clear had Myers said nothing at all. The Warriors’ pursuit of Love stalled because of an “organizational split” on whether to include Thompson in the deal, sources told ESPN.com’s Marc Stein and Ramona Shelburne.

If the Dubs had hesitations about dealing Thompson for Love, who has appeared in three of the last four NBA All-Star games, that speaks volumes on how much the franchise values the sniper.

It also signals the fact that a max deal sits in Thompson’s near future. The Warriors will surely try to talk their way out of paying that premium—and could conceivably force Duffy to find that money elsewhere next summer—but some team is going to foot the bill.

And considering both what the Warriors have invested in Thompson and how well he fits alongside franchise face Stephen Curry, they’ll probably be the ones signing the check.

“That backcourt is special,” Klay‘s father Mychal Thompson told Amick. “You don’t break that up. He and Steph, they are a great combination, like Laurel and Hardy, Abbott and Costello, Sanford and Son. They’re perfect together. … I expect them to be together another 10 years. I’d be shocked if they’re not.”

Debating how much Thompson will make on his next deal has been an exercise in futility since the ink dried on the new contracts of Gordon Hayward (four years, $63 million) and Chandler Parsons (three years, $46 million).

Per Tim Kawakami of the San Jose Mercury News, those negotiations cemented a max-money payday for Thompson:

If Thompson and his agent were contemplating a $12 million average (still pricey!) before the Parsons and Hayward deals, that’s outdated now.

Post-Parsons/Hayward, Thompson’s next deal has to start at his maximum level, which is estimated to be slightly more than $15 million next year for a player of Thompson’s experience level.

Has to start there, and has to average about $16-17 million overall, unless Thompson’s career collapses, which it probably won’t.

The far more interesting conversation to be had is whether Thompson actually deserves such an investment.

The stat sheet paints him as a specialist, firing off three-point bombs at one end and stifling perimeter attacks at the other. He does both exceptionally well.

His 545 threes over the past three seasons are second only to Curry’s 588. Thompson’s 41.0 three-point percentage ranks fourth among the 20 most prolific perimeter shooters over that stretch.

Defensively, Thompson shines brightest for his versatility. He has the speed to stay in front of track-star point guards and the size and strength to bother bigger scorers out on the wings. Those traits help him tackle Golden State’s toughest backcourt assignment, allowing Curry to conserve his energy for the opposite side.

The numbers stop short of labeling Thompson as an elite defender. The 0.82 points per possession he allowed to opposing scorers last season ranked 69th in defensive efficiency, per Synergy Sports (subscription required). Considering the caliber of player he squared up with on a nightly basis, though, that standing is far more impressive than it sounds.

Along with All-Defensive first-teamer Andre Iguodala and rim protector Andrew Bogut, Thompson helped power the Warriors to the NBA’s third-best defensive efficiency (99.9 points allowed per 100 possessions). Truth be told, Thompson may have had the heaviest hand in that ranking.

“Klay is a much better defender [than Iguodala],” a former Warriors assistant told Bleacher Report’s Ric Bucher. “It’s not even close.”

Combine those two elements, and the result is a two-way force.

Appropriately, the Warriors outscored opponents by 9.5 points per 100 possessions with Thompson on the floor and were outscored by 5.2 points per 100 possessions when he sat. That 14.7-point net differential was second only to Iguodala’s (17.0) on the team.

In other words, there is some substance at the source of Thompson’s max-contract request.

However, there are some holes in his game—and, by extension, that request.

He offers little in the form of offensive creativity. He has averaged just 2.2 assists over his three-year career. His 10.2 assist percentage ranked 43rd out of the 46 guards who averaged at least 30 minutes per game last season (minimum 41 games played).

The problem with his inability to set up his teammates is compounded by the fact that he rarely found himself shots.

Over 62 percent of his two-point field goals came off assists last season. Of the 27 guards and forwards who averaged at least 18 points last season, only power forwards David Lee (68.2) and Blake Griffin (64.9) were assisted on a higher percentage of their baskets.

Thompson also struggles to force his way to the free-throw line, where he’s averaged just 1.9 trips a night over his career. His shot chart, captured via NBA.com, also pegs him as a pedestrian finisher around the basket.

As a rebounder, Thompson checks in well below average. Of the 56 players 6’7″ or taller to see at least 30 minutes of action a night in 2013-14 (min. 41 games), only Corey Brewer’s 4.3 rebound percentage checked in behind Thompson’s 4.7.

Yet while he certainly needs to grow in a number of different areas, some of those numbers are negatively impacted by his role on the team.

The Warriors don’t ask Thompson to initiate offense for a couple of reasons.

For starters, he spent nearly 83 percent of his floor time alongside Curry, who finished fifth in overall assists (8.5) and seventh in assist opportunities (15.4), via SportVU player tracking data provided to NBA.com. Golden State simply didn’t have much incentive to take the ball out of Curry’s hands.

Doing so would have also weakened one of Thompson’s greatest strengths: spot-up shooting. His 9.2 catch-and-shoot points per game led the entire league, as he hit 44.7 percent of his field goals and 44.2 percent of his threes on that type of play.

As for his rebounding troubles, those can partly be explained by his defensive positioning. Not only did he spend a majority of his time chasing scorers around the perimeter, he also leaked out when he could to spark an offense that far too often grew stagnant in the half-court under former coach Mark Jackson.

Thompson has his faults, but none so severe that they push him out of max-contract range.

As ESPN Insider Bradford Doolittle explained (subscription required), Thompson’s max market is easy to identify by the way he has been propped up around the league:

Decision-makers in the NBA are very smart. The Warriors might have been able to obtain Love…but chose not to because they wanted to keep Thompson. That also means that the Timberwolves, if all this is true, would have been willing to send Love to the Warriors, but only if they could get their hands on Thompson, likely even with the knowledge that he wanted a max extension. And as mentioned, it’s commonly believed that if the Warriors don’t give Thompson the max now, some team will leap to do so next July.

Whether he expands his game or simply continues shoring up his strengths, it seems obvious that—barring injury—his best days are ahead of him. It’s easy to forget after his summer in the spotlight that he has all of three NBA seasons under his belt.

He has so many avenues of improvement available to him, yet he has already played his way into a substantial raise. That’s why when it comes to his future finances, he has no worries regarding how this situation will progress.

“I just let (agent Bill Duffy) and the front office sort it out,” he said, per Leung. “I know if I just keep my mind on hoops and staying healthy, I know everything else will take care of itself.”

Those are the words of a comfortable, confident player. Judging by his offseason, he has every right to feel that way.

His jackpot payday is coming sooner than later.

 

Unless otherwise noted, statistics used courtesy of Basketball-Reference.com and NBA.com.

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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 NBA.com unless otherwise cited. Salary information via ShamSports.


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Cavaliers Rumors: Tristan Thompson to start at center?

If the Cleveland Cavaliers have a weak spot, it’s the center position. They do have veteran Anderson Varejao, but he has struggled with health the past few years. In order to keep him healthy all season, the Cavaliers could start Tristan Thompson at the pivot.Image By Erik Drost, via Wikimedia CommonsAccording to Jason Lloyd of the Akron Beacon Journal:”Don’t rule out the possibility of Tristan Thompson starting at center. While it has been widely assumed Anderson Varejao start in the middle, a theory has been floated within the organization recently that by starting Thompson, coach David Blatt could better limit Varejao’s minutes and help protect him from injury.”The 6’9 Thompson was drafted in the first round in 2011, and he is seeking a rookie extension, similar to Kyrie Irving’s deal. Last season, he played all 82 games, averaging 11.7 points and 9.2 rebounds. He is a double-doubles machine. His main weakness is his inability to protect the rim…

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Cavs Rumors: Thompson Seeking $11M Per Season

Set to become a free agent in July 2015, Cleveland Cavaliers forward Tristan Thompson is reportedly expected to ask for a contract extension that would average at least $11 million per year over four years, according to Akron Beacon Journal beat writer Jason Lloyd.
The 6-8 Thompson has started every contest over the past two years after primarily coming off the bench as a rookie three seasons ago, and has averaged 10.8 points and 8.6 rebounds per game during his brief career. For the upcoming campaign, he’ll again come off the bench, in order to spell LeBron James or Kevin Love. Thompson is also expected to see some time in the middle, given the Cavaliers’ lack of current depth in that area.
Thompson had played just one season of college ball with the Texas Longhorns when he was chosen as the fourth pick in the 2011 NBA draft. That choice came three spots after the Cavaliers selected Kyrie Irving with the top pick. Irving signed a five-year contract extension worth $90 million over …

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Tristan Thompson could be Cavs’ starting center

It appeared to be a given that the Cleveland Cavaliers would move Tristan Thompson to the bench following the arrival of Kevin Love, but this may not exactly be the case. Jason Lloyd of the Akron Beacon-Journal leads off a column by saying Thompson, longtime friend of LeBron James, could slot in as a 6-foot-9-inch center while the taller, older Anderson Varejao comes off of the bench in a reserve capacity.
Don’t rule out the possibility of Tristan Thompson starting at center. While it has been widely assumed Anderson Varejao would start in the middle, a theory has been floated within the organization recently that by starting Thompson, coach David Blatt could better limit Varejao’s minutes and help protect him from injury. There is plenty of time to make that final decision, but it’s worth noting the idea has at least been discussed.
Regardless of whether he starts, Thompson is expected to play a lot of minutes at center this season. He is undersized there, but athletic enough to handle the job. He has

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How did Klay Thompson rise into NBA’s elite?

After a breakout showing with Team USA, Klay Thompson may be the best shooting guard in the NBA.

      
 

 

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Is Klay Thompson Really the Best 2-Way Shooting Guard in the NBA?

With a three-point rocket in his arsenal and the defensive versatility to slide anywhere along the perimeter, Golden State Warriors shooting guard Klay Thompson is among the top two-way players at his position.

For Thompson’s agent, Bill Duffy, that distinction isn’t enough. Duffy, who has until October 31 to negotiate a contract extension for the fourth-year sniper, said his client needs no qualifier.

Thompson, as Duffy told USA Today‘s Sam Amick, is the NBA‘s premier two-way player at his position:

 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.

Duffy’s comments capture a number of different sentiments, not the least of which is the incredible wave the former Washington State star has been riding of late.

Thompson’s stock is soaring.

During the 2013-14 campaign, the 24-year-old posted personal bests in points (18.4), field-goal percentage (44.4) and three-point percentage (41.7). He also pushed his career three-point total to 545, 54 more than any other player has converted during their first three seasons in the league (Kyle Korver ranks second on that list with 491).

According to ESPN.com’s Marc Stein, the Warriors’ unwillingness to unload Thompson played a major part in their trade talks for perennial All-Star Kevin Love falling apart this summer. While other factors went into that decision, Thompson’s defensive ability was hardly lost on his employer.

“Klay guarded Chris Paul the entire Clippers series,” first-year Warriors coach Steve Kerr told Amick in July. “He has allowed [Stephen Curry] to conserve some energy at the defensive end, and to slide over to a shooter.”

After the trade winds subsided around Thompson, he raised his profile again during Team USA’s gold-medal sprint through the 2014 FIBA World Cup. He ranked second on the team in scoring (12.7), but his play at the opposite side may have opened even more eyes.

“Everyone had talked about his offense, but he has been consistently excellent on the defensive end,” Team USA coach Mike Krzyzewski told reporters. “The fact that he’s tall, he’s been able to play defense on the one, two, and three. He’s become our most versatile defender.”

In other words, Duffy was doing more than negotiating when he sang his client’s praises. Thompson’s talent does extend to both sides of the floor.

But is he really the league’s best two-way shooting guard? The numbers don’t exactly see him as such—and that’s putting it kindly.

There are different ways to measure a player’s two-way impact, none of which shine the most favorable light on Thompson.

One method is ESPN.com’s real plus-minus metric, which the website notes measures a “player’s estimated on-court impact on team performance, measured in net point differential per 100 offensive and defensive possessions. RPM takes into account teammates, opponents and additional factors.”

Thompson’s real plus-minus number is plus-2.03, which checks in at No. 11 among all shooting guards. While weighing his statistics among the other top 30 players at the position, he doesn’t grade out as elite at either end of the floor.

Thompson ranks fairly well at the offensive end (ninth overall), but fairly well shouldn’t describe anything the top two-way shooting guard does. As for his defense, well, this metric actually puts him in the bottom half of his position (17th).

Of course, those aren’t the only numbers available to us.

We also have PER, which former ESPN.com columnist and current Memphis Grizzlies vice president of basketball operations John Hollinger said, “sums up all a player’s positive accomplishments, subtracts the negative accomplishments, and returns a per-minute rating of a player’s performance,” via Basketball-Reference.com.

The website 82games.com also tracks the PER allowed by each player. Subtract a player’s PER allowed from the PER they produce and you get…an even lower rating for Thompson (plus-1.9, 15th overall).

Altogether, these two measures rank six players ahead of Thompson in both: Manu Ginobili (San Antonio Spurs), Vince Carter (Grizzlies), Danny Green (Spurs), Goran Dragic (Phoenix Suns), James Harden (Houston Rockets) and Jimmy Butler (Chicago Bulls). Despite ESPN’s inclusion of Dragic at the shooting guard spot, he’ll fall out of our consideration since he spent more time at the 1 (52 percent of his minutes) than the 2 (47 percent).

So, what exactly does this all mean?

For one, none of us should have been surprised by the Spurs’ title run last season. They had two of the top two-way forces at the shooting guard position, neither of whom ranked among the team’s top three in either field-goal attempts or points per game.

Getting back on track, it means that Duffy’s claim isn’t easy to buy. But it’s not impossible, either.

A lot of it depends on your definition of a two-way player.

These measures weigh a player’s offensive production against what they give back at the opposite side. That can allow a player with supreme one-way talent to shine despite having some serious drawbacks at the opposite end (see: James Harden, “Defensive Juggernaut”).

If two-way player means someone who excels on both sides of the ball, the discussion changes. Then it becomes harder to overlook Harden’s defensive ineptitude or the offensive limitations of Butler (career 8.9 points per game) and Green (8.8).

As for the other two players still standing (Carter and Ginobili), it’s tough to ignore the fact that Father Time is closing in on the 37-year-olds. Ginobili had an effective, efficient 2013-14 season, but he missed 14 games and logged only 22.8 minutes a night when he played. Carter played all but one contest, but he saw just 24.4 minutes of floor time each game.

Thompson, meanwhile, averaged 35.4 minutes across his 81 games. And he carried heavier loads at both ends of the floor than either of the aging shooting guards.

That’s why this conversation can’t be based off statistics alone. These numbers need context.

It’s impossible to weigh these defensive numbers side by side when they weren’t compiled against the same caliber of player. Thompson took on the Warriors’ toughest backcourt assignment on a nightly basis, chasing track-star point guards one game and holding court with bigger, stronger shooting guards the next.

According to one former Warriors assistant, Thompson even outperformed teammate Andre Iguodala, who captured All-Defensive first-team honors last season.

“Klay is a much better defender,” the coach told Bleacher Report’s Ric Bucher. “It’s not even close. It’s all based on reputation and stats.”

Thompson is, without a doubt, among the league’s best two-way shooting guards.

However, for the first time in a long time, the position’s top seat is empty. There is a changing of the guard going on—Kobe Bryant is 36 years old and coming off a six-game season, Dwyane Wade is 32 and has missed 58 games the last three years—but that process isn’t complete.

And Thompson isn’t the only one aiming for that throne.

“Throw Bradley Beal, Lance Stephenson and Jimmy Butler into the conversation with Thompson, DeRozan and Harden, and it should be a fun battle for Bryant’s shooting guard torch in the 25-and-under crowd,” wrote Yahoo Sports’ Ben Rohrbach. “But there’s no obvious heir apparent.”

Thompson has the talent to ascend the shooting guard ranks, but he isn’t there yet. No one is.

For now, Duffy will have to take solace in the fact that he represents one of the finest two-way 2-guards in the business. As long as his words help his client net max-contract money, then the agent will have his done his job.

Then the hard work will begin—Thompson living up to his agent’s claim.

 

Unless otherwise noted, statistics used courtesy of Basketball-Reference.com and NBA.com.

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Klay Thompson ‘excited to work with’ Steve Kerr

Klay Thompson’s rise through Team USA could translate to the NBA. He spoke with USA TODAY Sports.

      
 

 

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Is Klay Thompson truly in NBA elite?

After a breakout showing with Team USA, Klay Thompson may be the best shooting guard in the NBA.

      
 

 

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Has Klay Thompson joined NBA’s elite?

After a breakout showing with Team USA, Klay Thompson may be the best shooting guard in the NBA.

      
 

 

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