Orlando Magic 2023 NBA Draft Preview: Amen Thompson wants to pave new ground

Dec 9, 2022; Atlanta, GA, USA; City Reapers guard Amen Thompson (1) 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 Amen Thompson (1) shown during the game against the Cold Hearts at Overtime Elite. Mandatory Credit: Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports /

The NBA is changing in a lot of ways.

It is always changing and always evolving in some form or fashion. Whether that is the strategies teams employ or the skill levels of the players.

We are watching an NBA Finals where Nikola Jokic is the best playmaker on the floor from the center position. The Orlando Magic are trying to usher in a new era of pushing the envelope with playmaking forwards in Paolo Banchero and Franz Wagner who move comfortably on the perimeter at 6-foot-10.

The league is always changing. It is always paving new ground.

That is what Amen Thompson — and his brother Ausar Thompson — tried to do in playing for the upstart Overtime Elite. They took a different kind of path to get to the league. They are also two players who are trying to carve a new path through the league too.

They are bigger guards, essentially, able to run the point and set others up. Amen Thompson has gotten some comparison to Derrick Rose for his size and explosiveness in attacking the basket. That is why Thompson is almost the consensus pick at No. 4 in this year’s draft.

Still carving a new path comes with its questions and its doubt. Doing something new and different brings with it mystery and uncertainty.

Amen Thompson brings a lot of unique skills to the NBA as he tries to carve a new path into the league and a new way of playing as a bigger point guard.

What Amen Thompson is doing on the court is not so novel even if it gives him a huge advantage. How he did it going through Overtime Elite and its uncertain level of play and translation to the NBA is the big question and a huge test case for the college alternative league.

Thompson’s talent and physical attributes are undeniable though. If the league is comfortably projecting players out regardless of their competition at the previous level, then Thompson definitely deserves the recognition and projection as one of the top players in this draft.

Thompson averaged 16.4 points per game, 5.9 rebounds per game and 5.9 assists per game on shooting splits of 56.6/25.0/65.6. In the playoffs, he averaged 17.2 points per game, 7.2 rebounds per game and 9.2 assists per game on shooting splits of 45.2/30.0/77.4.

Like his brother, Ausar, Amen Thompson has a lot of concerns specifically with his shooting. It was wildly inconsistent at best. But the high field goal percentage at least in the regular season in OTE shows that he can still get efficient shots at the basket even without a consistent outside shot.

As always, it is better to know a player can do something as opposed to that they cannot. So the questions about the level of competition in OTE persist. But Thompson certainly looked the part. He was physically imposing and his athleticism stands out on all of his tape in OTE.

What stands out most with Amen Thompson, especially when compared to Ausar Thompson, is his balance on his drives.

He attacks the basket with a great burst, perhaps a sign of how much his athleticism overpowered players in this league. But still, he has the poise, composure and control in the air to finish at the rim with some flourish or fire a difficult pass if the defense collapses around him.

This is how Thompson paves new ground.

He is a 6-foot-7 (6-foot-5.75 without shoes with a 7-foot wingspan) guard with playmaking and driving abilities. For an Orlando Magic team that likes bigger positional players, Amen Thompson fits that bill as someone who can occupy the point guard role and make plays off the dribble at his size, speed and athleticism.

It is that athleticism that separates him from others and particularly his brother, who he will inevitably get a lot of direct comparisons to because of the similar play styles and the league in which they are coming from.

One of the detractions about Ausar Thompson is his struggles finishing at the rim and adjusting to contact. At least at the OTE level, Amen Thompson has none of those difficulties. He adjusts well in the air and absorbs contact effectively.

This is Amen Thompson’s most immediately translatable skill to the NBA. He may not have the same pronounced advantages over his competition that he did in OTE, but this is something that can scale up. He is effective on his drives and has the bounce to adjust quickly in mid-air.

Doing that at an NBA level, like everything else, will be the big question. But it is clear what kind of driver and attacker Amen Thompson can be. This is what elevates him over his brother because their games are pretty similar.

That includes even the shooting form and motion which can be pretty slow and disjointed.

Both Thompson brothers have worked hard to establish a wider base on their shots and get more consistency in their foundations with their shooting forms. But it is still clearly a work in progress and something they are both still gaining confidence in.

A lot of these weaknesses come out when he tries to pull up and score off the bounce. This is when it is easy to see how his base and his jumper are offline a lot. His shot form is such that he is often shooting after the peak of his jump and that can lead to some wayward shots as he does not always get square to the basket.

Asking him to do this at the highest level will be a difficult task for him. He is not going to be able to overpower players to the basket like he might have at OTE, although they will still find it difficult to stay in front of him.

Ausar Thompson worked more off the ball and seems to have his shot more game-ready than Amen Thompson. But some of that is about opportunity since Amen Thompson was on the ball a lot more as his team’s lead guard. Perhaps working a bit more as a spot-up shooter will produce better results.

It is also clear in even basic highlight tapes that Amen Thompson is still not a perfect driver. He has some shiftiness and works Euro steps and step-through moves into his transition play. But those are basically line drives.

Thompson can get a bit loose when defenses ask him to change direction. And while certainly, the potential to use his speed to break guys down off the dribble is there, Thompson can lose his handle and get stuck.

At OTE that did not always hurt him. He could lose the ball, recover and still finish over and around players at the rim. In the NBA, this will be a major problem that will lead to a lot of turnovers. NBA defenders are not going to be so kind to him in this way.

That is a problem a lot of rookies have though when they enter the league. The question is how much can he refine these skills.

Undoubtedly though, the talent is there. And that is always the attraction come draft time. Thompson presents a unique blend of athleticism, skill and size that is hard to pass up. The whole picture might not be there, but the potential is tantalizing. Especially considering the new ways NBA teams are playing with playmaking size.

When Thompson gets downhill with an eye toward the basket, there are few prospects that can compare to what he can do, even accounting for his competition. That is enough to make everyone perk up with how spread out the league is today.

In some ways, Thompson carved a new path for himself. But this is also a path that is cleared to take advantage of all of his skills. This is the perfect NBA for someone like Amen Thompson.

There will still be a lot of work to do. And teams will have to suss out just how much to believe in OTE as a league and whether what Thompson does translates.

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But the talent is there to carve something new. And it will be interesting to see how it all comes together.