2023 Orlando Magic Draft Preview: Ausar Thompson is potential and risk

Dec 9, 2022; Atlanta, GA, USA; City Reapers guard Ausar Thompson (0) shown during the game against the Cold Hearts at Overtime Elite. Mandatory Credit: Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports
Dec 9, 2022; Atlanta, GA, USA; City Reapers guard Ausar Thompson (0) shown during the game against the Cold Hearts at Overtime Elite. Mandatory Credit: Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports /

The options for the top prospects entering the NBA Draft have never been greater.

This is not the days of the 2000s when players were entering the league straight out of high school only on talent and grainy videotape. The basketball industry has evolved on both sides of the Draft process.

Teams are much more sophisticated in looking at what they need and what will work on an NBA court. Analytics are only as strong as the data they have in front of them, but that way of thinking and evaluating the game has made it easier to pick out which high school prospects will wow and which ones may falter.

Teams know who is coming down the pipeline and are increasingly better at identifying those players and their flaws as they prepare for the draft process.

This only complicates things for front-office executives even as these avenues gear players more toward life in the pros. The evaluation process does not change, but the context becomes even more important.

Prospects have their options now too from the traditional college route to the G-League Ignite program to playing overseas to, now, the new Overtime Elite professional league.

The context facing Ausar Thompson is important as looking at his talent. That makes the choice to draft him even more difficult as the Orlando Magic examine whether to take the promising wing.

At the end of the day, all draft selections are just educated guesses. And so the process becomes how much can you trust the context of what you are seeing? The questions pins down to what really matters in a draft selection.

This is where both Ausar Thompson and Amen Thompson sit as they prepare to enter the NBA Draft. They played in the upstart Overtime Elite league. It is meant to be another alternative for players in their gap year that would give participants the chance to play professional basketball with education and teaching to prepare these young athletes for life in the pros.

It is a developmental league for high-level high school athletes that supplements basketball with off-court training and schooling.

The Thompson twins were the jewels of the early years of the league. They spent the last two years in his experience. And both players displayed their talent.

But notice we have spent 350 words explaining the context of their pre-NBA experience before actually talking about their games (today we are focusing on Ausar). The context matters and hangs a cloud over the proceedings.

OTE is just so unproven and unknown in NBA circles because of how new it is, nobody has any frame of reference for the league’s success rate. And the eye test for the league was. . . rough to say the least.

Still, Ausar Thompson (along with his brother Amen) were the standouts of the league by far. The league literally made their team trade players to try and create competitive balance. And they still won the league.

Winning should matter. And Ausar Thompson played his best during the league’s postseason. No matter the level of competition that should stand out.

For the regular season, Thompson averaged 16.3 points per game, 7.1 rebounds per game and 6.1 assists per game on 48.1/29.8/66.2 shooting splits. In the playoffs, he averaged a team-best 21.0 points per game, 5.2 rebounds per game and 4.8 assists per game on shooting splits of 44.7/38.5/82.4.

That is just a lot of confusion to sort through.

What everyone should know about Thompson is he was one of the more dominant and well-rounded players in the league. He has the skills to be a scorer with the size to rebound and the playmaking chops to pass.

It is better to know that he can do these things, regardless of the competition he is facing. And the fact he stepped up his shooting and efficiency in the playoffs at least suggests that he has another level he can reach.

But it is all so muddied. The level of competition was not particularly strong — there are not really any other OTE athletes being considered for this draft — and his numbers still have a lot of holes. Especially with his shooting, which is such an important need for the Orlando Magic.

Still, the tape does not lie a ton. And there is plenty to work with Thompson.

Thompson measured at 6-foot-5.75 without shoes with a 7-foot wingspan at the NBA Draft Combine (he did not participate in any of the athletic measurements or drills although he measured a 42-inch vertical at the OTE’s combine in 2021). That size was apparent from the way that he played.

So too was his athleticism. Both he and his brother are extremely good athletes who use their size well to work past defenders and get to the rim. Ausar’s brother Amen is ranked ahead among the two because Amen is a better finisher and better playmaker on the ball.

Where Ausar really thrived was on defense. And he should be able to use his size, quickness and athleticism to get after opponents. He might need some time to adjust to the higher level of competition where his athleticism will not completely take over, but this is niche and at least the way he differentiated himself from his brother.

If there is one thing that clearly pops out about Ausar Thompson and his tape, it is his defensive motor and ability. If he embraces that identity, he will contribute early in his career while the rest of his game rounds into form.

The question is just how much the rest of his game rounds into form.

Like most of the long-limbed athletes who have previously entered the NBA Draft, he is able to score in transition with ease and athleticism. It is honing that athleticism in the half-court that will be the challenge.

Both the Thompsons have some major shooting concerns. Even in OTE, they struggled with their shot. And it is something both players are keenly aware.

Ausar Thompson at least had a hot-shooting run through the playoffs. That certainly raised some eyebrows. And a lot of people think Thompson can round into a decent shooter.

His ability to make plays off the dribble and in transition for others is going to be a boost for him. But it all has to get set up with this shot first and foremost.

His spot-up shot still looks like it is a work in progress although he has improved greatly in that area. It is a slow and compact shot at the moment. Perhaps with more reps, it can be more consistent. But that can be tough to develop — and both Amen and Ausar are older than most freshmen in college.

His bad mechanics really show up on his drives. He is not the explosive attacker that his brother is from a stand-still position. And this is where his shot can get really rough as he lacks good touch around the basket. His footwork is not great either pulling up and stopping on a dime to set up his shot.

It is all still a major work in progress.

The fact he struggled with this at OTE does not bode well for the step up to the NBA. At least not immediately.

Still, the hints that he can get there are all there. He can get himself downhill and into good scoring positions. It is just about finishing and absorbing contact effectively.

If everything continues to develop, Ausar Thompson should be a player who is able to contribute at a high level. He can be a player who gets downhill toward the basket and finishes with force or a player who defends and spreads the floor with some cutting and slashing abilities.

The upside is undeniable even if there are some gaps that need to be reached.

Ultimately, it is still very hard to tell what makes the most sense with a player like Thompson. There are clear strengths that an NBA team can build on.

Players who defend and play with energy will always find a place. Especially as teams try to quicken the pace and use different pressure and switching schemes to try to create advantages and fast-break opportunities. Thompson fits that description.

The lack of shooting though, even if there is still something to develop, means a team like the Magic are betting fully on his upside and development over what he is now. Then again, really any team drafting Ausar Thompson is betting on his reaching his potential. Perhaps the cover of a second Lottery pick allows the Magic to take a chance on him.

What anyone thinks of Ausar Thompson though depends so much on that context of his play and how much you can value it.

Next. NBA Draft Preview: Gradey Dick is the perfect shooter for Orlando Magic. dark

What is clear is that Thompson is talented but he will need time to round himself into form and determine the player he will ultimately become in the NBA.