Amen Thompson, Cameron Boozer, and Bronny James: The Overtime Elite Experience
Our own Nathan Grubel was able to be in-person for the preseason home opening slate for Overtime Elite, and multiple top prospects both now and future put on a show.
I had NEVER been to Atlanta before, but I’m big on hip-hop/rap, particularly those who make up the southern scene, including Ludacris, Gucci Mane, OutKast, Three 6 Mafia, and countless others I could list here.
So when I got off the plane and hopped in my Lyft to the hotel I stayed at for the duration of my trip, the delightful smile that went ear-to-ear when I heard the driver playing “Stand Up” by Luda left me feeling like this trip would be one of the best decisions I could make for No Ceilings.
And I can say confidently, my time visiting the Overtime Elite facilities lived up to the hype.
Getting to experience the city of Atlanta is one thing, but I don’t get behind-the-scenes access to walk around the complex of one of basketball’s most prominent start-ups in OTE every day. This program was built by professionals, for professionals. The training center, practice courts, accessibility, and coaching gave me a pretty strong impression that they will continue to attract top-tier talent for years to come.
But if you’re reading this column, you’re here because you want to read my thoughts on the players I saw up close and personal.
Amen Thompson, Cam Boozer, Bronny James, and plenty of others got their shine over a two-day preseason stretch for the program. Since these games were Overtime Elite’s first home slate of the 2022-23 season, there had to be some big names in the building. And when you’re attracting NBA studs like Paolo Banchero and Jalen Suggs to the building, I’d say the marketing magic and the hype machine are both working.
When it came to coming down to evaluate prospects for No Ceilings, I for one was more focused on gaining visibility into this year’s 2023 NBA Draft. The Thompson twins (Amen played in this event; Ausar has been out due to a tweaked ankle but will still suit up for the Pro Day on October 25th) as well as Jazian Gortman, Jaylen Martin, and Bryce Griggs are the focus of draft-eligible talent this year that I saw from my seat on press row.
But Boozer, James, Robert Dillingham, Mikey Williams, Jared McCain, and Bryson Tiller were all on the scene showing out along with a few other names that I’ll sprinkle through this column.
We’ll start with feature sections on some of the heavy hitters and work our way through other notes and notables on future draft prospects.
Amen Thompson: Top 5 2023 NBA Draft Pick?
So to be completely honest, I initially came into this preseason scouting process incredibly skeptical about both Amen and Ausar Thompson.
I had seen enough of the highlights last year and gotten some game footage under my belt from studying 2022’s Jean Montero and Dominick Barlow.
At first glance, the highlights are breathtaking. The athleticism both 6’7” twins possess is the 1% outlier type of stuff possessed by some of the NBA’s biggest and brightest stars. The combination of ELITE (yes, I don’t use that word lightly) first step, burst, end-to-end speed, and shiftiness is incredibly enticing to any NBA team selecting in the lottery.
And normally, I wouldn’t just want to talk about how athletic a prospect is to be the main selling point of what they can do on a basketball court, but these traits open the doors for both Thompson twins to do some pretty remarkable things in-game.
While I didn’t get to see Ausar up close during my trip due to a prior ankle injury that held him out of both preseason matchups, I got plenty of Amen exposure; seeing the speed and leaping ability up close skews my evaluation in a more positive direction.
No, I’m not saying Amen is one of the most skilled players I’ve ever seen from the standpoint of handle, outside shot, footwork, etc. BUT because he moves so quickly, because he is light on his feet with the coordination to pull off a variety of spin moves and ducks in traffic, he makes the basic look extraordinary.
Thompson can turn downhill drives into dazzling displays of bounce and hang time around the basket. What would end as a simple layup for some players, Thompson can turn it up a notch because of how he seemingly just floats and glides everywhere he goes on the court.
With the ball in his hands, Thompson is the best playmaking option currently suiting up for Overtime Elite, and there’s an argument he’s one of the best options heading into the 2023 draft period.
During interviews, Amen was asked a question regarding who some of his favorite players are in the league to study. After having some conversations behind the scenes, it became clear to me that he loves to study film and appreciates guys who see the game from a different angle. Therefore, his answer—LeBron James and Ja Morant—didn’t shock me in the slightest.
When I followed up that question and asked him if watching them on tape is where he’s gotten a lot of his passing creativity from, he said they’ve influenced his play which shows from the vision he displays on drives to the basket.
I was taken back on one play specifically in Thompson’s second game for the City Reapers against Hoop Nation, where he got the first step, immediately went into a full spin going left, and whipped the ball around his back on a killer bounce pass to the big man in the dunker spot. The fact he not only had the vision to see that possibility emerge at the speed he was moving but that he delivered that ball perfectly and had the touch to execute it in the first place stood out to me in a significant way.
The full-court dimes in transition, the ball movement in the halfcourt—no matter where he is Thompson is a threat to make something happen for someone else.
By the box score, the assist-to-turnover ratio didn’t tell the story of a player an NBA team would want taking over the reins of the primary decision-maker. Five total assists to six turnovers across both games I took in isn’t a good split, but the quality of the assists he did have were certainly something.
As for the turnovers, I fully expect there to be growing pains for a player who is on a team fully constructed around him yet new so the chemistry is still developing. Thompson is still young, so every player his age will always have ups and downs when trying to experiment in a very high-usage role.
Maybe Amen isn’t best served as a primary option in the NBA. But that doesn’t mean he can’t be a kick-ass number two who can not only find the open man and destroy teams in transition but who also has the potential to score in a variety of fun ways in the halfcourt.
Across both contests, Thompson piled up 37 points and converted shots at a 50% clip overall. Sure there were other warts in his percentages, particularly from the perimeter (which I’ll get to in a second), but most of what Thompson did getting to the basket worked because of that outlier speed that I mentioned.
Few players in this draft class have the ability to weaponize their first step like either of the Thompsons. The threat that they are to an opposing defense at all times is a major issue going against other high school talents, but it will be as much of one in the NBA.
We’re already seeing it with Jaden Ivey on the Detroit Pistons, another player who could get to the basket at will. Amen and Ausar both share that same ability. What separates Amen, however, is the passing that I outlined. Double him on his way to the basket or cut him off, and he can make a pass from any angle. Try and hedge or steer him in a certain direction after he gets the step, and chances are he’s just going to get by before the defense can adjust to how to play him.
Where I really want to see him come alive over the course of this year as he builds chemistry with his fellow Reaper teammates is on backdoor cuts from the wing.
One of the ways Jalen Green racks up so many points without the ball for the Houston Rockets isn’t just with his catch-and-shoot or catch-and-drive attack. Green is a pro at reading where there are holes in the defense and thrives off those opportunities to get behind defenses with his blazing speed and finish over the top.
Thompson has that same game-breaking ability that forces defenses to play him a certain way. He’ll be guarded as a threat no matter where he is on the floor, but baseline and backdoor cuts, along with what he can do coming off 45’s and working off DHOs give him ways to score without the ball in his hands that don’t require proficiency from the perimeter.
Because yes, we all know Amen’s three-point shot is a major work in progress. Seeing his mechanics up close, I can tell the base of his jumper has improved. He could still stand to better square himself to the basket before getting in motion, but he seems much more balanced and lands softer on his attempts. It’s the upper body stuff—specifically the follow-through—that gets me and needs repeated work.
The place where he ends his shot, with his elbow/wrist pointing away from the basket, is what causes that poor location and spin on the ball to clank off the rim for misses. Continuing to clean that up and getting a better follow-through and backspin on the ball will go a long way in helping him find consistency, at least from the corners.
I get that most of his damage will be done handling the ball at the top of the key or finding ways to get downhill from the wings, but guys who can space the floor from the corners are so valuable for NBA offenses. And with what he can do as a baseline lob threat and re-director with passes at different angles, he could warp a defense from that spot on the floor as much as anywhere else.
Will he ever be a pull-up maestro from the mid-range area? I’m not sold on that being in his future. But the better he can get on spot-up looks to help stretch defenders out toward him, the easier it makes setting up the rest of his dribble-drive arsenal. And to his credit, over the two matchups, I saw he did hit 3-of-7 looks from deep.
Defensively, man does this guy make things happen. In two games, he had eight steals and two blocks. Those are fantastic indicators of defensive playmaking potential, and this isn’t the only time I’ve seen him rack up ridiculous box score stats in those areas. It seems as if in almost every game he plays, Amen makes something happen on that end.
Thompson’s anticipation in reading passing lanes, helping and coming from behind to block shots, and the ground he can cover just based on how damn fast he is can be exhilarating to watch. And I for one am pleased that he takes pride on that side of the ball because it enables the best of what he’s good at offensively: getting out on the break and forcing defenders to try and scramble back.
With the length, foot speed, and competitiveness on defense, Thompson could serve as one hell of a point-of-attack defender at the next level. And that’s the development I want to see from him. Showing more discipline one-on-one, not biting, and better reading what his man in front of him’s next move is. Doing that can help him use his quick hands to make a play on the ball, rather than relying on guys making mistakes while he’s away from the ball to intercept a passing lane and get out running. Using his hips more and playing better angles could mean absolute trouble for other guards and wings in the NBA, especially as he continues to get stronger.
The bottom line here is, I’ve listed far more positives than negatives with Thompson. Quantity isn’t always quality, however, as the few holes I can pick apart could keep him from reaching the expected ceiling of a Top-3 selection in the draft. Without a workable jump shot, better angles attacking the basket, and better command over the basketball both in his dribbling as well as some of his decision-making, Thompson could end up being much closer to a second or third option than a first.
I for one don’t see an NBA offense being built around him, BUT…why does that HAVE to be the case for a player to go in the top half of the lottery? With how he can disrupt the game on both sides of the ball, with still plenty of room to grow despite him being older for his class, Amen Thompson does so many other things well outside of shooting to where I can’t ignore an athlete like he is with the skill package he possesses.
Amen has climbed into the top half of my board, and fifth to me seems like a very fair spot to start the year. College basketball hasn’t started, and there’s plenty of film to watch and people to talk to between now and June.
What I will say, though, is Amen and the people around him swung me in a much more positive direction than where I was trending previously. And that’s why taking trips to get to know prospects and the environments they’re in matters. Intel is king when it comes to the draft, and so far so good for Mr. Thompson.
Cam Boozer: Exceeding All Possible Expectations
There was no prospect who impressed me more during my trip down to Atlanta than Cameron Boozer.
This guy, as our own Corey Tulaba would say, “has the goods” and then some.
While he is not a prospect who we are covering for the 2023 NBA Draft, but rather much further down the road for 2026, that didn’t stop me from paying as much attention to Boozer as any other player on the court.
How could I not?
From start to finish in his first game for the Explorers against the YNG Dreamerz of Overtime Elite, Boozer showcased a variety of skills I wasn’t expecting to see from a 15-year-old prospect.
With young guys who rack up highlight teams and steal the shows at youth tournaments and exhibitions, usually it’s from hitting a bunch of shots in a row or pulling off some spectacular dunks. Boozer did both of those things, but it was everything else he did that set himself apart for me.
First off, while he’s far from being a primary ball handler for any higher-level team, despite the experimentation he was thrust into in the games I saw, what he does do incredibly well is make quick decisions. At the drop of a hat, Boozer is doing something immediately after he catches the ball. Whether it’s catching on a baseline cut, coming off a roll, or working off a handoff, it doesn’t matter. The second the ball touched Boozer’s hands, something was happening.
Two dribbles into a pull-up jumper. A quick rip into a two-hand flush at the basket. Even off a catch in the post, turn, one dribble, and fade. The types of shots, as well as passes, that Boozer got himself into at the speed at which these decisions were being made were all fascinating to watch from my perspective.
And the passing was so much better than what the box scores would indicate. By the numbers, Boozer had five assists to six turnovers in his first game, but man, did it feel like he made more smart reads than that. Nor did he necessarily commit turnovers based on errant passes or poor vision. The majority of his turnovers came from his inability to handle pressure, which I’ll discuss later. When Boozer moved the ball, he did so with purpose.
On the glass, Boozer racked up 20 (!!) rebounds in his first contest, and another 11 the second time out against Cold Hearts. Grabbing 31 rebounds in just TWO GAMES is pretty special for a player his age, as he was playing up in competition in this event against a number of talented players prepping for the 2023 and 2024 drafts. His nose for the ball was relentless on both ends, and some of the offensive putbacks he got really helped his team swing momentum, particularly in the first game.
Defensively, Boozer had to be everywhere for his team and he was. Playing the de-facto center spot, Boozer guarded guys in the post, switched out on the perimeter, and played a drop/rover style in some of the zone looks the Explorers used. Regardless of the role, Boozer held his ground and remained disciplined while also making plays on the ball and boxing out everyone who tried to get in his way on the glass.
Boozer only picked up two fouls across both games, which to me was something to take note of given the amount of responsibility he had on that end. His footwork, timing on his leaps, and second jump ability to secure rebounds are all traits of great defenders/rebounders at the next levels up. Having a guy who can not only guard multiple positions but also wear a bunch of hats depending on the scheme is exactly the type of player NBA teams are looking for at the forward spot. Boozer checks a ton of boxes, and he still has roughly four years to get better.
While the jump shooting is technically a work-in-progress for him, Boozer hit a number of good pull-up jumpers, fadeaway shots, and spot-up threes. He even hit one perimeter look off movement that got me excited. If he becomes a go-to weapon from outside, he could be virtually unguardable down the road so long as his handle progresses in the same way.
Where Boozer fell apart was under significant pressure from the opposing team. His lack of a tight handle reared its ugly head in the second half of game two against Cold Hearts, where Boozer was a turnover machine and coughed up the ball a number of times on possessions where he tried to bring the ball up and initiate the offense. He didn’t let those turnovers get the best of him and take away from his full impact, but they were key moments in the game where guys like Bryce Griggs and Bryson Tiller took advantage and put their respective teams on their backs.
Even on the last play of the game, it was designed for Boozer to catch and turn at the top of the court. Johned Walker pressured him right away and poked the ball free for a transition layup that sealed it for Cold Hearts.
Boozer is so young, and so far away from living up to his potential as a top pick in the 2026 draft. If I were to take bets though on who will be there at the podium when the first pick is called, it would be him.
I am by no means an expert on Grassroots basketball, but I can’t imagine too many players garnering attention for every other part of their game outside their scoring and shooting. How he sees the floor, plays both ends, and looks to be as complete of a player as possible just as he talked about in postgame interviews, has left me thoroughly intrigued by what his development will look like.
All of the highlight jams and sick reverse two-hand flushes aside, Boozer is the real deal.
Bronny James: Potential Top 25 Senior?
I’ve talked at length about two of the biggest reasons why I wanted to be in the building the past few days in Atlanta. There’s no question though, when it comes to media attention I may not have mentioned the most important name yet.
Oh yea, Bronny James also was part of the Overtime Elite preseason slate.
James and the California Basketball Club were the first bunch to take on City Reapers and Amen Thompson on Thursday night, with Reapers getting the win in a 66-51 win.
Clearly the top name on his team from an attention standpoint, there were a number of on-court reasons to suggest Bronny was one of the best players in the game and deserving of hype nationally.
Despite only shooting 5-for-14 from the field, James still finished with 16 points and three assists. The best part of his game that was on display was his three-point shooting, where he finished 4-of-9 from deep and got those buckets in a variety of ways.
Bronny did the majority of his damage from beyond the arc, creating off the dribble, hitting off movement, and taking advantage of space on spot-up shots. I for one was impressed with his shot preparation, as it looked to me as some of the best I’ve evaluated for a young guard: always on balance, knees bent, hands up, and zero wasted motion in his mechanics. NBA teams will want more from James than just catch-and-shoot proficiency, but given the premium there is on shooting nowadays, he at least has one signature skill to hang his hat on.
The other area of his game that stood out to me was his command as a point guard. Before these last few days, I hadn’t studied James’ game heavily but a lot of the highlights I had seen were of him as a scorer and not as much as a distributor and game manager.
Up until the match really got away from CBC, James played with a lot of poise and good pace to actually command his team’s offense. He was a vocal communicator in directing traffic and helping to get his teammates in the right spots to succeed. He didn’t rack up a ton of assists during the game, but a lot of his passes felt meaningful and within the flow of the offense. Sure, there were times when he could’ve made better reads and avoided some of the four turnovers he committed, but he still has time to develop before sets foot on a college campus (or another alternative path to the draft) to improve upon those weaknesses.
While I don’t feel that James has a bad dribble package or lacks a move he can go to in order to get a defender off balance, he doesn’t have that explosive first step to capitalize on a lot of those moves. I’m not trying to suggest he doesn’t have any pop or leaping ability, because he can get up to dunk the ball off one foot or two. But he didn’t give me the impression that he can get by his man at will to get to the basket, and that lack of top-shelf burst hurts him a bit as a creator.
Can he step back into a jumper and knock it down because he’s balanced and always ready? Sure. But one thing I look for from guards, especially those who look to take advantage out of the pick-and-roll, is how much of a threat they are when they get two feet in the paint. Better question, can they consistently get two feet in the paint? Maybe I just haven’t studied James enough and I can’t formulate a sound opinion on this aspect of his game after just one sitting, but that’s a question mark for me.
As for his defense, while there were some possessions he made some good callouts and rotations, I was left underwhelmed on that end overall. For the good, there were also a number of bad trips where he didn’t get back to where he needed to or failed to pick up on a rotation and left someone wide open on a shot or drive to the rim. I didn’t see a James who was locked in defensively over the course of the entire game, and I want to see more from him as a defender.
He has an excellent frame for a 6’3” guard, certainly not lacking in power or understanding of how to play. I know he’s capable of guarding his position and being more of a positive than what I can recollect about his performance. I’ll be watching him closer on that end moving forward.
Given where he’s ranked nationally (#35 in the ESPN Top 100), I do have some optimism he will continue to rise amongst his peers throughout the rest of his senior campaign. I wouldn’t go so far yet as to anoint him a star prospect, but there’s some real opportunity for him to buy into a 3-and-D combo guard role and impact winning at the next levels. I did enjoy what I saw and will continue to monitor James moving forward.
Other 2023 Draft Class Notes
Jazian Gortman was the other potential 2023 NBA Draft standout that I was able to scout up close in Atlanta. In the one game I was able to see, Gortman had 12 points, three assists, and three steals. The 6’2” guard was engaged on both ends looking to make plays for his team. While the scoring and shooting left a little bit to be desired in this contest, his dribble craft and creativity were on display during multiple possessions where he got the edge and delivered. He remains an interesting guard prospect to monitor moving forward if he can continue to progress as a pick-and-roll creator and efficient perimeter shooter.
Jaylen Martin showed off his ability to slash to the basket and score after getting downhill. The 6’6” wing prospect put up 18 points on 6-for-14 shooting from the field and even got to the line six times, making five of those attempts. Martin also put up four rebounds and four assists, giving him a pretty complete stat line overall. Continuing to remain active defensively while working on his outside jumper could boost him into draft conversations or make him a valuable target for teams as an undrafted option or an overseas candidate.
Bryce Griggs had a remarkable showing in his second game against the Explorers, putting up 23 points, five assists, five rebounds, and five steals. Griggs did everything you could’ve asked him to from an evaluation standpoint. He ran the offense, found open teammates out of pick-and-roll, scored in transition, hounded the other team’s guards defensively, and stepped up to hit some of the biggest game-tying and lead-taking shots on the night. His poise in the second half swung the game for Cold Hearts who came out with the win. Before this trip, I didn’t have Griggs as a prospect to keep an eye on for the draft. After this performance, however, I’m left wanting more and questioning who is the better option after the Thompson twins between him and Jazian Gortman.
I didn’t get a chance to see Ausar Thompson in any live-game action due to an injury that has kept him sidelined for the last few weeks. But should he come back ready to go for the season opener for City Reapers, I expect him to continue to pop off the tape as much as his brother Amen. Ausar has a better outside shot than his brother while possessing the same speed and verticality. He needs to develop as a passer and defender, but if he can be a high-level shotmaker with his athletic talent, I would expect him to be in the lottery conversation in 2023 as well.
2024 NBA Draft and Beyond
Cam Boozer’s brother Cayden Boozer turned a few heads with his performances before the second half against Cold Hearts. When he had to take over lead ball-handling duties in crunch time, he crumbled under the pressure and succumbed to the same turnovers that his brother did. But overall, I enjoyed what I saw from the 6’4” guard. If he embraces a secondary role focused around hitting perimeter shots and playing the on-ball defense I saw he was capable of, he will make a high-major program very happy after he graduates in 2025.
Bryson Tiller was the third-best prospect I saw the entire time I was in Atlanta. As young as Cam Boozer, Tiller is also a target for the 2026 NBA Draft. At 6’9” and 214 pounds, Tiller is physically ready to play up and stand out in competitions such as what I saw. Across two games, he played a total of 37 minutes and REALLY showed up in Cold Hearts’ second game against the Explorers. I was massively impressed with the amount of skill he already has, hitting face-up looks at the elbows, turning fades out of the post, bringing the ball up the floor in transition, and knocking down open corner threes. In that second contest, Tiller also grabbed eight boards and had four blocks in just 23 minutes of action. As he continues to develop, he could challenge for the top pick in 2026 along with Cam.
Both Alex Sarr and Naas Cunningham didn’t have the best performances in their sole game against the Explorers on Thursday night for different reasons. Cunningham is coming off an injury that he’s still recovering from, therefore not playing a ton of minutes. Sarr got to show off some of his outside touch and rim protection, but he really needs to work on catching the ball on passes and lobs, as well as not fumbling it away and turning it over on post-up opportunities. With better hands, I can see the appeal behind Sarr as a top prospect looking toward the 2024 draft. I’ll be monitoring his development, as well as Cunningham’s, as the Overtime Elite season progresses.
Robert Dillingham went on one of the absolute HEATERS that I’ve seen in quite some time. The 6’2” Kentucky commit went off for 36 points, five rebounds, three assists, and four steals on 9-for-14 shooting from the field including 5-for-8 from three. The shots and assists he was able to create with his ridiculous handle and speed put the entire arena on notice, especially in the second half of his team’s (Blue Checks) game against Cold Hearts on Thursday night. There may not be another guard in next year’s class who can create from the perimeter quite like Dillingham can; if I were a Kentucky fan, I’d be thrilled watching those highlights over and over. It’s one thing to command an offense and make shots within the flow of the offense. Dillingham quite literally took over an entire game by himself and showed off the type of dribble combinations one would see in an And-1 mixtape. A dazzling performance that should keep him at the forefront of any conversations regarding next year’s incoming class.
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