The 2023 NBA Draft is one of the more highly anticipated drafts in the past decade partly because of the talent at the top of the draft. Def Pen Sports will be breaking down 14 of the best NBA prospects that have declared for the draft this year. Next is Ausar Thompson, our first non-college player of the series and the first of the Thompson twins we will cover. Thompson played for Overtime Elite for the last two years instead of heading to college. He was in the highly thought of 2021 high school class that produced a number of excellent prospects. Most are probably unfamiliar with Ausar Thompson’s game so let’s take a look at what makes Thompson such a highly thought-of prospect.
Thompson is a highly intelligent player on both ends of the floor and it shows with the ball in his hands on offense. He’s a very good passer and excels as a ball handler which stands out at his size (6’7″) where he can play as a point and really take advantage of size mismatches. He’s an excellent passer when skipping the ball ahead and has a great feel for finding open shooters. Thompson does a good job of making decisions quickly, especially in transition where he operated quite often when playing for Overtime Elite. At this moment he’s not a great pick-and-roll creator but shows enough flashes to show it’s a skill he can and should improve on with more reps in the league.
Defensively that IQ flashes constantly, especially when off the ball. His ability to help as a shot blocker and be in a good position is where it stands out. He combines excellent athleticism with a top brain to make plays defensively that not most NBA prospects aren’t capable of this early in their development. Even if the offensive part of his game from a scoring standpoint doesn’t elevate beyond improved spot-up shooting, the IQ he possesses does give him a decently high floor to fall back on.
Ausar Thompson has excellent athleticism with quick bursts and uses it to great advantage, especially with the ball in his hands. He’s a bouncy athlete like his brother which makes him effective around the rim as a scorer as well as a rebounder. The rebounding is a key piece of his game that allows him to take the ball off the rim and really push things in transition. This athleticism also comes in handy for him as a defender where he slides his feet laterally with ease. The way he moves about the court is pretty special and his body control is special even for an NBA player. Not many players are able to usually combine such elite athletic traits with a high-level basketball mind like Thompson has. Most players with such high IQs are often compensating for a lack of athleticism. All of this is what helps make Thompson such an intriguing prospect and if the shooting ability ever catches up somewhat to the passing and athleticism he has a chance to be a really high-level player in the NBA.
Simply put it’s the weakest part of his game and the thing holding him back from being a no-doubt prospect. The three-point shooting is an issue at this moment and defenders in his league already began sagging off him which caused spacing issues with him and his brother both being unable to reliably hit jumpers. The free throw numbers being in the 60% range is not a great indicator of his future success as a shooter. He’s not quite Ben Simmons where he refuses to shoot them but it’s clearly an issue as of now where he has no consistency. It’s something you’d hope would have truly improved as he was a professional versus playing in college where time can be limited by class at times. He has shown a decent mid-range pull-up jumper but he regressed in that category this past season versus his first season out of high school. If he can be even a mediocre shooter who needs to be somewhat respected it will be huge for his future prospects.
NBA Comparison: Shaun Livingston
This comparison is a bit odd, but some of the similarities are there in terms of the way they play in some ways. Thompson has that mid-range pull-up he’s comfortable with like Livingston’s deadly mid-range. Thompson just has a higher level of athleticism, which maybe pre-injury Livingston could have come close to but post-injury could obviously not. Livingston was a 6’7″ point guard who used his brain and size to play well similar to how Thompson will need to play early on before the shooting comes along, if he ever does. Thompson will likely rely on that defensive ability and his ability to be a connector within his offense. It will be interesting to see if Thompson gets moved off the ball or if a team lets him run their offense early on in his career.