Can Shaun Livingston be a Klay Thompson replacement?

Is this man being discounted? - Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports

What would the statistical impact be on the Warriors offense if Klay Thompson were included in a trade for Kevin Love?

The Warriors' signing of free-agent guard and feel-good story Shaun Livingston has drawn a some ire, from sources both here on GSOM and elsewhere. While some of the criticisms are as opaque as a zen koan, the gist seems to be that the Warriors, who were a very good defensive team last year, need help on the offensive side of the court.

Therefore, the logic goes, the Warriors should have found a way to find a more offensive-oriented backup point guard and forgotten about the defense. This has led to suggestions like Isaiah Thomas (regardless of how the Warriors could find the cap space to sign him, or if he would want to come somewhere he wouldn't start) or Patty Mills (regardless of his injury) or even other profoundly mediocre players who nevertheless are marginally less terrible on offense than they are on defense.

Most of this discussion centers around the assumption that Livingston would have to replace Klay Thompson, who would be included in a trade for Kevin Love. If such a trade doesn't happen, most people agree that Livingston is a huge upgrade over the various backup guards the Warriors trotted out last year (Jordan Crawford, Steve Blake, and Kent Bazemore - none of whom managed a TS% over .503).

If Klay is included in a (still hypothetical) Kevin Love trade, on the other hand, the question becomes a little less clear. Are the Warriors then giving up too much to see the offensive improvement the team needs to get to the next level?

One way to examine this is to look at the four key principles in this (hypothetical) trade and see if you would trade the combined players for each other from a statistical standpoint. So rather than Klay Thomson, David Lee, Kevin Love and Shaun Livingston, we set into the mad scientist's lab and compare the net impact of Fraken-players Klavid Leepson and Kevaun Livinglove.

Player Pts/36 Ast/36 TS%* TOV36 ORAPM
Kevaun Livinglove 37.4 8.9 .581 4.4 3.7
Klavid Leepson 38.5 4.6 .559 4.1 1.7
Net -1.1 +4.3 +.022 +.3 +2

(*TS% numbers were calculated using the totals for the players for the full season on Basketball-reference.com. The appears to be a minor glitch in the their data, which makes these numbers slightly inconsistent with their reported individual TS%s for the players, but we're clearly in the right ballpark).

This is obviously somewhat simplistic comparison, as how the players are used will be different, there may be a TS% bump from playing next to Steph Curry, Livingston's poor outside shooting could create court-spacing issues, there may be value to having a quality dribble-drive distributor on the Warriors, and so on. We can argue ad nauseam about which of these factors will predominate, and we probably will even though we won't know until the season gets going, but from a raw statistical standpoint the improvement for the Warriors is clear:

Kevaun scores slightly less than Klavid, but does so with substantially better efficiency. He turns the ball over slightly more (approximately one extra turnover every three games) but gets almost twice as many assists. Unsurprisingly, ORAPM sees Kevaun as a much better player.  This is so clearly the case that even if Livingston couldn't play any more minutes than he did last year, and we apply worst-case assumptions to who fills the extra time (8 more MPG of Barnes, rather than Draymond, and Barnes doesn't improve at all from last year) it'd still be a large net get gain.

That +2 ORAPM, by the way, is about the equivalent of adding a player like Tony Parker, Goran Dragic, or Carmelo Anthony to last year's Warriors squad. That mostly says something about just how good Love is, of course, but it also helps make the point that the Warriors can thrive despite a downgrade at shooting guard because of the massive upgrade in the frontcourt.

There's also an argument to be made that both Klay and Shaun will improve (Klay because of his age, Shaun because he seems to be still getting his athleticism back). Again, this can be talked in circles, but there are arguments for both players.

The biggest surprise is how small the scoring volume gap is. This comes from how we tend to mentally group players. Livingston "doesn't score," while Klay, Lee, and Love are "volume scorers." What that misses is that Livingston does actually score a decent amount (while not crossing an arbitrary threshold that's probably somewhere around 17pts/36 which we round up to 20, making someone a "volume scorer"), while Love scores substantially more than either Klay or Lee.

Obviously, the gain for the Warriors is much bigger if Klay is not included in a Kevin Love deal, when Livingston becomes the second-unit floor general that the team so desperately missed last year, along with being able to play spot minutes with Curry for a different offensive look or when defensive pressure renders Curry's dribbling limitations too big a liability. Livingston's ability to play multiple positions defensive and contribute on offense should add a lot of flexibility and value as Steve Kerr figures out how to help these players get the most out of playing together.

With the Warriors still saying that any sort of Love trade is "unlikely," this is all still extremely hypothetical, but this analysis does suggest the the addition of Livingston means that Warriors could now trade Lee and Klay for Love and still see substantial offensive improvement. In the event of no trade for Love, or a trade where we keep Klay, our backcourt/wing rotation is now comfortably set for the next three years.

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