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Ausar Thompson: Mid-Season Scouting Report
The less discussed Thompson Twin, does Ausar have top-five upside in this class?
Watching film of the Overtime Elite programs provides several challenges. The level of competition is still very inconsistent. Scouting high school teams requires a different context for how much teams play in transition, how effectively they shoot, some of the decisions made, and how much attention to detail goes into preparing for opponents. As the City Reapers, the premier program within OTE, face off against other top-tier high school programs, the talent can be impressive but the polish not there.
For the Reapers in particular, the presence of the hyperathletic Thompson Twins creates for a fascinating climate. The talent and athleticism they bring to the table prevents the Reapers from having to play in the half-court a ton. The two are so much more physically mature than everyone else that they play in transition an inordinate amount, both inflating their counting stats and lowering the reps we get to see in the half-court.
The result of this athletic dominance is the ability to get away with having some poor habits and not being incredibly polished in the half-court. On one hand, the athleticism that both Amen and Ausar bring to the table pops so much that they should be able to rely on their athleticism for impact even at higher levels. On the other hand, half-court production is ultimately what matters in the NBA for postseason success. Both a lack of reps and lack of polish in the half-court makes it more difficult to trust their fits on a talented NBA floor.
Ausar Thompson is clearly a very talented NBA prospect, but he’s one that we’re struggling with a lot. 6’7” with a 6’10” wingspan, Ausar’s athleticism allows him to attack the rim in transition, make some highlight plays on the defensive end, and look like he belongs in the modern NBA as a big guard. Right now, he’s combining his rare athletic tools with incredible basketball IQ as a passer to flash tantalizing upside.
However, because Ausar plays with his twin brother Amen on the City Reapers, he’s jettisoned toward a second option on offense in the half-court. Ausar is caught in between a rock and a hard place as a prospect as a result. He’s a poor shooter, struggling to provide a ton of value off-ball. But he’s also not getting a ton of primary reps because, quite frankly, he lacks a ton of juice as a scorer.
Per 40 minutes, Ausar is averaging 26.6 points, 12.0 rebounds and 8.1 assists, simply absurd numbers regardless of level. When he’s on the floor, the Reapers are outscoring teams by virtually one point per minute. The dominance of his group makes it really hard to figure out how Ausar will handle difficulties in producing and spending less time in transition, as eventually, he’ll have to face the reality that he’s somewhat caught between being a primary passer and a struggling off-ball piece.
Ausar’s passing ability is pretty high level. He makes smart decisions, especially out of the pick-and-roll, and avoids trouble at times by not over-penetrating. Like most of what we’ve seen from Ausar, there’s good and bad from the tendency to avoid over-penetrating.
On the positive side, so many of the NBA’s elite creators had the same tendency to make their great passes out of ball screens before getting into the lane. Tyrese Haliburton was the same way in college, rarely attacking the basket all the way but still getting others involved in spread pick-and-rolls. His IQ was so high that he could process the right decision quickly as the defense was rotating instead of after the rotations occur. Josh Giddey did the same with the Adelaide 36ers. That’s pretty special company to be mentioned in when it comes to passing.
However, Ausar has a few issues that are part of the reason he is best served making passing reads outside of 15 feet. For one, he seems to be unable to adjust to how defenses play him at the second level. Once he commits to driving and attacking the rim he is turned into a scorer, getting tunnel vision on his rim attacks. If he’s met by multiple defenders, he’ll try to score atop or around them, which hasn’t been very successful. He lacks the ability to hang in the air and find open teammates too, so once he drives and takes off for a finish, he’s committed to it.
The other issue is that Ausar’s off-the-dribble scoring package leaves a lot to be desired. His mid-range pull-up has gone in at a respectable clip, but the mechanics and ways he gets to it out of isolation or ball screens isn’t overwhelmingly positive. While Amen has a clear advantage with his first step to get into the paint and collapse defenses, Ausar doesn’t get the same separation, making the mid-range jumper a more important component of his arsenal. Defenders dare him to become a jump shooter, and without the legitimate blow-by speed to get past them anyway, his on-ball scoring becomes pretty reliant on the development of that jump shot.
Combine all those traits and it’s harder to envision Ausar becoming a guy who plays with the ball in his hands in the NBA. Yes, the passing is exquisite and his basketball IQ is reminiscent of other great young passers. But, like Giddey, the lack of a jumper or proven scoring arsenal provides challenges that are unique to get through in a team context. We’re already seeing how the Thunder are confronted with challenges of playing Giddey off-ball when Shai Gilgeous-Alexander is creating; we worry about those plaguing Ausar’s team as well.
That said, we’ve seen flashes of real understanding of how to impact the game as an off-ball player that are rare for a teenager. Ausar is a smart cutter, dialing up the use of backdoors from corners and 45-cuts when playing off ball. He has a nose for the basketball on the offensive glass. He throws extra passes, makes great reads as a passer off one bounce or fewer, and doesn’t seem to over-dribble too often.
Now is as good of a time as any to discuss the shooting. Instead of playing the comparison game with Amen, let’s look at Ausar’s shooting in a vacuum. It’s not good. There are some positives, including the willingness to take them and the fact he’s making 33% of his 3-pointers through twelve games. They aren’t enough to overshadow the mechanical flaws that exist.
Ausar’s base needs a lot of work from a consistency standpoint and he needs to be square to the hoop in order to get a shot off. Few NBA players achieve positive off-ball impact without being a competent shooter, and Ausar has a long way to go before getting to that point. His touch is solid and release has improved, but the shot feels a little disjointed between his upper and lower half. With stiff hips and a need to be totally set before he rises, that disjointed nature can be really exaggerated on his misses.
There is renewed optimism that the jump shot mechanics, which are rapidly improving, can get smoothed out enough between now and the draft that off-ball impact won’t be a major question mark. A solid, dependable jumper, to go with his potential as a second-side creator and high basketball IQ, could make him one of the more intriguing long-term candidates in this class. Without it, he’d be a non-shooting creator with a lack of self-creation ability.
Defensively, Ausar has shown encouraging and high-level flashes, particularly off-ball. He snatches 4.2 stocks per game, which translates to 6.5 per 40 minutes. That is downright stupid. His shot blocking from the weak side is incredibly intriguing for a wing defender, and the ability he has to challenge shots and contest them with his length helps him project well as an on-ball creator. His nose for the basketball and ability to just have the ball find him cannot be understated or overvalued.
Despite the clear upside to guard 1 thru 3, Ausar is getting away with the poor habit of playing very upright on defense. It’s a habit that his twin brother Amen has as well, though Amen has a little more burst athletically to recover from it. Elite athletes with transcendent tools from a young age never really learn defensive habits until they play at high levels because they can get by without them. We don’t want to overreact to the existence of these habits, though if they persist, there will be challenges on-ball.
The culmination of all these traits leaves Ausar in a strange spot. We very clearly see the top-five upside, where his pick-and-roll creation, overall productivity, and feel for the game on offense is enough to turn him into a successful player. Match it with continued shooting growth and Ausar could be a fantastic team piece. His defensive ceiling is so high that, if all those traits hit, he’s hard to take off the floor.
There’s risk, though. The jumper is far from certain, the defense has clear points to improve, and his lack of self-creation ability may limit his on-ball reps. Ausar might seem like the safer bet compared to his twin brother, but the risk of not finding a clear offensive role stands out a lot from the film thus far. Before anointing him a definite top-ten pick, we’ll need to see the continued development of his jumper and more examples of how he can put pressure on the rim in the half-court.