Though a stroke of lottery luck has rendered it highly unlikely, Amen Thompson is still a potential candidate to find a new home in the Queen City. The hyper-athletic 20-year-old point guard spent his last two seasons outside of traditional high school and college basketball in the Overtime Elite league alongside his twin brother, Ausar, a fellow lottery prospect in the 2023 Draft.
In the eyes of some, myself included, Amen Thompson has the highest upside of any player in the class not named Victor Wembanyama or Scoot Henderson. Despite the commonly-held concerns in regards to the level of competition he faced, it’s not hard to buy into the frequent flashes of sky-high potential on film. Let’s take a dive into the number three player in the At The Hive Top-100 rankings.
Height: 6’5.75″ w/o shoes
Weight: 214.2 pounds
Standing reach: 8’7.5″
First-step burst and athleticism, playmaking vision, defensive playmaking and tenacity
Throughout this draft cycle, I’ve flip-flopped on which prospect is more athletic between Thompson and Scoot Henderson. Honestly, it’s fair to just call it a tie at this point. Both will enter the league as 95th-percentile athletes, especially given their position as lead guards. While Henderson is more explosive and powerful, Thompson just as frequently defies the laws of physics with a different brand of athleticism. His quick-twitch lateral movement, never-ending hang-time and effortless verticality allow him to teleport past defenders on drives, and then rise up and finish amongst the trees at the rim.
Few players have the ability to shift into top-speed with one step, but Thompson can go from zero to a hundred just by planting his foot and changing direction. On-ball, he’s going to have no issues getting by defenders on the way to the cup. He has counters as a ball-handler and can adjust to defenders rotating to stop his drive, with an array of Euro-step type moves that shield the ball from defenders. Equipped with supreme size and length for a lead guard, it wouldn’t be at all surprising if Thompson became one of the best downhill playmakers in the NBA in due time.
The amount of separation he can gain on his way to the rim using only a few steps is truly remarkable. Coming off a hand-off in the clip below, Thompson accelerates past two defenders and parts the seas within two steps of receiving the ball.
Thompson’s unique athleticism translates to both ends of the court. For as easily as he blows by his defenders on offense, it’s equally difficult to beat him off the dribble. A 7-foot wingspan makes it even easier for an absurd athlete like himself to contain the ball and his speed in recovery and rotation is second to none. He can miscalculate gambles at times and has some poor team defensive habits, but that should clean up in the league. Through film and interviews during the pre-draft process, it’s clear he and his twin take pride in playing hard-nosed defense and want to impact the game on that end.
Rarely do draft prospects take so enthusiastically to picking up full court, shuffling their feet with ball-handlers and getting under the opponent’s skin with sheer aggressiveness and tenacity. Thompson’s hands are always active, he keeps his head on a swivel, has great rotation instincts and rarely takes plays off, even though he expends plenty of energy as the offensive engine on the other end. Feel for the game as a passer morphs into high-level event creation on the defensive end for Thompson. Prospects are not supposed to be as cerebral or have technique as sound as he does already, and nobody on earth is supposed to possess his athletic traits.
Even when ball-watching slightly out of position, like in the clip below, Thompson’s insane lateral quickness allows him to recover and force the drive into help. There, he can utilize his lightning-quick reflexes and innate sense for defensive playmaking to swipe at the ball kickstart an extra possession. Marvel at the handles under pressure, and then it’s off to the races. He ends a lot of possessions by tactically letting his man gain a slight advantage, then using his superior athleticism to poke the ball away, block a shot or force a pickup and errant pass out of his suffocating ball pressure.
The bow that ties the whole package together is Thompson’s natural court vision. He weaponizes his size and athleticism, bending defenses with downhill driving and spraying on-target passes to shooters, cutters and rollers alike. The improvisational passing when a play breaks down, advanced reads off simple drives and ability to keep defenses guessing by rifling quick-decision passes from any angle reminds me quite a bit of another tall point guard we might know.
Live-dribble reads are difficult to complete with frequent success even for seasoned NBA ball-handlers, but Thompson can pick up his dribble and fire a one-handed dart across the court with his left or right, and he never stops surveying the floor in hopes of finding a better look than what he’s able to create for himself. Despite being the top prospect in all of Overtime Elite, he was incredibly unselfish and invested in the success of his teammates.
It’s extremely rare for a 20-year-old to reach Thompson’s level of pick-and-roll command. He can hang in the air and contort his body to complete incredibly tough jump passes, weave his way to the rim with pace and effectively pick his spots as a passer and finisher. Effortless change-of-pace athleticism affords him the ability to show off his creativity and vision as a passer. Twisting wrap-arounds, back-handed dump-offs to rollers and skip passes to shooters are littered all throughout his OTE film. Thompson should enter the league with the ability to score and pass out of ball screens well above an average level. If he ever becomes a shooting threat, he’ll be able to efficiently punish any type of pick-and-roll coverage.
Shooting mechanics, off-ball effectiveness on both ends
The massive hinge point for Thompson’s NBA ceiling will be his shooting. All-around, he needs to make marked improvements on that end to reach his full potential. Developing some pull-up shooting gravity from deep is the ultimate goal, but building a foundation with a reliable catch-and-shoot jumper is the starting point. Thompson shot 33% (12-for-36) on unguarded catch-and-shoot threes this past season, though it dips to 25% when including all 3-point attempts.
Despite showing touch as a finisher, Thompson is prone to really bad misses from distance, especially when shooting off the bounce. Without picturesque mechanics — which have seemingly improved but still feature a low release-point and inconsistent wrist/elbow action — he’s going to have to perfect that shooting touch beyond the arc. Plenty of players have unorthodox jumpers, but it’s only passable in the eyes of most scouts when it goes in often. Right now, Thompson’s jumpers often do not.
All he’d have to do is become a slightly-below average 3-point shooter to warrant a defense stretching beyond the line, thus opening up driving and passing lanes for him to exploit. If Thompson can become a Ja Morant-level shooter — 32.1% for his career with a 34.4% peak — I think the playmaking and athleticism will shine through. That’s no easy task, but given the rave reviews of Thompson’s work ethic, it’s far from impossible.
In terms of raw numbers, there’s not much that inspires optimism in Thompson’s long-term shooting outlook. Marks of 25% from deep, 35% in the mid-range and a ghastly 51.3% from the stripe would cause many who haven’t watched Overtime games to write him off as a shooter immediately. But, in my opinion, there are enough flashes of second-level creation like the clip below to make you wonder if there’s a pull-up scorer in there somewhere. With how easily he creates space and stops on a dime to rise up and shoot, improved mechanics could extend that finishing ability outside of the restricted area to fully capitalize on his touch.
Thompson could stand to improve as an off-ball player, particularly on offense. The lack of a threatening jump shot significantly hinders that ability at this stage, but he has the speed, size and quickness to operate as a play-finisher early in his career. When the game slows down and he can’t overwhelm opponents with athleticism, he could be used as a ghost screener, Iverson-action cutter or out of the corner receiving hand-offs to get going downhill to create against a shifted defense. I’m envisioning something Charlotte leveraging his athleticism off-ball in similar ways to Dennis Smith Jr. in the clip below.
Simply put, Amen Thompson should be included in the (admittedly short) debate on which prospect to select with the second pick. Apart from Henderson, Thompson has the highest upside of any player in the draft class as an athletic two-way player. For those who aren’t sold on the feasibility of a Melo-Scoot backcourt and aren’t sold on the athletic upside of Brandon Miller, Thompson represents a middle-ground. Personally, I’d lean pretty strongly in that direction. If, for whatever reason, the Hornets decide to pass on Henderson, Thompson would be my preferred selection.
Few franchises, if any, are willing to take that big a swing with the second overall pick in a draft, though. Even still, it’s not hard to see the vision of two 6-foot-7 playmakers in the backcourt long-term, one of which is an elite volume 3-point shooter and the other is an exceptional athlete and defender. Positional size and feel are at a premium in the NBA and the Hornets would have that in bunches with Ball and Thompson.
If Thompson doesn’t improve in certain areas, especially shooting, he could top out as a high-level gadget player with elite defensive tools; a less than ideal result from the second-highest draft slot. That alone will scare teams off. However, if he hits, he’s going to hit big time. Thompson’s blend of athleticism, gifted playmaking vision and tenacious mentality are truly one-of-a-kind. If he becomes a reliable floor-spacer with gravity beyond the arc? Look out.