OAKLAND — Klay Thompson failed to make any of the three All-NBA teams Thursday, and by now, you’ve probably seen his reaction. He looked as if he had been cheated out of a potential $30 million in salary and, moreover, out of his rightful place among his contemporaries.
Was Thompson robbed?
Well, yes and no. Please allow me to explain.
The first-team guards are Thompson’s Warriors teammate, Stephen Curry, and Houston’s James Harden, a unanimous choice. No beef there. Each is exactly where he belongs.
The second-team guards are Portland’s Damian Lillard and Boston’s Kyrie Irving. Lillard is an easy call. The choice of Irving, who was as inconsistent as the Celtics, is debatable.
The third-team guards are Oklahoma City’s Russell Westbrook and Charlotte’s Kemba Walker. Both can be — and should be — debated. Westbrook is a stat monster, and that is worth something.
But all six guards share something that sets them apart from Klay. Each is his team’s leader and the primary dictator of its fortunes. Each is responsible for running his team’s offense, and all six teams tend to follow the path paved by those six players.
The only one of the six teams not to reach the playoffs is Walker’s Hornets, who were eliminated in the final days of the regular season. The general consensus, however, is that Charlotte has Kemba as its No. 1 and that he was surrounded by a bunch of No. 3s, No. 4s, No. 7s and No. 8s. No one familiar with the NBA could argue against the notion that Walker had a fabulous season but still is saddled with a mediocre supporting cast.
The Hornets finished 39-43. Without Walker, they don’t win 30.
Thompson has been spared mediocrity for all but his rookie season, 2011-12, the last in which the Warriors missed the playoffs. He was a part-time starter then, and since has become a crucial member of one of the best teams in NBA history.
Never, though, has there been a season or even a month in which Thompson was forced to serve as dominating scorer as well as a primary facilitator. The leadership burden he bears is not nearly as heavy as those borne by the six players voted ahead of him.
By that measure, Thompson doesn’t belong on the All-NBA team. He was eighth in the voting among guards. What’s criminal is that he somehow finished behind Washington’s Bradley Beal.
By any other measure, though, Thompson belongs. When one considers his two-way responsibilities, it’s silly to argue against him being one of the six best guards in the league.
“The guy is a machine,” Warriors coach Steve Kerr said. “It’s incredible how he moves offensively and then pursues his man defensively. He usually plays on the ball defensively and does a lot of switching, guards post men after a switch. The physical stamina that Klay displays is amazing. He leads us in minutes played.
“He’s just ... he’s a machine out there.”
Thompson’s ability as an elite defender and off-the-ball offensive threat allows Curry to play his game at its best. The two are a wonderful complement because each has assets that offset the imperfections of the other.
What could not be taken away from Thompson was his selection to the All-Defensive second team. It’s overdue by at least two years.
“He should have been first,” Draymond Green, also voted to the second team, said of Thompson
Thompson said he was grateful for the acknowledgement, describing it as a “huge honor” and motivation for the future.
But he clearly is rankled by the All-NBA snub. Thompson believes, rightfully, that he’s one of the six best guards in the league.
“I respect those guys, but when you go to five straight [Finals], it takes more than just a couple All-NBA guys,” Thompson said. “It’s like an all-time team.
“But whatever. I’d rather win a championship than be third team all-NBA, so it’s all good.”
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Thompson is, for my nickel, the best two-way guard in the league. But All-NBA honors are less about who is best than about which player is more valuable to his team. Irving, Westbrook and Walker are even more crucial to their team than Thompson is to his.
That’s the best, maybe only, way to make sense of Thompson not finishing among the top six.