Klay must be Warriors' priority, but Moody has earned opportunity

Klay must be Warriors' priority, but Moody has earned opportunity originally appeared on NBC Sports Bay Area

As they enter the Summer of Klay Thompson, the Warriors would be wise to make every effort to re-sign the veteran wing while also committing to the best way to use his skills.

Thompson’s metrics indicate that would be as the team’s sixth man.

Which means coach Steve Kerr can better regulate his minutes. Some nights, 23. Other nights, 32. Such flexibility suits the idea of Thompson cooking as the team’s sixth man.

“Klay really showed that he was agreeable to the sixth man role the second half of the year, even though eventually we put him back in the starting lineup,” coach Steve Kerr said. “That's got to be an option going forward. I would prefer not to play him 35 minutes.”

Putting Thompson, 34, into that role also should provide a long look at Moses Moody in the starting lineup. He has earned that opportunity.

Both options are being considered, based on comments by Kerr when asked last week about his starting-lineup options if Thompson returns as the sixth man.

“It could very well be somebody on the roster,” Kerr said. “I think our young guys are going to continue to get better. For a while we started Brandin [Podziemski] instead of Klay. So that's a possibility. Maybe Moses moves into the starting lineup.”

The case for Moody getting that opportunity is about as strong as the case for Thompson as the sixth man. Much of it is based on Golden State’s need to improve its point-of-attack defense and also have a dangerous scorer coming off the bench.

There was a time when Thompson was a superb on-ball defender, capable of excelling in assignments as varied as big guards like James Harden and DeMar DeRozan, or smaller guards like Kyrie Irving and Chris Paul. When Thompson and Andre Iguodala were on the court together, they were like two gray wolves prowling the wings. That duo was crucial to Golden State’s fabled “Death Squad” defense.

Two serious injuries – a torn left ACL and a ruptured right Achilles tendon – have stolen much of Thompson’s lateral quickness. Buckets that were rare against him six years ago now are common. Thompson’s 116.1 defensive rating in the 2023-24 NBA season ranked 11th among the rotational Warriors, right behind Dario Sarić and ahead of Andrew Wiggins (116.3).

Sacramento Kings coach Mike Brown – who was on Golden State’s staff before and after Thompson’s injuries – had his wings hunting matchups against Klay in the NBA Play-In Tournament game last week.

Moody is, by contrast, one of Golden State’s best defenders, on the ball or off it. His 110.2 rating ranked second on the team, behind only Gary Payton II (108.9) and just ahead of Draymond Green (110.7).

Though Moody’s defense would offset some of the scoring lost with Thompson coming off the bench, he’s no zero on offense. He shot 46.2 percent from the field, including 36.0 deep, but those percentages rose to 51.9/39.5 when he started. Thompson shot 43.2/38.7 percent overall, 42.5/37.7 when starting.

“He's a really good player, and he's a young player who still has a lot of room for growth,” Kerr said of Moody. “Decision-making at both ends needs to improve. Quicker decisions. Quicker rotations defensively. Recognition of patterns.

“I've told him directly that I want him to get his shot off quicker. I think he should be an excellent 3-point shooter. There are times where he's open and he doesn't shoot it; he drives it, and we immediately lose the advantage.”

Kerr’s concerns about Moody’s semi-deliberate release are valid, certainly relative to Thompson. That’s a high bar; Klay’s catch-and-shoot release is unsurpassed in the NBA, comparable to that of Stephen Curry.

Moody is an imperfect player in development, still seeking his place in the motion offense. Reps should help that. At 21, he’s two years younger than Trayce Jackson-Davis but nine months older than Podziemski.

Moody generally is more of an asset than a liability. He tends to perform well when given opportunities, which continue to be inconsistent.

“He hasn't probably played as much as we would like, and there hasn't been a clear enough path,” general manager Mike Dunleavy said of Moody. “That will be something we'll look at. It's really important coming into Year 4 for him that there is some reasonable playing time available for him where he can impact our team and be out there and continue to improve, and I think that's a fair thing.”

The Warriors benefit if either Curry or Thompson is on the floor at all times. With the goal of keeping Curry around 30 minutes per game, that gives Thompson at least 18 to terrorize a defense plus spillover minutes alongside his longtime partner.

There are no assurances that Thompson will return, or that Moody will remain on the roster. But if both are back next season, the Warriors have a logical experiment to consider.

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