Amen Thompson: 2023 NBA Draft Scouting Report
A freak athlete with a blazing first step, can Amen add enough skill to his portfolio to become a true offensive superstar at the next level?
A trailblazer of the highest order, Overtime Elite prospect Amen Thompson has set out to create his own path getting to the NBA. A productive second season at OTE down in Atlanta has kept Amen in the same territory he started this draft cycle in, as a mysterious top-five pick with massive upside, incredible intangibles, and absolutely no jump shot.
Optimists will vehemently defend him because of the first two points. Amen (just like his twin brother and fellow draft prospect Ausar) is by all accounts a great kid and a really hard worker. The optimists will bet on a person like him adding pieces to his game and becoming the face of a franchise. They’ll see a lightning-in-a-bottle type of athlete with stunning speed and jaw-dropping athleticism. They’ll fall in love with how he rises to the biggest moments he faces and carries himself with poise, both on-court and off it.
Pessimists might focus on that stinking jump shot. They’ll look at the poor mechanics and lack of progress he’s shown and disqualify him from further impact. They’ll turn their nose up at the film and how teams ignore him. They’ll throw the level of play he’s coming from with Overtime Elite under the bus, and shy away from believing the pathway to the improvement of his flaws is worth the risk of being a dud.
Realists (there are dozens of us, dozens!) will settle somewhere in the middle. Amen is a supremely talented prospect, albeit with his fair share of flaws. Whether the flaws prove fatal remains to be seen… to be honest, nobody can project that far into the future or see exactly what improvements come to his game.
What the realists like us need to figure out between now and late-June is whether Amen’s untapped upside and raw tools can and should elevate him over some of the other great prospects in this class who have proven capable of running an offense. We’re a firm believer that offensive engines are what teams should draft for at the top. Amen does project as that, for better or for worse.
Amen’s style of play and overall trajectory are fairly boom-or-bust: he’ll either be the star of a team and a legitimate top option or have a tough time sticking in the league. His game as currently constructed doesn’t mesh well into a smaller role. He’s not a spot-up guy or an off-ball threat, he’s not a second-side creator who plays off of other stars. He’s going to be the guy with the ball in his hands. It’s on us as scouts to figure out how successful he’ll be in that role and what will make him most successful.
As an NBA decision-maker, you have to be okay with taking that risk and stomaching the possibility that his jumper never develops if you’re going to draft Amen. There’s always a certain level of risk with prospects, and shrewd evaluators find ways to feel comfortable and minimize the risks they take. But nobody will eliminate risk from the equation when they’re on the clock. The question isn’t whether Amen is too big of a risk, it’s whether he’s too big of a risk to take ahead of some other really high-caliber prospects.
He’s a risk. But based on what we’ve seen, he’s a worthwhile risk in the top five, if not top three in the right situation.
We get asked all the time ‘why do you have Amen and Ausar separated so much on your big board?’
They’re different players and people, that’s why. Just because they are twin brothers doesn’t mean they are the same as prospects. Brook Lopez and Robin Lopez haven’t put together the same careers. Neither have Marcus and Markieff Morris.
While Amen and Ausar have some striking similarities, they are fundamentally different in terms of their roles. Both are 6’7” athletes with unique passing feel and a tremendous defensive ceiling. But Amen’s athleticism, self-creation, and functional passing are all at a higher level than his brother — both due to their advanced nature and the more impressive athletic burst he plays with.
Amen also has real flaws that his brother doesn’t. His jump shot is far underdeveloped in a (potentially) harmful way, and the habits he’s built will need to be undone. In essence, Amen relies on his athleticism, while his brother has been more cerebral and made more strides from a skill perspective thus far.
If you missed our scouting report on Ausar Thompson from earlier in the week, I’d highly recommend checking it out for added context on why evaluating the Overtime Elite program is so difficult. To give a brief summary: teams play in transition a lot more and floor spacing in the half-court is difficult to come by. Half-court metrics are most important for NBA translation, but the context surrounding them is murky.
Still, there’s a lot that can be revealed about Amen as an offensive player by looking at his Synergy page in the half-court. The low catch-and-shoot numbers (27.8%) stand out a ton, as do the poor dribble jumper marks (29.6% with a 36.1% eFG%). Shooting is, and is going to be, the Achilles heel moving forward.
But Thompson has been a good finisher — 59.2% at the rim is a solid mark, and could increase in a better-spaced offense. There’s evidence of touch with his runner, and his layup totals crawled up after a somewhat-inefficient regular season. If Amen is going to make it as a top option in the NBA, he’s going to need to add to his bag and develop the ability to score outside of six feet.
What Amen does so well to convert at the basket is utilize touch with his right hand. The floater and extended layup game could progress, but he’s big and physical, and doesn’t always need to score with teardrops over bigs when he can finish around or through them. One out of every eight layup attempts ended in free throws (12.5%), and his touch going right when spinning shots off the glass is sensational.
There are times when we wished Amen would try to spin the ball a little less off the glass, but without question, he’s a good finisher and can contort his body with insane last-step flexibility. The acrobatics are impressive, and the touch is what has us believing he’ll have a relatively low bar to clear in order to convert at the basket.
What makes Amen such a high-upside offensive player is that he has natural tools nobody else in this class (sans-Victor) can tap into. He’s a legitimate 6’7” with an insane vertical (take the over on whatever the line is for the combine testing) and the fastest first step from a standstill we’ve ever scouted.
Those traits are already elite and separate Amen from the rest of the crowd… even his twin brother. They’re why he’s unstoppable in the open floor and such a force of nature when he gets to attack a defense that isn’t set. They’re why he got 71 attempts at the bucket even as a complete non-entity outside of ten feet. He’s the elite of the elite as a driver.
It’s impressive that Amen has this level of impact without a jumper. The lack of diversity in his game can make him easier to guard, though we’d argue he isn’t easy to guard because of his first step and how easily he can get a paint touch.
On-ball, teams tend to go underneath any screen he’s involved in. Going under is the obvious solution for a defense dealing with non-shooters. Amen gets dared to shoot, and his primary guy can stay lane protected to try and keep the ball in front. The sag is so exaggerated with Amen right now that in isolations, defenders start backing up as soon as he catches the ball.
Off-ball, his impact is clearly hampered. The lack of a catch-and-shoot game is a significant hurdle he’ll have to clear at some point. Thompson has a future as a lead guard, but even the best scorers and operators with the ball in their hands need to learn how to play with other stars if they want to win. Currently, he’s a mess mechanically, with changing releases, almost a two-motion form, and a weird follow-through that bows out and causes the ball to come off his hand left-to-right.
The way Amen is guarded is a problem. Nobody closes out to him, and he cannot punish teams that do not. He’s predictably worse (3-17) on contested catch-and-shoot looks, and has poor mechanics when rushed. Adding a few more feet to his shot feels tough based on the lack of lower-body consistency in his shot. To be frank, we aren’t the most optimistic that he’ll develop into a competent shooter anytime soon.
In order to offset that, Amen needs to be elite at something with the ball in his hands — other than getting to the cup. He needs a portion of his game that makes him dangerous when he’s operating outside of ten feet in order to be guarded on the perimeter.
We’ve actually grown to believe that Thompson has an elite skill for half-court offensive production: passing ability. At 6’7” with explosive athleticism, a lethal first step, and shifty handles, Amen is a threat to get a paint touch whenever he puts the ball on the deck. Because he’s a really effective finisher at the bucket, help defenders must trap the box on baseline drives or collapse on middle drives.
When the defense does swarm to Amen, he’s proven himself a willing distributor and very timely. He’s proactive at kicking it when he gets into the teeth of the defense — especially in a Spread PNR scheme or scenario. When both corners are filled and legit shooting threats exist, Amen leverages his quick decision-making to get his team an open shot. He’s got a ton of zip on his passes, is a wildly accurate passer, and generates some WIDE open looks for his teammates:
While he’s willing, the real test for offensive engines in the NBA is how they fare as passers out of ball screens. It’s rare we find a Luka Doncic-like primary who is so good of a scorer in isolations that they need to dissect defenses from a standstill. Most need the slight advantage that comes from ball screens.
The worry still exists that Amen will never be guarded outside of 15 feet, though there’s evidence that it may not matter. He can still be an impactful pick-and-roll passer if he turns the corner around the screen faster than his primary defender can get through it. If teams ever go over the top of screens or send a more aggressive hedge at him, he’ll blade them as a playmaker.
In all the clips below, he either gets a step on his man over the top or has a show/ hedge from the defense. Amen is already a gifted passer at reading the low man, and the shiftiness with the ball and change of speeds he can utilize makes him a danger… even if he isn’t going to pull up from 15 feet.
Again, the development of a jumper would be huge for Amen. If he’s a reliable shooter either from the mid-range or from 3, it changes the way defenses guard him and forces them to chase him over the top of screens. In the right system, where he catches the ball on the move or where defenses cannot react quickly enough to sag off him, the passing isn’t just got, it has the potential to be elite.
Just on its own, the 9.2 assists per 40 minutes he averaged is elite for a prospect. Only three other prospects have notched over the 9.0 mark since 2018: Ja Morant (11.0 assists per 40), Trae Young (9.8 assists), and Josh Giddey (9.3 assists). Even LaMelo Ball (8.7 assists per 40 minutes) did not reach that threshold — a mark that has proven very reliable for predicting offensive success in the league as a primary passer.
Regardless of level, getting above 8.0 assists per 40 minutes speaks to the translatability and dominance of his playmaking… and it might even be more impressive considering he’s passing out to a group of non-shooters, high school players, and that number would be so much higher if surrounded by better talent. So many teammates at OTE missed dunks, air-balled 3-point kickouts, or didn’t shoot it off creation opportunities he started. He split lead handling reps with twin brother Ausar, and is still relatively untapped as a pick-and-roll scorer.
We feel like there are still areas Amen can clean up to further harness his pick-and-roll impact as a lead guard. He still over-dribbles a bit into traffic, can keep working on his deceleration in the lane, and has been too easy to collapse upon once he gets going with burst.
While the absence of a jump shot is notable (and does give some worry), Amen has found ways to become a net-positive on offense with the ball in his hands. That’s clearly his best role in the NBA, and he should be viewed more like a 6’7” point guard than anything. Giving him a long leash to create would be optimal, where his already-impressive two-to-one assist-to-turnover ratio can keep developing, where he uses his athletic tools to either finish at the rim or collapse defenses, and he captains an offense on nearly every possession. To us, the first step and passing combo are too good for the lack of a jumper to hinder.
Defensively, the tools that Amen brings to the table should make him really good at the point of attack. Long, lanky and quick, Amen has quick hands to create on-ball steals and disrupt passing avenues. He can pressure the ball and win the first step when guys try to drive around him. His body mechanics are a tad out of sync (he could stand to play lower a bit more often), though the overall impact at the point of attack should be quite high simply because he can guard 1 thru 3 athletically.
It’s not all roses for Amen as an on-ball defender. Complex actions and good players — both of which he’ll see every night — will likely give him trouble early in his career. He isn’t the most graceful at navigating in traffic or getting through ball screens. He’s easily-screened and doesn’t play low enough to fight through contact. He comes out of his stance and tries to slither through traffic instead of getting lower and turning his hips. In isolations, he’s quick to beat guys to spots, but there is often enough separation created by his moves that pull-up jumpers would be available. Those are small technique placements that can happen over time.
Where Amen needs most help is off-ball. He doesn’t really know how to play yet within a team construct. Some could see that as a negative, where he’s constantly chasing for steals to play in transition, gambling for highlight plays, or missing key rotations. At 20 years old, it’s certainly not ideal that he hasn’t mastered some of these concepts already.
But with time and with good coaching, many of these habits can be changed. His high-feel as a passer shows some understanding of rotations. We tend to think it’s not that he doesn’t know how to rotate, but that he doesn’t always choose to — that can be equally concerning for some.
Amen is the type of player you don’t want to completely water down to turn into another robot as a help defender. He needs creative freedom to use his tools, to shoot for a steal or make an emergency rotation. Over-teaching, or limiting his minutes early while he learns these concepts, might be counterproductive. He needs to be disciplined as a helper more than he is, but benching him or not letting him play through those mistakes could send the message that he isn’t allowed to gamble. Frankly, Amen is too damn good in transition to do that to.
There’s a lot ahead to learn for Amen. So many pieces on offense need to be added to his arsenal — a mid-range pull-up, a catch-and-shoot jumper, simplifcation of his dribble moves, to name a few. So many positive habits need to be formed on defense.
An underrated portion of prospect analysis is in figuring out how far away some guys are from contributing at the NBA level. Amen is not close to having a smooth transition to the league and impacting the game as a lead option for a winning team. While other great passers like LaMelo Ball or Trae Young proved themselves capable of handling that mantle from day one, Amen will have some challenges if placed in that role from the jump.
I do believe it’s best long-term for Amen to be placed in that role, though. And often the best way to learn how to succeed as an offensive engine is to, well, be one. It may not look pretty from the beginning, but Amen’s the type of player with tools and a work ethic that can figure out how to be great. The learning curve — especially with the jump in competition coming from OTE — will be steep. There will be some ugly nights, especially if there aren’t mechanical changes made to his jump shot.
But long-term, it’s worth it. Amen has the largest canvas upon which a great skill development coach can paint. He’s the type of guy you want to let color outside the lines, the rare athlete who is so imposing that the skill gap isn’t too troublesome. And, of course, Amen is really skilled with the ball in his hands as a handler and a potentially elite passer.
Only four players in this class really stand out (as of mid-March) as being dynamic enough to handle the load of being a number-one option. Amen is one of them, even if his version of being a top guy is more reliant on passing than scoring. We believe in drafting for that type of upside atop the draft, and have Amen as a top-four player in this class who could be one of the highest-ceiling guards we’ve ever laid eyes on.