OAKLAND, Calif. -- Once when asked what he would be on another team, with a different role, All-Star wing Klay Thompson quipped, "I think I would be a shooting guard. I'd be 6-7. Probably be No. 11 too." Translated: Though Thompson could score more elsewhere, that hypothetical isn't his concern. Right now, the Golden State Warriors are his concern, and this team is a reality that exceeds wildest dreams. A focus on the present and on the collective is how a scorer satiates himself as the second and sometimes third option.
Thompson's 45 points in Wednesday's 127-107 win over the Dallas Mavericks qualified as a reminder as much as a feat. You don't hear about Thompson as often as you did last season. Much of this is due to Draymond Green's rise and Stephen Curry's ascent beyond what human beings are even theoretically capable of doing.
After the game, Warriors coach Steve Kerr spoke on how Thompson's personality allows him to thrive in a role that might cause other stars to chafe.
“Klay doesn't seem to have a care in the world, so that translates a lot of different ways," Kerr said. "It means it doesn't bother him too much when he misses shots, so he keeps shooting. It also means he's fine taking a back seat to Steph. It works well. They obviously play well together, but I think there always has to be a little bit of a pecking order in the NBA. Klay's personality suits that second option perfectly.”
Thompson is still producing like he was last year, with slightly fewer touches. And if there's less attention to be had for doing the same job, he's amenable to that. After big scoring performances, it takes some cajoling to get Thompson to the postgame cameras. He less comfortable than Green with the media spotlight, tending toward rueful self-deprecation.
When asked why he's reluctant to do interviews, Thompson said, bluntly, “I'm not good at it.”
That self-flagellation was on display during the shooting slump that preceded the 45-point explosion. He could be seen shaking his head after Friday's win over the Indiana Pacers, as a Warriors official assured him, “The law of averages is your friend.”
“I know, I know,” Thompson replied, still frustrated with his output.
After a Wednesday's outburst, Thompson commemorated his brilliance with a dose of that classic self-criticism.
The postgame interview began with a question about Thompson's excellent ball movement. He answered, “That's what I try to predicate my game off every night. You know, I don't have the handles like Steph, so I try to get the shots in different ways.”
After picking himself when asked about shooting guards in December, Thompson has grimaced and deflected when that question comes up. He doesn't want to get into a media controversy over where he stacks up. He just wants to focus on the here and now.
The rap on Thompson is that he works extremely hard and he's hard on himself. He also considers himself a bit of a throwback for his eschewing of attention. “I think it's a team sport,” he told ESPN in Chicago last week. “I think today, in sports, stuff gets individualized so much that, it gets lost, what the team is doing. I think it's just the nature of our generation."
He credits his athletic experiences outside of basketball -- namely baseball and football -- for informing his approach. As Thompson said, “I played other sports, so I know what it's like to be a good player on a bad team. I know what it's like to just be a role player on a great team. It's always more fun being on the great teams.”
So far, the Warriors are more than qualifying for that “great” label. They now have gone more than a year between regular-season home losses, having won 40 straight in Oakland. They're ahead of the NBA-record pace set by the 72-win 1996 Chicago Bulls. They couldn't get here without Thompson accepting this role and thriving within it.
Yes, Thompson probably couldn't be the one-man offense James Harden provides the Houston Rockets. It's also probable that Golden State couldn't comfortably incorporate Harden's expansive repertoire. The Warriors need someone who can cut and move all game, despite not getting the ball on many possessions. They need someone who can cede creative control to Curry and Green, while also occasionally stepping in and taking over. Thompson obliges, stays with it and on a night like Wednesday, reminds everyone that a supporting actor can also be an All-Star.