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Amen Thompson: Mid-Season Scouting Report
Thought by many to be a frontrunner for the 3rd overall pick, Thompson combines frightening natural tools with several raw, underdeveloped skills
While it’s only January, we’ve written a lot already about Amen Thompson, his strengths, and the Overtime Elite program as a whole. We dove into the merits and challenges of scouting a player at OTE, including the lower level of competition and the lack of access to stats — both issues have been addressed in some regard. We broke down Amen’s game in their important September showdown with the Mega program. And most recently, we did a profile on how elite Amen’s first step is and how it can make up for a lack of skill elsewhere.
We’ve also talked about him a ton on The Game Theory Podcast with Sam Vecenie, breaking down the aspects of his game that are most special, need work, and what separates him from his twin brother Ausar.
Despite watching more than a dozen of his games with Overtime Elite this year and all the extensive coverage we’ve given Amen, we’re still a bit unsure of what to make of him as a prospect. He has so many individual traits that we love — otherwordly athleticism that shows up in multiple ways, great passing flashes off the bounce with real pick-and-roll upside, length for on-ball defensive impact.
All of those traits combine to give Amen an enormous amount of upside as an NBA prospect. His ceiling is sky high as a top offensive option who puts pressure on the rim and creates for others. He checks so many physical boxes as an athlete that it’s so easy to buy into him becoming a tremendous defensive force.
There are also some glaring holes in Amen’s game. Thompson will be 20 years old on draft night and has yet to played a game against older, more physical players. He completely lacks a jump shot and has made little to no progress in adding one since joining the OTE program. He over-dribbles, doesn’t have much impact off-ball, and has a lot of poor habits on the defensive end.
Nonetheless, we find ourselves entranced by Thompson’s upside and willing to look at most of the current shortcomings as correctable mistakes that can get flushed out by the time he’s gotten some NBA reps under his belt.
Let’s start with the positive right out of the gate. Up to this point in the season, Amen Thompson is averaging 16.7 points, 5.6 rebounds, 5.9 assists, and 2.0 steals per game, which translates 27.1 points, 9.6 rebounds, and 9.0 assists per 40 minutes — very impressive numbers, even against high school competition. He’s shooting 67% from two-point range and 81.8% from the charity stripe. The kid produces and does so despite being the focal point of an opponent’s scouting report and having some clear shortcomings outside the paint.
As we wrote earlier this Winter about his glaring first step and how lethal his one-on-one separation has been, Amen’s athleticism makes up for a multitude of basketball sins. He has a good handle and is long enough to exploit only the slightest of advantages. His finishing contortionism (even if he’s a little right-hand dominant) and cerebral passing take over once he separates, making him a prime offensive conductor even without a jump shot. He collapses defenses and is equipped with the traits to make them pay for doing so.
If we look at the flaws in Thompson’s game now and assume they will always exist, what type of NBA impact will he have? Will he become a primary scorer and exceed the 20-point-per-game mark? Will the lack of a jump shot make it too hard for him to score in the half-court, particularly in a playoff series?
Trying to answer all those questions now is a fool’s errand, but the point is moot regardless. Thompson will get better and continue to evolve as a player. And as he continues to get better, even at the things he’s already good at, he can become a special player. While so much of what he does now occurs in transition and we haven’t seen a high level of polish in the half-court, it’s worth noting that many elite athletes and talents can be transition-heavy at high school.
Our mid-season scouting report highlighted three main areas where we believe Thompson has the most work to do: his jump shot, his defensive engagement, and his decision-making off the bounce (namely speeding up his passing reads and dribbling less). If just one of those three faults goes away, Thompson should be a fantastic NBA player.
His vision, size to throw skips over the defense, accuracy, pace off ball screens, and basketball IQ are all very high-level and positive traits. He has a maddening tendency of trying to over-penetrate, or to make the sexy play, instead of making the simple play: the perimeter reversal or ‘one more’ pass, the ‘one bounce and dump-down’ in the lane, the simple kickout to the open teammate instead of trying to out-smart the defense. There’s a bit of highlight-chasing going on, and a little bit of trying to figure out where he should move his bishop in a game of checkers. The basketball gods reward those who continually make the right play, even if it’s the simple one.
The quick decision-making is important for raising Thompson’s floor. While he’s good out of the pick-and-roll and in transition, those are translatable to primary roles where he’ll operate as a main cog in an NBA offense. If he becomes more of a second-side option and complementary piece, he’ll need to throw those extra passes and make quicker decisions off the catch without always putting the ball on the floor.
We’ll talk about the shooting later, but the two skills go hand-in-hand on offense if Amen does not turn into a primary option. He’ll play off-ball more, and with the lack of shooting, teams could go underneath screens and handoffs frequently against him the way they do now. Should that take place, Amen cannot settle the ball in his hands if he catches it on the move or off screens and handoffs. The moment he catches and surveys, the momentum is lost from any play to get him on the move and defenses can clog the lane again.
Many of the same character traits that drive someone to crave the exquisite play over the common one rear their head on defense. Thompson is a steal maven at its finest; it’s why he averages two steals per game and lives in transition so often. His instincts in passing lanes are above-average, his athletic gifts allow him to recover at times when he’s beat, and he’s so damn good in transition that discouraging him from seeking turnovers is like telling Jim Carrey to do deadpan humor. It defeats the purpose of what makes him great.
A balance must be stricken, though. Amen must find ways to stay more engaged off-ball, where he turns his back to his man and stares down the handler, only to be backdoored to the rim. He cannot go for every steal from one pass away, leading to easy catch-and-shoot 3-pointers. He cannot stand upright and come out of a stance when guarding the ball or else ball screens in the NBA will tear him to pieces. The gambling has to be reduced, and the alertness off-ball has to improve.
Thompson has the raw tools to be a good defender, and we’ve seen them already this year. Of all the improvement areas ahead for Amen, this one is the most vital. On offense, there are ways through scheme and sharing of reps to mask his deficiencies. A team’s defense is only as good as their weakest link, though. If Amen stepped on an NBA floor today, his defense would be torn to shreds if he carried with him many of the tendencies he has now.
When it comes to glorifying highlights and being less than enthralled with defense, we’ve seen this story before. In fact, the player we saw it from has several overlaps with Thompson from a skill or playstyle perspective: LaMelo Ball.
Back in 2020, during the pandemic year when we had all the time in the world to overthink every evaluation, Ball fell down to 18th on our final big board. Much of that came from recognizing his offensive talent but articulating that, if we were a general manager, we wouldn’t want to hitch our wagon to him as the alpha due to what his playstyle and off-court orange flags combined to form. Amen does not have those off-court or personality worries.
Ball very quickly worked on his jump shot, and while the defense has never been good, his effort has risen in moments when he’s needed it to. If there’s one thing we learned from the skill criticisms we had on LaMelo, it’s that high-feel players tend to figure it out in the long run. Amen is working with more from a physical standpoint on defense and has a commendable feel. He may struggle out of the gates, but we don’t have major worries that he’ll ever become a good defender.
Then there’s the shooting, that one piece of Amen’s game that is so clearly picked apart. He’s been working on his form and making some tweaks throughout the season, though none of them seem to be sticking. The issues seem to be whack-a-mole in some regard. He’s stiff and his base can change shot-to-shot on one night, then it’s a follow-through issue or he’s thumbing the ball on his shot. It’s clear there is some touch present; he makes his free throws and has a little bit of a jumper inside 15 feet.
While the shooting is the piece that can take him from impactful to unstoppable on offense, it’s not vital to him becoming a good NBA player. That said, if there is not much hope for him developing a jumper, it becomes hard to justify taking him third overall.
At this point in January, we’re really looking for positive development from Amen over the second half of the season. We’d love to see him lock in more on defense, make his proactive passes more consistently, and start to show legitimate growth as a jump shooter. Growth is the name of the game for a player of his age and inexperience, and many of the tools he’s already displayed make improvement very plausible.
Amen is still the frontrunner to go #3 because he’s so damn athletic, is a walking paint touch, and his feel as a passer is off the charts. We haven’t lost all faith in him becoming a positive shooter, and it will likely take that happening to drop him lower on our final big board. His tools are truly special.