Imagine a world in which former NBA player Dell Curry had no children, besides his daughter Sydel. No, that’s not right. Imagine a world in which Curry’s only son with the same career choice as him was Seth Curry. Seth is a solid young role player in the league, looking to prove himself after signing a two-year contract with the Dallas Mavericks this past summer. However, in this scenario, Dell’s other son isn’t a pro basketball player. Maybe he becomes a State Farm agent, maybe something else – just anything other than an NBA player. Stephen Curry doesn’t take the league by storm, doesn’t win back-to-back Most Valuable Player awards, and doesn’t break numerous records on route to becoming widely considered to be the best shooter of all time. In this scenario, there are no Splash Brothers playing for the Golden State Warriors – just one terrific shooter: Klay Thompson. Without Curry, what happens to Thompson? Let’s try to answer that question, in terms of Thompson’s playing style and public perception, as well as his career’s potential legacy.
Where Would Klay Thompson Be Without Stephen Curry?
For the purposes of this article, let’s ignore the butterfly effect and just focus on Thompson. Let’s say that the Warriors still end up drafting Thompson in 2011. Let’s say that they still feel the need to trade Monta Ellis for Andrew Bogut in 2012, clearing room for Thompson to start at shooting guard. Assume that they assemble essentially the same team as the one that surrounded Curry and Thompson over the past few years, but without Curry. (In this world, Kevin Durant doesn’t join the Dubs this summer, either). The only major change is Curry being replaced by an average starting point guard. Enjoy your imaginary trip to the Bay Area, George Hill!
Let’s start with the on-court product. If not for Curry, what would Thompson’s playing style look like? The truth is that Thompson’s game likely wouldn’t change much; he’d just take more of the same types of shots, which would obviously lead to him scoring more points. As the number one option, Thompson would play a lot like an evolutionary Ray Allen (from his Seattle Supersonics days) or Reggie Miller (in his prime years). Similarly to how he does now, Thompson would come off screens for plenty of catch-and-shoot threes every game; the major difference would be the volume of those particular attempts. A player like Hill would primarily be looking for Thompson, rather than his own shots (like Curry does), which would give Thompson many more catch-and-shoot opportunities.
But just like Allen and Miller before him, Thompson’s arsenal goes far beyond easy jumpers off the catch. Thompson can put the ball on the floor and attack the basket, either in isolation or off of a kick-out pass. He’s also great in pick-and-rolls, with a deadly pull-up jumper and plenty of other weapons off the dribble. Thompson’s driving ability, when he’s aggressive, is a huge threat; but just like with Allen’s ferocious dunks, people overlook that aspect of his game simply because his shooting is so outstanding.
Thompson Would Top Ray Allen and Reggie Miller
Having made the comparison to Allen and Miller already, it’s worth pointing out that Thompson would actually, in all likelihood, prove to be a better player than those two, if he were a number one option. Playing alongside Curry, the NBA’s leading scorer at about 30 points per game last season, Thompson still averaged 22.1 PPG. Without Curry, Thompson would almost surely match and likely exceed Allen’s scoring average of about 26.4 points from the 2006-07 season, the highest that either Allen or Miller achieved in any season during their careers. Equipped with all of the scoring tools to rival the two legends, Thompson also has a solid post game, a valuable skill that Allen and Miller never really developed. Additionally, Thompson is better defensively than Allen and Miller ever were. His ability to guard three positions on the perimeter and take on the assignment of defending a tough opposing scorer each night is game-changing. Without Curry, Thompson might not be able to do that for full games, as he’d already have to carry quite a burden on offense. However, Thompson would still certainly be able to step up and defend great players in key moments of playoff games, something that LeBron James has done in the past.
The Perception and Legacy of Thompson Without Curry
Now, just remember one thing: in this fictional world, Curry isn’t just on a different NBA team; he’s out of the picture entirely. We’re not just erasing Steph Curry as Klay Thompson’s teammate; we’re erasing the concept of Steph Curry. Erasing the concept of a guy who can make 12 threes in a game, including a game-winning shot from nearly half-court. Erasing the concept of a guy who can make over 400 threes in a season, more than the totals of six different teams in certain individual seasons from 2007 to 2012. Why is that important? Well, because it gives Thompson a whole new legacy, beyond just the Allen/Miller thing. In this scenario, Thompson is the one who becomes the greatest shooter of all time.
Thompson’s Potential Legacy
Curry has three of the top four seasons ever in terms of total three-pointers made; Thompson has the other one, which he achieved this past season. Sure, Curry lapped the field by over 120 threes, but think about the imagined scenario. With Curry not around to jack up over 11 threes per game, Thompson could shoot and make even more threes than he and Curry each have over the past few years. Keep in mind that even though he didn’t match Curry, Thompson still attempted more than eight threes per game, while maintaining incredible efficiency at 42.5 percent from beyond the arc. Without Curry, Thompson would continue to tear the league apart with moments like his historic 37-point quarter, but Curry wouldn’t be there to outshine him. Instead, Thompson might be the one making people re-think what’s possible on a basketball court and even suggest changing the rules to account for his incredible proficiency from the outside. Just by doing what he does now, but shooting as much as Curry currently does, Thompson would be able to shock people with his incredible shooting and carve out a legacy as the best shooter ever. After all, in a world where Curry’s legendary shooting performances never happened, Thompson’s accomplishments would appear all the more impressive.
Would Thompson Become Less Efficient?
Some might argue that Thompson’s efficiency would drop off without Curry there to draw attention away from him, and they wouldn’t be wrong. Curry also forces the opposing team’s best perimeter defender to guard him, rather than Thompson, for most of the game. The thinking is that Curry has made Thompson a much better player, no different than the effect that other great players, especially point guards, have on their teammates. Perhaps Thompson wouldn’t shoot as well, or at as high a volume, without Curry there to push him to improve in practice and elsewhere.
But even if Thompson were to lose some efficiency, he’d still be an incredible shot maker. He routinely hits tough fade-away jumpers, contested threes, and countless shots that other players couldn’t dream of making. Curry had very little to do with some of Thompson’s best performances ever, including the aforementioned 37-point quarter and his lights out shooting in Game 6 of last season’s Western Conference Finals. In the latter performance, Thompson almost singlehandedly saved Golden State’s season, willing them to victory with his shooting. He made shots that were just about as contested as humanly possible, and weren’t influenced by Curry’s presence on the floor. So Thompson might be less efficient without Curry, but he certainly wouldn’t be any less efficient than another star like Paul George, who shot below 42 percent from the field last season. If anything, his effective field goal percentage might improve because of his expected increase in three-point attempts.
Curry Without Thompson Beats Thompson Without Curry
It must have crossed your mind, at some point during this exercise, that if this scenario were reversed, Curry would be better off than Thompson and perhaps even more remarkable than he is currently. That’s absolutely correct, but it’s irrelevant to the point. Everyone already knows how great Curry is, from hardcore NBA fans to people who just watch clips of him taking the tunnel shot on SportsCenter. Without Thompson to rival Curry and make him seem human, perhaps Curry would have even more of a mystique. But besides that, Curry has already achieved countless incredible things. Maybe he could do even more, in this imaginary scenario, but it doesn’t get much more elite than winning the MVP in consecutive seasons. Fans are lining up an hour and a half before games just to watch Curry warm up; in this scenario, would they show up even earlier? No. There’s a certain limit that Curry would reach, because he’s already been a clear number one option and superstar for years. But Thompson has played second fiddle his whole career. That’s why it’s so fascinating to dream of what Klay would be if Curry wasn’t there to overshadow him.
All of these counterarguments are useless – not because they’re not true, but because they don’t really refute the point of this exercise. Yes, Curry would be better off without Thompson than the other way around – so what? We’re trying to see how Thompson would look as “the guy”, which Curry already is, so thinking about the reverse scenario is irrelevant. Maybe Thompson would be less efficient without Curry, but that should be expected of a player who’s never been a number one option. He’d still be great, and he’d be even more prolific as an all-around scorer.
The main point is that Thompson isn’t, nor will he ever be appreciated for how mind-blowing some of his performances and accomplishments have been. And that’s simply because his teammate’s accomplishments have been more mind-blowing – there’s no other reason.
With Durant, yet another historically great scorer and perimeter shooter, joining the Warriors this summer, Thompson will surely see his role reduced even further. But you know what? Thompson is fine with that, as he should be. In fact, all of his public statements indicate that he’s been happy for Curry during the MVP’s spectacular two-year run, and he’s thrilled about the addition of Durant. That’s what being a good teammate, and by extension, a good friend, is all about. Klay Thompson doesn’t feel the need to demand more shots or an alpha dog scoring role. He doesn’t need to be the best shooter ever – even if he feels like he is sometimes – because his teammate has that title. But it’s fun to imagine Klay taking on that role and becoming the player that everyone knows he can be.