On the heels of an underwhelming performance during Findlay Prep's NHSI title run in 2009 and subsequent drop from the top of Scout's rankings, it would be fair to think that expectations for Thompson are lowering. Those approaches to Thompson's game are exceedingly critical and fail to understand the true athleticism and potential that Thompson still possesses, as well his attention to detail, hard work, and continued improvement.
Besides the high hopes resting on his shoulders based on the expectations of Longhorn Nation, the Canadian-born Thompson has the hopes of Canadian hoops on his shoulders as our neighbors to the north hope to make a splash on the basketball scene with prospects like Thompson, former St. Benedict's teammate Myck Kabongo, and current Findlay teammate Cory Joseph. Since there is relatively little competition, Thompson could easily become the best and most successful frontcourt player from Canada.
Coming from Canada and playing basketball at St. Benedict's in New Jersey when he committed, Thompson had no ties to the state of Texas. He was, however, a huge Kevin Durant fan and beggining to watch the Longhorns play when TJ Ford led the team to the Final Four in 2003. Recruiting is a cyclical process with a feedback loop -- the first step is getting a talented recruit to commit to the program. If success comes after that, more players start to notice and more talented players start to commit. For Thompson, by the time that Kevin Durant was showing off his skills as a wing in Austin, it was clear taht Texas was somewhere he was going to consider. He felt comfortable with the city, team, facilities, and coaches, becoming a Longhorn during his sophomore year in high school.
In the midst of a somewhat unrefined game, it's Thompson's motor and activity level, combined with his athleticism, that stand out. ESPN's scouting report ($) summarizes Thompson's skills:
Thompson has only scratched the surface of his immense talent and his best basketball lies ahead of him, however, his play at this point justifies his lofty ranking in the Class of 2010. Thompson has an unparalleled combination of length, athleticism, and a never-ending motor, all of which helps him to make plays on both ends of the court.
When paired with an open-court point guard like former St. Benedict's teammate Myck Kabongo, Thompson has the opportunity to show of his exceptional mobility and ability to finish in transition, either with thunderous dunks after receiving passes from teammates or cleaning up their misses with high-flying follows. Running the court, Thompson is reminiscent of another former Texas player -- LaMarcus Aldridge, except without the whole goofy, high knees thing. An extremely bouncy player as well, Thompson elevates easily and quickly and possesses a high level of coordination for such a tall player -- Thompson truly plays above the rim. As he gains strength, he has also gained explosiveness, making him a truly elite athlete on the interior.
Thompson's ability to handle the basketball in the open-court makes him an even more dangerous weapon in transition, looking like an exceptionally large guard at times in the NHSI, staying as low as possible and keeping his dribble from getting high enough to allow smaller opponents to strip him of the ball -- no easy task for a 6-9 player. Seth Hoffman describes Thompson on the break ($):
Against Mountain State (W.V.) Academy last Friday, Thompson grabbed a rebound and made his way up court. He didn't as much look for a guard-he just went. Avery Bradley, his teammate now and his teammate in two years at Texas, was flanked to his left. By now they've developed an intuitive connection on the court, so Bradley knew what Thompson was thinking and didn't clamor to lead the break. Instead, with a single defender between the two, Thompson bounced a pass with his left hand and Bradley finished with an easy dunk.
A lanky frame will probably keep Thompson from ever developing into a back-to-the-basket banger like Dexter Pittman, but DraftExpress sees a developing post game:
He has no right hand to speak of at this stage, but he shows flashes of drop-steps and turnaround jumpers that he finishes with good touch and follows up strong when he doesn’t. He also will disguise his lack of a right hand by faking a spin left shoulder, showing a decent grasp of counter-moves for someone his age. His moves aren’t highly defined yet, but you can see the immense potential in the amount of range he covers on his moves when he makes them, being able to extend for good separation with ease.
Though the post moves aren't developed, Thompson does an exceptional job craddling the ball like a guard when making moves around the basket, a technique that reduces potential turnovers and creates fouls if helping guards go for strips. In addition to protecting the ball well, Thompson uses another guard skill, an extremely effective jump stop that is difficult to stop for bigs lacking superior foot speed and lateral quickness. Similar to Blake Griffin, he also has a spin move he likes to use in the lane, and combined with his length, the spin allows him to cover a significant amount of ground. Additionally, the Canadian has the advantage of being left-handed, as it takes defenders some time to begin anticipating his release point.
In one AAU game, Thompson was so dominant in creating fouls that he took 22 free throws ($), absolutely dominating the competition.
Generally known as inconsistent shooting the basketball, Thompson does have a capable mid-range game, with the ability to hit from 12-15 off the catch or off the dribble, aided by a soft touch, high release, and good elevation.
Defensively, Thompson has the lateral quickness to switch screens and stay with opposing guards on the perimeter, but his best attribute is his ability to come from the weak side and block shots using his length and leaping ability. A pairing with a true center would allow Thompson to roam free defensively and come from the weak side to block shots and clean up any penetration allowed by the guards. His length (7-1 wingspan) allows him to be a strong rebounder on both the offensive and defensive glass.
Despite some mid-range prowess, as a shooter, Thompson is a work in progress. One picture from the recruiting services shows Thompson taking a jumper with his left elbow sticking out at about a 45-degree angle, form that makes it extremely difficult to shoot straight. In fact, when assessing the purity of a shooter's stroke, the first thing that I often look for is that pure 90-degree angle of the shooting hand underneath the ball. Hard work and repetitions can make up for poor form, but a lack of purity will also remain a limiting factor. To his credit, Thompson's form looked much better in the NHSI and his elbow much more pure.
Since he projects as a face-up power forward on the collegiate level, Thompson needs to improve his jump shot to allow himself greater access to the lane by forcing harder closeouts by defenders. Defenders sagging into the lane when defending Thompson can take away driving angles and reduce Thompson's effectiveness in the half court.
In the post, Thompson needs to work hard to develop his right hand to keep defenders from sitting over his right shoulder. However, Thompson has improved recently in this area, impressiving observers at the recent adidas Nation workouts with his progress.
Standing at 6-9, but weighing only 215 pounds, Thompson needs to add weight to his frame before college, though many observers feel his relatively narrow shoulders limit the amount of strength that he will be able to add. Much more Joakim Noah than Dwight Howard, who was a skinny kid coming out of high school but quickly grew into a man due to his immensely broad shoulders.
The lack of bulk hurts Thompson when defending larger players in the post, as he often got knocked off his defensive spot during the NSHI. It's a problem that players like Connor Atchley and Noah continually face and for which there is little remedy except maximizing leverage by bending the knees and working hard in the weight room. Against powerful opposing power forwards, Thompson probably won't be able to defend on an island in the post. What Thompson can do well is use his athleticism to deny entry passes, something he generally does well in high school, even against top competition.
Though Thompson is generally considered to be extremely athletic, his ability to quickly elevate sometimes seems lacking. It's unclear if he just has a bad habit of waiting too long to elevate in the lane when attempting to finish around the rim, much like Damion James, or if it just makes some time for him to gather himself to properly explode. If Thompson maximize his ability to jump quickly and with elevation when catching the ball around the rim, he should improve his ability to finish, a crucial skill to gain before entering college.
Thompson's future in the NBA is probably as a hybrid forward playing on the wing. To transition to that position, Thompson needs to work more on his shot than his ball-handling, which is adequate and probably more advanced than Damion James. In an effort to manufacture match ups, Rick Barnes will probably play Thompson at the four at times to allow him to face up and use his quickness off of one or two bounces to get into the lane, then occasionally at the three to let him post up and shoot over smaller players.
Aiding the transition to the college game will be the high level of competition he faced while at St. Benedict's, particularly in practice as a freshman, when he went against Louisville's Samardo Samuels and Rutger's Greg Echenique. The competition has stayed high at Findlay, culminating in Thompson's new school beating previously undefeated Oak Hill to win the first annual NHSI. Compared to players competing at normal high schools, the competition Thompson faces will give him a significant advantage when he gets to Texas.
Speaking of Thompson's new school, based on comments by Dan Hurley after dismissing Thompson from St. Benedict's and comments from his current coach, Mike Peck, the Canadian doesn't have character issues that should raise a red flag and is described by most as a good kid. Says Peck:
He's just a likable, nice, good kid. He's been that way since he's been with us and I don't anticipate that changing. I think he is who he is and I think he's a fun-loving, carefree, personality.
If anything, the incident with Hurley should help Thompson advance in his maturation process and more fully understand the necessity of abiding by his coach's orders. Rick Barnes is known as a coach with a quick hook, so Thompson needs to get used to being taken out of the game after making mistakes or not properly fulfilling his role. Recent comments certainly reflect that growing maturity ($):
I learned to be wise on your decisions that you make. Your decisions can make people assume some things about you. Especially with the situation that I had. Some people probably assume that I'm a negative child or a bad kid or soemthing. That's not who I am, that's not the type of child my parents raised me to be.
Tristan Thompson Highlights - PrepTicket.com - From "Sports Stars of Tomorrow with Pat Summerall" (via PrepTicket)