Klay Thompson is an NBA All-Star for the third straight year. Klay Thompson is an NBA champion. Klay Thompson had one of the greatest postseason games ever, in a Western Conference Finals elimination game against OKC in Game 6 last year. Klay Thompson is an elite shooter and an elite defensive player. Klay Thompson is an Olympic gold medalist. Klay Thompson is as low maintenance a star as there has ever been in the NBA. Klay Thompson has scored 60 points in less than 30 minutes, and 37 points in a quarter. And Klay Thompson is UNDERRATED.
See, Klay Thompson happens to play on today’s version of MJ’s Bulls, the basketball version of the Beatles, a travelling form of entertainment that absolutely everyone has to witness for themselves. Yet, Thompson doesn’t really fit in. He has no huge endorsement deal like his Splash Brother backcourt teammate, Stephen Curry with Under Armour. Thompson will not be dancing in a mosh pit at a concert like Kevin Durant. Draymond Green? No one will ever mistake Thompson for acting like Green.
In fact, by all accounts, Thompson is quite content to stay in the background. He has no enemies like Green or KD, no waves of adoring people admiring him like Curry has. Zaza Pachulia got 500,000 more All-Star fan votes than Klay (shoutout to the country of Georgia), and he even got more player votes than Klay. Steph’s daughter Riley may be more popular than Steph. His wife Ayesha is a celebrity in the food world. KD’s mother, Wanda, is famous from his MVP speech, and Draymond just had his first boy, Draymond Jr.
Thompson is the guy in the office that does his job brilliantly, and gets no publicity for it, because it is his job. The rarity of Thompson is here, because he is okay with that. He loves basketball, and he loves winning, and that satisfies him. Unfortunately, for those that do not view the Warriors regularly, this makes Thompson seem like the fourth wheel. Viewing his outstanding play as purely a recipient of being around exceptional talent is not fair to Klay’s brilliance, and it makes him one of the most underrated players in the game.
To stress the point that I believe Thompson is underrated, it is first imperative to look back upon his moments of greatness. Each one of them is directly correlated to his elite shot-making. More than that though, each performance is a display of what happens when Klay goes nuclear. The best way to explain this is to picture a volcano. Volcanoes are deadly, but they are not always erupting. Even though it is rare, people have to be prepared in the event that the volcano does erupt. In some cases, volcanoes are dormant.
Klay is like a volcano because Klay going nuclear is essentially an instant loss for his opponents. It does not happen every game, but it is always a threat that opponents must respect. In what is still almost a tale of folklore, Klay’s 37 point quarter is a record that may stand for a long time.
He had 15 points entering halftime, and was well on his way to having a really solid effort, before it become something of legend. He made his first shot, his second, his third, and kept going and never looked back. 37 points later, and Klay Thompson had a better quarter than most NBA teams have. Heck, his quarter was better than most video game players can hope for.
His 11 three pointers and 41 points in Game 6 of the Western Conference Finals last year was the only reason the Warriors escaped that series. More than that, they had been blown out in OKC in games three and four. In Game 6, they were up against elimination and trailing the entire game. Klay said enough, and the Warriors found a way to win.
60 points in less than 30 minutes earlier this year against Indiana? Yea, he did that too.
Watching the Warriors play when Thompson is in one of his eruption zones is special. Every single player on the court, and on the bench for that matter, wants to be a part of it. Yet the Warriors are so unselfish, so aware of when Klay is in his zone, that on offense all four players not named Klay run around setting screens for him and trying to get him the ball. On defense, they play like they are swarming bees. They need the ball back the way the bees need their honey. Klay needs another shot, and his teammates know it.
Watch that video again. Watch the bench go absolutely bonkers (there really is no better word to describe the bench) in the second quarter. Then skip forward to 3:30, and watch that play. Steph normally would find a shot there. But he only has eyes for Klay. He makes that ridiculous pass, and walks back without looking because he knows Klay’s shot is going in.
The crowd can sense it too. Every time Klay makes a couple in a row, they practically beg for the Warriors to give him the ball again to see if he will make another. Everyone knows it is happening, opponents included, yet there is very little chance to stop it once it starts. He gets that look, his teammates gear up for the show, and it is a pure volcanic eruption in motion. Ten minutes later, the game is over. The Warriors go from having been in a close game, to winning in a blowout.
So now I challenge you. Think of another Klay Thompson game. One that does not include his 37 point quarter game, his Game 6 performance, his 60 point explosion, or his back to back 40 point games last season. Suddenly, especially for non-Warriors aficionados, that is a difficult question.
Steph has had dozens of games people can recall. KD as well. Draymond had the second most triple-doubles in the league last year, and he has already made four or five game-saving defensive plays this season alone. For Klay, if he does not erupt, it seems as though people sometimes forget his importance to the Warriors.
In an age in which social media is so heavily used, there is something relatively boring of seeing Klay make a jump shot. Steph and KD can both do the spectacular. Klay’s spectacular only happens when he goes unconscious. In this era of statistical analysis, there is something off about seeing Klay go for 24 points, three rebounds, one assist, one steal, and no blocks. People look at those numbers and clamor for him to be a better rebounder, a more active defender, a much better playmaker. When I look at those numbers, I see Klay playing an exceptional game.
His job on the Warriors is not to average five assists, or to be a heavy rebounder. His job on defense is to simply make life much more difficult for the opposing team’s best guard. One need not look any further than two weeks ago to see Klay’s defensive prowess is an incredibly valuable asset.
On January 16th, in the Warriors blow out win of the Cavaliers, Klay Thompson led the Warriors in scoring with 26 points. He also only had four rebounds, one block, and no assists or steals. While that does not initially look like a good defensive performance, looking across the box score at Kyrie Irving’s stat line of 17 points on 19 shots with only two assists and six turnovers is a good indicator that Klay did an exceptional job spearheading the effort to stop Kyrie.
Two days later, against the Oklahoma City Thunder, Russell Westbrook had a triple double. That again looks poor on Thompson, but a further look at the numbers should alter that thinking. Westbrook was 8-23 from the floor, and 1-6 from three point range. Even more impressive, while Westbrook did have 13 assists, he was also forced into ten turnovers which led to the Warriors having 29 fastbreak points.
Friday of that week saw the Warriors face The Beard and the Houston Rockets. Thompson’s stat line that game was ugly: 16 points on 19 shots, one rebound, one assist, one steal, and no blocks. Yet, James Harden’s was worse. On a team that is so reliant on one player to do everything for them, Harden only attempted 13 shots in 35 minutes, including missing all five of his three point attempts. Sure, he may have had 11 assists in the game, but with seven turnovers as well, that is a margin the Warriors will take.
It is unfair to the rest of the Warriors to give Klay all the credit, as they defend as one unit of five, not five units of one. Draymond Green is the best help defender in the world, Andre Iguodala is still a gifted defender, and Durant’s shot blocking ability has been well documented. Zaza is an excellent positional defender, McGee defends above the rim, and every one of the Warriors guards off the bench can be an excellent defender. Even Steph, who is not the greatest defender, gives 100% effort on defense which leads to creating turnovers.
Within that week, the Warriors arguably played the three best scoring guards in the world, that do not play their home games in Oakland. As the primary lead defender, Klay Thompson and the Warriors forced subpar if not dismal games out of those All-Stars. The result was three convincing blowout wins of two elite teams and a playoff team.
When outsiders look at that week for the Warriors, they will highlight the team effort in the blowout of the Cavs, Durant’s game against his former team, and Draymond’s 15-9-8-3 performance (3 blocks), to go along with Durant’s 32 against Houston. What won’t be noticed is how difficult Thompson made life for these elite guards.
In fact, I challenge you to go find any highlights of Thompson’s defense. If you want to start like I did, go to Google videos and type in “Klay Thompson defense 2016-2017” and see what results you get. I can tell you right now, it will not be Thompson playing defense. Now do it for Draymond, and you will see his defensive performance against Atlanta immediately. Do the same for Kevin Durant, and you will instantly see defensive highlights.
It all goes back to this year’s Warriors being the basketball version of the Beatles. Night in and night out, every time the Warriors play on the road, it is a frenzied environment. People show up 90 minutes early just to watch Steph’s well-documented warm up. There are more people at Warriors games than at a normal game. In late January against the Warriors, Charlotte had their highest attended game of the year, up to that point. Same in Orlando. Same with Milwaukee last season when they ended the Warriors 24-0 start.
The Warriors are a show. It starts with Steph’s jaw-dropping ability. It continues with Draymond’s fiery passion and Durant’s ruthless efficiency. Some people love Zaza for his hustle, JaVale McGee for his rim attacks and ruthless athleticism. Those that go to watch Klay, go in hope that he erupts. When he doesn’t, and his stat line looks boring, it is important to remember the effort he gives nightly, the yeoman’s work he gives throughout a season, and how that consistency makes him the best two-way guard in the world.
For the average fan, there is nothing special about a back-cut leading to a layup. There is nothing special about good defense that results in a player having to pass or miss a contested jumper. The average fan, and even some of the avid fans live for the spectacular. That is why the Warriors have such an enormous fan base. They will do something spectacular nightly, and people soak it up. It just isn’t Klay Thompson doing it on most nights.
He may not be John Lennon or Paul McCartney, he surely isn’t MJ, Scottie Pippen or Dennis Rodman, but Klay Thompson is of vital importance to the Warriors. Do not let yourself get sucked in to the popularity aspect of the team, and forget that Klay Thompson is elite.