Three years ago, Washington State was the only Pac-10 club bidding for the services of Klay Thompson.
On Thursday night, it was Golden State which exhibited the most interest in the 6-foot-6 guard who’d established himself as the purest shooter in the 2011 NBA draft.
When Thompson’s name was called by NBA commissioner David Stern after the Warriors selected the sweet-shooting Cougar with the No. 11 overall pick, he’d completed his meteoric rise despite relinquishing his senior season.
“It gives me chills, just thinking about it. It’s a dream come true,” Thompson said in a conference call. “I feel like, for my first year or two, I can come off the bench and provide a great scoring punch — score in bunches — and playmaking because of my court vision. I feel like I can fit in and be the real versatile guy that they need off the bench.”
Thompson, who’s been compared with his father Mychal (the first pick in the 1978 draft) throughout his career, is now the highest draft pick ever out of the Pullman program. Thompson and Don Collins, who was drafted 18th in the 1980 draft, are the only Cougars to get picked up in the first round.
Many pundits forecasted Thompson as the No. 10 pick to Milwaukee in the days leading up to the selections, but the Bucks traded their 10th pick to Sacramento on draft day, leaving the door open for the Warriors.
The Warriors welcome another potent shooter to an already-crowded backcourt, joining the duo of Stephen Curry and Monta Ellis.
But Thompson, who led the Pac-10 in scoring at 21.6 points per game, is also seen as another perimeter player not known for defense.
“It comes as no surprise that we drafted Klay Thompson,” Riley said. “We’ve said before that we liked him as a shooter, as an athlete and as a basketball player. He has an NBA skill (shooting) and will develop other skills. He has a bright future in front of him.”
Golden State’s revamped front office insisted the biggest need this summer was defense and rebounding, and Thompson will do little to improve those areas. General manager Larry Riley also said he would take the most talented player no matter the position, and he followed through with that approach.
Riley believes Thompson will be a rotation player and strong contributor off the bench. He also said Thompson could see more time at small forward behind Dorell Wright, who is coming off a breakout year.
“When we talked about defense and rebounding, we also said that we had several areas to solve,” Riley said. “One was depth, one was defense and one was rebounding. So we’ve solved a little bit of the depth issue. Basically, we have an inside presence issue that we have yet to solve.”
The selection will do little to quiet the growing trade talk surrounding Golden State’s star player.
Ellis, the Warriors’ leading scoring last season at 24.1 points per game, is part of a talented tandem with Curry that is among the most prolific in scoring in the league. But the duo is easily one of the worst defensively because both are undersized point guards who essentially play the same position.
At the very least, Thompson gives a shoot-first team even more punch.
“This in no way affects the potential for us to trade any player, as far as that goes,” Riley said about trading Ellis. “I shouldn’t say potential, I should say motivation to trade any player. That may be a little stronger statement for you.”
Thompson, who is now the 11th Cougar to ever be selected in the NBA draft, ended his career as the school’s all-time single-season points leader and third all-time leading scorer.