Andris Biedrins

Warriors draft Klay Thompson — what it means

It shouldn’t have been surprising, but it was. For all the talk about defense and rebounding, the Warriors went with what they know: a polished, collegiately experienced, long-range shooter with NBA genes. With Kawhi Leonard, Alec Burks, Marcus Morris and Chris Singleton on the board, the Warriors went with the player said to be Jerry West’s guy: Klay Thompson. Son of Mychal Thompson, the prize of one of West’s more celebrated trades as GM of the Lakers.

The Warriors, who need defensive rebounding, offensive rebounding, perimeter defense, interior defense and toughness (but not outside shooting, since they ranked 4th in 3-point shots made and 2nd in 3-point percentage in 2010-11), took a what amounts to a taller Stephen Curry. Why? Because as Larry Riley said after the selection was made, they want “a player with an NBA skill.” That’s why Leonard “was never an option on my list,” Riley said.

Minutes after Riley did his best to destroy the very idea that Leonard could ever help any NBA team, let alone the Warriors, the Spurs traded for him. Oh well, what do those nerds know.

Even though the Warriors needed above all else to take a step toward a lineup full of guys who wouldn’t be pushed around on a regular basis, they took Thompson, a guy whose game screams finesse (but politely, of course). But he’s with the team to stay, at least for the next year, so what does this draft choice mean for the Warriors? What’s their plan? Do they have one?

1. Good-bye Reggie Williams

The Warriors signed Williams to a qualifying offer this week, but he’s as good as gone. Williams is as good a shooter as Thompson — who as Ethan Sherwood Strauss pointed out, wasn’t especially efficient shooting the ball in college — but played tentatively far too often last season. After the Warriors got used to paying Williams fresh-from-the-D-League money, they aren’t too keen on paying him an NBA veteran’s salary — kind of like C.J. Watson and Anthony Morrow before him.

2. The Warriors are still shopping Monta Ellis

Regardless of what the Warriors say about depth (and that’s kind of a joke, since every team is looking for depth in the draft — the Warriors are looking for talent), you don’t choose a guy No. 11 without at least hoping he’ll start for you someday. When the Warriors say “depth,” what they actually mean is “guard depth,” because if they trade Ellis for someone taller than 6-7 after drafting a forward in the first round instead of Thompson, their guard rotation would have been Curry/Lin/Charles Jenkins, meaning they’d have to seriously consider bringing back Williams and/or Acie “you can’t stop me from shooting threes” Law (shudder).

3. Defense (still) isn’t a priority

The biggest laugh came on draft night, when Riley said in the minutes following the Warriors’ first round selection, “We’re going to have to work with Klay, teach him the defensive schemes.” I didn’t know reaching in, lazy footwork and soft fouls during layups and dunks (and-one!) were defensive schemes. From the scouting reports on Thompson, who spent most of his time at Washington State focusing on scoring, he should fit right in.

4. Jerry West is the GM

Thompson was rumored to be West’s guy for days leading up to the draft. As the draft grew closer, Thompson was listed at No. 11 on more and more mocks. Riley, Bob Myers, Kirk Lacob and (most importantly) Joe Lacob may have all agreed with West on this pick, but perception’s reality here. Everyone now thinks West runs things, so he does.

5. The Warriors went safe so they could gamble later

The Warriors considered Leonard too much of a risk for a couple reasons, it seemed. First, his offense doesn’t project to excite the fans early on. Second, he didn’t want to work out for the Warriors. Since it appears one of the Warriors’ main goals this draft was to acquire Jeremy Tyler — as Tom Ziller said, “A $2-million flyer on Tyler is like a $2 million craps role. Good luck.” — the Warriors wanted to make sure they got at least one rotation player while swinging for the fences in the early second round.

For a team that has had to dip into the NBDL far too often over the years (with more success than anyone would have expected, to be fair), it makes sense that the Warriors wanted to make sure their first round pick wasn’t a complete flop. Except the Warriors’ idea of a flop is exactly why they’ve been in the same position for years. Offense without defense is fine, while defense without offense isn’t part of the “fan experience” they’re looking for. That’s not saying the Warriors should trade for Hasheem Thabeet (in fact, if those rumors that the Rockets offered Thabeet and Jordan Hill for Biedrins are true, I don’t blame the Warriors for saying no — both Thabeet and Hill are useless, while Biedrins has at least been an above-average starting center within the past five years).

But the Warriors’ habit of counting on “team defense” while adding players who care little about defense of any kind (Al Thornton, anyone?) isn’t new, and it’s incredibly faulty. Especially for a team without a discernible team leader, and whose candidates for that role (Curry, Ellis and David Lee) are all offensively-focused. For that reason, drafting a guy like Singleton or Leonard would actually be less of a gamble, since they can at least defend wing players. But the Warriors’ desire to remain an “up-tempo” team trumps all, so they added yet another fundamentally sound shooter in Thompson to keep Curry (who in the video below seems like he’d rather be anywhere but Golden State) company. Should be fun watching their latest first round pick struggle to get shots up over Leonard and Singleton in the coming years.
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