Giving Klay Thompson his proper due requires a concerted effort.
In Golden State, he’s overshadowed by bigger names and eclipsed by larger personalities, but he also rarely lags in effort and he’s almost never missing in action. Thompson is easy to sell short because virtually every guard in the league would shrink, relatively, if playing alongside Stephen Curry, and because he’s been so consistent and healthy that the Warriors have never truly been forced to cope with his absence.
Indeed, Golden State’s least-celebrated All-Star has doubled as the organization’s most dependable core piece: Thompson has missed just 13 total games over his seven-year career, for a 97.6% availability rate, and he’s never missed a playoff game over five years and three straight Finals runs. While Thompson has had his share of highs (2016 West finals Game 6, a 60–point explosion) and lows (a 2017 postseason slump), his extraordinarily durability and his high-energy, two-way game render him as a steadying influence. There’s an admirable handyman nature to Thompson: Steve Kerr can turn to him for help if Curry or Kevin Durant is sidelined, but the sharpshooter is there to fill in the gaps when his superteammates are healthy too.
Wednesday’s news that Thompson will miss at least a week with a fractured right thumb, then, counts as unchartered water for the defending champions. Over the past seven seasons, Golden State has never been without Thompson for more than three games, and his upcoming absence coincides with the latest in a string of ankle injuries for Curry. The Warriors, who own the West’s No. 2 seed, will proceed in the short-term without Draymond Green due to a sore shoulder, leaving Kevin Durant as the sole healthy member of the team’s core four All-Stars.
For months, the Warriors have been underwhelming because they’ve rarely felt the need to play in sixth gear or rise to regular-season challenges. Understandably so. Now Kerr will spend the next few weeks or so without his full complement of weapons, further delaying the long-awaited stretch-run push from a group that thrashed through the 2017 playoffs with a 16–1 record. If the Warriors struggled to find night-to-night motivation since October, Thompson’s absence offers good reason to punt on their remaining 15 games.
Chasing the Rockets to claim the West’s top seed makes little sense because home-court advantage is of little consequence. Golden State is 19–5 against Houston in the regular season and postseason during the Kerr era, including a 10–2 record at the Toyota Center during that period. Once Durant arrived last season, the Warriors went 7–1 on the road in the playoffs, with their only loss coming in an elimination game against the Cavaliers in the Finals.
If fully healthy, making up the two-game deficit and tiebreaker advantage that Houston holds might be a worthwhile pursuit for Golden State. As is, the Warriors are better off milking the rehabilitations knowing that: 1) the Rockets must overcome their postseason demons to open the West finals at home, and 2) the Warriors have enjoyed plenty of success in Houston’s building in recent years.
At the same time, Golden State feels no backside pressure in the standings. The Spurs and Timberwolves have crashed out due to injuries of their own, leaving the No. 3 seeded Blazers a full 10 games back with just 15 games to play. What’s more, the Warriors can’t really influence their first-round match-up because the West’s chase pack is so crowded from three to 10. Determining the No. 7 seed could come down to the final night of the regular season, and the Warriors must sit pretty while that bloodbath unfolds. Durant and Green, like Curry, have missed stretches with injuries this year, and they should get the kid-gloves treatment in the run-up to the playoffs.
These conditions will only reinforce Thompson’s underratedness. Golden State doesn’t yet need to win games, and he won’t be the only hole in the lineup. If the Warriors sputter over the next week or two without the Splash Brothers, it’s unlikely those struggles will serve as a referendum on Thompson’s value. Even on the injured list, Thompson is bound to take second billing to Curry.
It’s worth pointing out that Thompson is perfectly-situated to crave the same things Kyrie Irving sought when he forced his way out of Cleveland: more shots, greater fame, his own team. And yet his seeming contentment has repeatedly short-circuited those types of rumors. Thompson has made more headlines by caring for his dog than by pouting over his changing, and sometimes thankless, role. He’s gotten more attention for dancing like no one is watching than by flirting with an alternate NBA life.
In the short term, the Warriors will hope for Thompson’s quick recovery. In the longer term, they’ll continue to hope he never changes.