NBA 75th anniversary team: Klay Thompson, through lens of Reggie Miller’s career, is right to feel slighted

The NBA unveiled its 75th anniversary team this week, which is to say, theoretically, these are the best 75 players of all-time (actually it was 76 because of what was called a “tie”) in the opinions of those who had votes, and as was certain to happen with an endeavor like this, some notable names were left off. Klay Thompson was one of them, and he is not happy about it. 

Here was Thompson’s initial response, via his Instagram account, to the snub:

Then, after sleeping on it, he came back stronger with a post that has since been deleted:

Thompson did not need to delete this post. He’s right. He should’ve been on the list. There are, in all likelihood, a couple reasons he was not. First, all 50 players who made the original all-time team back in 1996 just happened to make the cut again. So you’re telling me that with 25 extra years of evidence and consideration, as players and athletes have become irrefutably better with each passing era, every single one of the first 50 still got enough votes? 

Either there was some sort of wink-wink mandate that all the original honorees must retain their spot so as to not stir up any feelings, or enough voters applied that qualification to their own criteria that it played out the same way. That makes it a bogus list right off the bat. 

Second, Thompson is thought of as a supporting player. He is the second-greatest 3-point shooter in history who happens to play in the same backcourt as the best shooter in history. I’m going to use Reggie Miller as a lens in Thompson’s greatness, but don’t make the mistake of thinking that means Miller shouldn’t be on the list, too. He should. They both should. Somebody from back when they couldn’t dribble with their off-hand should be gone. Take your pick. But Miller is an easy comp because he and Thompson are such similar players. Their teams were just different. 

Miller was a No. 1 option by default. Believe me, if Miller played with Stephen Curry and Kevin Durant, he would not have been “the man” getting all the plays called for him. But he had that distinction next to the likes of Mark Jackson, Haywoode Workman, Derrick McKey and Vern Fleming, and having that distinction colors these conversations in his favor. 

The reality is that Miller averaged 18.6 points per game for his career. Through his prime, he was a 21-22 PPG guy, pretty much dead on with Thompson on similar attempt numbers. But while Miller was a career 39 percent 3-point shooter, Thompson, through his first eight seasons, is a 42 percent 3-point shooter (on higher volume) who has never shot below 40 percent in a single season. Miller, on the other hand, only had three campaigns in which his single-season 3-point average topped Thompson’s career average. 

Reggie was a monster playoff performer. He was 39 percent from 3 for his postseason career, topping out at 42 percent in a single playoff run that went deeper than the first round, which he did twice. Thompson, a career 41 percent postseason 3-point shooter, has shot better than 42 percent from 3 in four of his six playoff runs that have gone beyond the first round. 

Miller’s best 3-point run was 1994-95 when he shot 42 percent from 3 on 7.5 attempts per game. The last time we saw Klay in the playoffs was 2018-19 when he shot 44 percent from 3 on the same exact 7.5 attempts per game. 

All of this is to say: Shooting is the calling card of both Thompson and Miller, and Thompson is very clearly a better shooter. Throw in the fact that Thompson is a significantly superior defender, and the gap gets wider. Add Thompson’s three championships to Miller’s zero, and it gets even wider. Over 18 seasons, Miller made the All-Star team five times. Thompson, in a far more talent-rich era, has matched that number in less than half the career. Miller made two All-NBA teams, both third team. Thompson already has two such nods. And again, that’s despite the disadvantage of not being his team’s offensive focal point. 

Now, some might say that fact has actually worked in Thompson’s favor, getting to exist in the shadow of Curry and Durant where wide-open shots fall in his lap. If you watch Thompson at all, you know he is not simply making wide-open shots. He is an absolute tough-shot maker and his off-ball movement is nearly as elite as Miller’s was. 

That said, I do agree that Miller had to take and make consistently tougher shots, not only because he was the defensive focus but because the rules of his era allowed defenders to grab and hold him as he was moving through screens. That affects shooters to a degree beyond what stats can capture. 

So let’s generously say that accounts for the difference in the shooting percentages, and Thompson, given a similar role in Miller’s era, would be closer to Miller’s numbers. Fine. I don’t agree with it, but fine. The defense still swings the argument in Thompson’s favor. 

I mean, for all the Miller playoff moments that we recall with great nostalgia, it is Thompson who holds the record for the most made 3-pointers in a playoff game with 11, which he did in 2016, the famous Game 6, against Oklahoma City to save the 73-win Warriors with one of the all-time heroic performances. 

Thompson also holds the NBA record for most made 3-pointers in a regular-season game with 14. He also holds the records for most points in a single quarter with 37 and most points in under 30 minutes of action with 60, which he hung, ironically enough, against the Pacers in 2016, needing just 29 minutes and 11 dribbles to establish a scoring pace that fell just shy of Wilt Chamberlain’s legendary 100-point game. 

Klay Thompson is a better player than Reggie Miller. Old heads won’t like that. But it’s true. Again, that doesn’t mean Reggie should have been left off the list. He absolutely deserved that recognition. Miller was, quite frankly, a no-brainer. Which makes it all the more difficult to understand how Thompson could have been overlooked.