After finishing up this roster, I plan on writing a couple of post mortem pieces where I discuss possible lineups and defend the players I left off.
For the last three players, I had to adjust my philosophy a little bit. Since good playoff teams usually go only eight or nine players deep, I needed to select three glue guys. By this I mean players who will make an impact off the bench while happily take a reduced role. Sorry for the spoiler, but this means that guys like Kobe and Melo will definitely NOT make these last three spots on the All-Decade team. Let’s finish this.
For lack of better terms, Klay Thompson is a treasure. A famously low-maintenance star whose penchant for dopey antics is refreshing in the social media era. When asked if Klay is aware of his fame, teammate Draymond Green responded:
He don’t care. I don’t think Klay knows. Matter of fact, I know he don’t know. It’s funny, I watch it sometimes and it be like, ‘Man, this dude just don’t understand how big he really is.’ … That’s a pleasure to watch. You’d much rather have that than the opposite way. That can be a team-killer.”Thompson and Curry are great shooters and even better teammates, Scott Ostler 2015
On the court, this manifests as a player who doesn’t need to dominate the ball to impact a game. Back in 2016, Klay famously scored 60 points while only dribbling 11 times. During the previous season, he broke the single-quarter scoring record with 37 points while shooting 9-9 from three. This combination of fitting next to other superstars and being able to go supernova is invaluable to a super team.
Somehow though, these two performances pale in comparison to his game 6 of the 2016 Western Conference Finals. Down an insurmountable 3-1 in the series, Klay erupted for 41 points on some of the most audacious shooting in NBA history. Either he’s not afraid of “The” moment, or, like Draymond’s quote, Klay simply is unaware of the stakes. Regardless, it makes him a near perfect combination of skills for an NBA shooter.
Defensively, the discussion around Klay is somewhat controversial. Announcers and fans alike fawn over his ability which culminated in a 2nd Team All-Defense selection in 2019. However, most impact metrics paint him as an average to sub-par defender.
Ben Taylor’s breakdown is the gold standard for evaluating Klay’s defense, so I’ll provide the Sparknotes version. Klay is a tremendously flexible defender who can handle strong or quick perimeter players alike. Next to Curry, this is necessary to cover Curry’s one-on-one deficiencies. It also allows him to switch 1-4 without giving up much value. These skills all make him a great defender.
Conversely, Klay struggles off-ball. He will lose sight of his man while being burned by back cuts and the like. Combined with weak rebounding numbers and steal numbers for an all-defensive player, Klay is far from a perfect defensive player. Overall though, he’s great in a switch-happy system like the one being built in this All-Decade team.
Similar to Klay, Lillard’s biography will begin with a couple of indelible playoff moments. First, he ended the Harden/Howard Rockets’ playoff run with a three from an out-of-bounds play. Then, 5 years later, he finished off the Westbrook/George Thunder with a shot that George later described as a “bad shot” (he’s right, but whatever).
Along with his clutch moments, Lillard will also be remembered for his tremendous leadership. In 2019, GMs voted him as the best leader in the NBA, and in his own words, being a good leader is “working hard and being coachable and allowing coaches to challenge you and allowing your teammates to hold you accountable.” Teammate Meyers Leonard claimed that “He’s as humble now as he was [the night I met him].” Obviously this sort of mentality has made him the loyal bedrock of Portland’s team this decade, but I also think it would transfer to being a player whose minutes as a backup point guard would be sporadic on this All-Decade team.
Offensively, Lillard thrives off being the main ball handler in pick-and-roll situations. According to Synergy, he scored in the 95th percentile, and these possessions made up a whopping 44% of his total offensive possessions. His reliance on this sort of ball dominance is worrying to me, but in the 5% of possessions that he spotted up, he scored in the 96th percentile. Hopefully his willingness to have the Blazers sign Carmelo Anthony speaks to an openness to playing off the ball more.
The major elephant in the room is Lillard’s notorious’y bad defense. Bleacher Report ranked him the fifth worst defender in the NBA back in 2017. Moreover, in his eight-year stint in Portland, the Blazers have had a defense worse than average six times. When surrounded by the defensive likes of Nurkic, Aminu, Ed Davis, and Harkless, they peaked at a defense 2.2 points per 100 possessions better than league average which sits in the 74th percentile since 1990.
Ultimately, I’m okay with this for two reasons. First, point guard defense is not as impactful or necessary for a team’s overall defense. They’re not going to grab the majority of rebounds or protect the rim in any game-changing way meaning that Lillard shouldn’t hurt the team that badly if surrounded by good defensive talent. Second, Lillard is my true backup if Curry gets injured. In that situation, Lillard’s game and skill set is similar (enough) to Curry that the All-Decade team wouldn’t need to change their style.
Duncan’s illustrious career of being a great teammate and a winner is well-documented. Popovich and Duncan established a 19-year dynastic stretch of winning that hasn’t been seen in any of America’s four-major sports (if I’m wrong about this, don’t @ me because I only watch basketball).
The 2012-13 season was particularly special for Duncan because of a newfound tenacity in staying fit. He dropped weight, improved his knee health, and anchored a defense that was 4.3 points better than league average on defense (90th percentile since 1990). Throughout his 19 years with the Spurs, the worst defense he anchored (2012) was 1.4 points better than league average (68th percentile since 1990). Please read that again. 68th percentile was the worst defense he anchored in 19 years. Want one more shocking statistic? Okay. Six of his teams ranked in the 98th percentile or above since 1990.
Duncan is known as one of the greatest defensive players ever, and he might be underrated on defense.
More than anything, his offensive firepower took a hit. He went from being a dominant low-post scorer to a cog in an offensive machine. In the words of Ben Taylor:
“He improved as an extra-passer in his final act, serving as valuable connective tissue in the Spurs hot-potato offense. By 2011, his isolation shifted into full old-man mode, relying on guile to provide post scoring in bursts.”Backpicks GOAT: #7 Tim Duncan , Ben Taylor 2018
However, similar to my defense of picking 2016 Kawhi, I see Duncan’s offensive change as an asset to the All-Decade team. Offensive post ups should be used sparingly in a healthy offense especially if the end goal is to take a shot. As Brad Stevens said to Zach Lowe, “It’s a vehicle for playing inside-out.” Regardless, Duncan scored in the 78th percentile in post-ups, and he scored in the 94th percentile in offensive put backs (according to Synergy).
At the end of the day, 36 year old Duncan would probably welcome a significantly reduced role. If Gasol is injured (or Davis absolutely refuses to play center), Duncan can more than adequately cover the center position.
The All-Decade Journey Continues
And that wraps up the All-Decade team’s 12-man roster! The next article will cover various strategies and lineups with this roster, and then I’ll conclude with a defense of my cuts.
Follow me on Twitter at @codyhoudek for more of my content.
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