Before Jason Thompson rolled his left ankle late in last Thursday’s game against Utah, the Kings starting power forward was having an unbelievable five-game stretch. The fourth-year big man out of Rider has had stretches of success in the past, but nothing quite like this.
“Just consistency, being out on the floor, being comfortable, not being in foul trouble and playing my game,” Thompson said last week about his recent surge in play. “I think I’ve always had flashes, but the thing about it is just consistency. You have to have faith in coaches, you have to have faith in me and put it all together.”
Consistency has eluded Thompson in his first three years in the league. Be it coaching changes or erratic play on the floor, Thompson had never really got into a groove like this. Over his last five games, JT is averaging 17.6 points, 13.6 rebounds and three assists, while shooting 66 percent (38-for-58) from the field. He became the double-double machine that many thought he would be after a strong rookie season three years ago.
What’s even more interesting is that Thompson is doing damage from just about everywhere on the floor. Using the NBA’s new box score media tool, we’re now able to break down every scoring opportunity from the Kings’ big man and the tale of the tape is intriguing to say the least.
Catch and finish (13-of-16, 81 percent): Thompson is not known for having Chris Webber-type hands, but after three years in the league, he has improved in this area greatly. The Kings have seen a dramatic surge in assisted baskets since rookie Isaiah Thomas took over at point guard and the video shows that it is a team effort. Thompson is the primary recipient of many of these assists because he is extremely active in transition and in the half court set. Thompson is finishing with power dunks on the break, but even more impressive, he is getting plenty of looks from his teammates as a cutter, especially on the weak side.
Putback/tip-in (9-of-14, 64 percent): Thompson is making a living on the offensive glass. Over the five-game stretch, he grabbed an incredible 24 offensive rebounds and to his credit, he has only gone back up with ten of those boards. Throughout his career, Thompson has lacked the aggressive nature to go up strong and hammer a ball down at the rim. Going all the way back to the Goon Squad Classic, it was apparent that Thompson had gotten past this glitch in his game and the results have been powerful. Be it a dunk or a lay-in, the lid is now off the basket and JT now has the ability to use power or finesse at the rim with either the right or left hand.
Pick and roll (3-of-4, 75 percent): There might be a few more of these opportunities hiding in the catch and finish category, but it is hard to say. Thompson is the Kings’ best pick and roll big right now. He is extremely active setting the pick and he slides to the basket well. More than once, Thompson set the pick, slid to the basket and was the recipient of not the first, but the second pass and he finished very well in these opportunities.
Post-up (5-of-9, 56 percent): This is probably the biggest improvement in Thompson’s game. As the season has developed, JT has shown the ability to score in a variety of different ways with his back to the basket. He can go either to the right or left hand as I said earlier, but his patience in the post is a revelation. Thompson is now under control and has great timing and extension on his shot around the basket. Of his misses in the paint, most are blocked shots on solid defensive plays. It would be nice to see Thompson get a few more looks in the low block.
Jump Shot (7-of-11, 64 percent): Thompson used to be known for his top of the key jumper. In fact, at the end of last season, he really opened things up for Cousins on the inside with his 18 to 20 foot shot. Of all of the stats, this is probably the most deceiving. Thompson went 5-for-6 from with his jumper against the Boston Celtics and only 2-for-5 in the other four games. Against Boston, he took and made shots from all over the floor, including some nice baseline 18-footers. With Cousins developing a high-post game, there will be nights when Thompson may only shoot a single jump shot from the perimeter, which is sort of what these numbers bear out.
Off-the-dribble (1-of-4, 25 percent): The bad news? Thompson shot 25 percent off the dribble. The good news is he only took four shots. Surprisingly, the tape was much more generous than you would think in regards to Thompson driving the ball to the hoop. While he missed a few shots, he got all the way to the rim from both the right and left baseline very effectively, but in the end, he got a couple bad bounces. While you don’t typically want a 6-foot-11 player taking someone off the dribble, Thompson mixing in a take or two isn’t a disaster.
Thompson missed his second straight game Monday in Houston and the team suffered. As the season wears on, expect more of the same from Thompson. He is a tireless worker and at the end of the day, every big game he has is money in the bank as he faces free agency for the first time this summer. Word is the Kings will tender a qualifying offer for Thompson, making him a restricted free agent, which allows the team to match any offer for the 25-year old forward. That’s probably wise.
There is still room for growth in Thompson’s game. He is shooting a career low 57.5 percent from the free throw line and he struggles to defend against stretch fours. But according to 82games.com, the Kings as a team are much more effective when Thompson is in the game. It’s not unexpected that the Kings are a better offensive and defensive rebounding team when Thompson plays. What is surprising is that the Kings’ assist percentage goes up five percent with Thompson on the floor. The Kings are also slightly better on both the offensive and defensive end when Thompson plays, versus when he doesn’t.
There is more good news. Thompson has improved where a big man’s game is supposed to improve. His field goal percentage has steadily increased over the last two seasons to the robust 52 percent we see today. Per 36 minutes, Thompson has shaved his turnovers from 2.3 per game as a rookie to just 1.5 this season. He also led the league in personal fouls as a rookie, averaging a whopping 4.9 per 36. That number has improved every season and currently stands at just 3.3 fouls per 36 minutes. He is maturing and the growth is noticeable.
This lockout-shortened season began with uncertainty for Jason Thompson, but he has proven his worth to the Kings and 29 other teams around the league. You should expect a heavy dose of double-doubles down the stretch as Thompson, Cousins, Evans, Thornton and Thomas work to form long-term chemistry for Keith Smart.
Statistical support for this story from NBA.com.