Great teams find ways to win – even when they shouldn’t. Even when the odds are stacked against them and unforeseen circumstances occur that put them up against the wall. Let’s face it — what I’m describing is not quite what the Golden State Warriors are facing; however, they do have to deal with a certain amount of adversity as their MVP guard and superstar, Stephen Curry, recovers from a sprained knee. Despite the record-setting 73-win regular season, the Warriors still had to maneuver through the difficult Western Conference playoffs – with a looming battle with the almost-equally great San Antonio Spurs. When Curry went down, that difficult journey became much more treacherous – some may even consider the Spurs the favorite if Curry isn’t close to 100-percent healthy. But before we start talking like the Warriors title chances are doomed, maybe we should take notice of a star who’s shining brighter than ever in the absence of his fellow Splash Brother.
Klay Thompson hasn’t exactly just been going through the motions and catching a free ride on a championship team. Let’s not forget, this is the same player who went for a record 37 points in a single quarter in an NBA game last season. Thompson’s 3-point shooting prowess is only bested by teammate Curry – in the HISTORY of the NBA!! This season, Thompson shot over 42% from long range and hit 276 total three balls – a mark that only trails Curry in NBA history. But something has elevated him to another stratosphere this playoff run. And one can’t help but wonder that with Curry sidelined, Thompson has embraced the role of a superstar.
Through Games 4 and 5 against Houston and Game 1 against Portland, Thompson drained 7 three-pointers in each – an NBA postseason record. What’s most impressive is that he did that with Curry, for the most part, on the bench injured. Thompson has increased his points per game from the regular season to the playoffs as well – 22 ppg up to nearly 26 ppg. No one will argue that Klay needs to be a banger inside and grab many boards, but even his rebounds per game have slightly increased from the regular season; and his assists have gone up 1.5 per game in the postseason.
Now, of course, it’s only logical that Thompson’s production and opportunities would increase with Curry out. And the 2015-16 NBA Playoffs are only 7 games old for the Warriors so it’s hardly a wealthy sample size to make sweeping proclamations. But what Thompson has stepped into when his team needed it was a role that he may not relinquish all that quickly – with Curry back or not. Don’t misconstrue what I’m saying – there will NOT be a battle between the guards to see who the star of the team is (heck if there’s a battle for that, I’m not so sure Draymond Green wouldn’t beat the both of them). What may happen is the birth of a second star, who will fill the role his team needs him to fill but has all the ability in the world to step up and do much more when called upon to do so. That’s the trick that NBA teams and players can’t quite seem to figure out – LeBron and D-Wade couldn’t figure that out in Miami or else they would have collected more than 2 titles. The feeling around the league is you gather as much talent as possible and throw multiple stars together and the winning will just happen – that’s why rumors still persist about LeBron uniting with BFFs Chris Paul, Carmelo, and, again, with Wade. Superstars = Rings. But that’s proven to not always be the best formula to follow. And while these Warriors have supremely talented players, they all fit roles that they accept and thrive in. No question that Steph is a superstar (and face of the NBA), Klay is stating his case, and Draymond Green has established himself as one of the most well-rounded players in all of basketball. But these guys know what their team needs to be successful. That’s why they won last year against King James in the Finals. That’s why they bumped Michael and the Bulls from the top of the mountain and went 73-9. And that’s why – Steph or no Steph — no one should overlook them right now.