Breaking Down Amen Thompson's Rim Pressure | The Friday Screener
Amen Thompson has the potential to be a special prospect, and it is highlighted by his rim pressure.
Amen Thompson is a human highlight reel and one of the best athletes to enter the NBA in recent years. His play with Overtime Elite has garnered reactions from every end of the spectrum from adoration to legitimate concern. Regardless of how you view Thompson’s NBA feasibility, his athletic tools are undeniable and the best in the 2023 NBA Draft. Thompson has plenty to improve on, but his rim pressure will likely be his calling card early in his career.
Given Thompson’s shooting struggles, he’s going to have to prove that he can consistently get to the rim to create for himself, and in turn, others. Rim pressure is a crucial tool for any player, but it loses its effectiveness if it can’t be converted into points. When we just look at Thompson’s at-rim (layups, dunks, and tip-ins) scoring numbers from this year, they are pretty outlandish. According to Synergy, he scored 1.49 points per possession (PPP) (92nd percentile) and shot 74.3%. It’s important to note that all of these Synergy numbers and percentile rankings are amongst high schoolers. Thompson turned 20 at the end of January. The point of this is to only provide context as we also saw Thompson achieve similar success when they played a handful of European teams at the start of their year.
So, to get back on track, not only did Thompson score efficiently at the rim, but he also took 52.8% of his shots there. Of his 152 total shots at the rim, 73 of them came in transition. As you could probably expect, Thompson’s transition offense is insane as he scored 1.383 PPP (94th percentile) overall, 1.81 PPP at the rim, and shot 90.4% at the rim. Not bad, but there’s never really been any level of concern with Thompson’s transition offense. He’s a freak athlete and the entire OTE game is manipulated to encourage an excess of transition offense. That’s not to diminish the impact Thompson’s transition offense will have on a team. This season, 28.6% of his possessions came in transition, and when we look at some of the league’s best athletes like Ja Morant, Jalen Green, and Zach Lavine, we see that at least 35% of their possessions came in transition. Thompson will be great in transition; that isn’t all that interesting.
What is infinitely more interesting, though, is how Thompson’s rim pressure will translate in the halfcourt. The easy answer is that he’s a freak athlete and there’ll be no issues. While that’s the easy answer, it doesn’t necessarily feel like the correct one. In the half court, 35.9% of Thompson’s shots (71 attempts) came at the rim where he shot 59.2%.
When we dig even deeper, we can see that 56 of his 71 halfcourt at-rim attempts were layups on which he only shot 50%. Given his physical tools and the fact that he’s playing in a high school league that boasts only one 7-footer, that percentage feels low. For comparison on these same shots, Cam Whitmore shot 55.7%, Scoot Henderson shot 56.2%, Anthony Black shot 50%, and Brandon Miller shot 38%.
Trying to evaluate a player’s touch is always tricky, but some of the better indicators are at-rim finishing numbers, shooting percentages, free-throw percentage, and floater numbers. Thompson has a lot of work to do on the jumper, but his floater results are shockingly encouraging. Of the players mentioned above, Thompson’s field goal percentage is better than everyone except Scoot who shared the same percentage but took twice as many attempts. Even though there are a lot of red flags with Thompson’s at-rim finishing, it’s by no means a lost cause.
One of the biggest issues with Thompson’s at-rim finishing is his tendency to make shots infinitely more difficult than they need to be due to his aversion to contact. The optimistic view is that he’s experimenting, but his struggles at the free-throw line may subconsciously introduce unnecessary acrobatics. Regardless, it significantly damaged his efficiency.
Here, Thompson does a good job of getting downhill and turning the corner on the help defender. The sharp angle he has to take forces him to take off from further away than ideal, but up to the takeoff point, this is an impressive drive. Instead of going up strong through the weak swipe attempt from the help defender, Thompson aggressively double-pumps and leaves the layup short.
This time, Thompson again shows off a brilliant ability to get to the rim by utilizing great footwork and balance. After he pivots against the defender’s momentum back to where he came from, Thompson has an open look. All he needs to do is extend his right hand for the routine layup. Instead, Thompson again double pumps to avoid the smaller defender’s halfhearted swipe before throwing up an off-balance reverse layup that fails to go in.
When Thompson simplifies his attack and keeps his composure with help defenders, the results look infinitely different. Here, Thompson lulls his defender to sleep before exploding past him. His speed ensures that his drive beats the weak side defender’s rotation. Thompson does an excellent job of wedging himself between his defender and the rim, absorbing the contact from behind, and finishing with an extended left hand.
Thompson is also capable of makes like the one below that make you question if the unnecessary acrobatics are experimentational building blocks. Off the broken play, Thompson has room to attack downhill. After avoiding the lazy steal attempt, Thompson aggressively attacks the body of the shot blocker, something that is uncommon for him. As he elevates, Thompson has the hang time to adjust the shot around the shot blocker and the strength to finish through the contact.
Thompson is also prone to stuff like this, which essentially speaks for itself.
Besides the funky finishing habits, Thompson also has a proclivity for turnovers on his drives. On all of his drives this season, Thompson committed a turnover 23.4% of the time. For comparison, Scoot Henderson’s turnover rate was 11.9%, Anthony Black’s was 25.8%, Keyonte George’s was 12.6%, and Cam Whitmore’s was 10.9%. All of those players had a similar number of drives, except George who had nearly double. Some of these turnovers came from ambitious passing aspirations, but Thompson was far too easily stripped by help defenders. He exposes a lot of the ball and has a habit of getting out of control.
Containing Thompson in isolation is extraordinarily difficult as we saw him consistently blowing past his defender with a standard crossover or hang dribble. His innate ability to get paint touches forces defenses to collapse on him. While he struggled to consistently deal with help defenders in terms of scoring, he had no issues countering their rotations with his playmaking as he generated 0.967 PPP (78th percentile) on isolation possessions including his passes.
Here, Thompson effortlessly attacks his backpedaling defender to get in the lane with ease. His drive forces the other four defenders to collapse into the lane. As he takes off, Thompson’s eyes scan first to his left, where he sees the rotating shot blocker and help defender collapsing to the dunker spot, before delivering a bullet to the shooting pocket of his teammate in the right corner.
This time, Thompson again takes advantage of early offense by creating a bit of chaos and dysfunction amongst the defense. As he drives, the defense switches while the rest of the Reapers come into the play. Instead of forcing a tough shot, Thompson bobs, weaves, and spins through the lane, which draws all five defenders towards him. As Thompson comes out of his spin, he finds his teammate for the open three.
The next area of Thompson’s rim pressure arsenal that he needs to work on is his pick-and-roll creation. Overall, Thompson scored just 0.705 PPP (52nd percentile) and generated 0.708 PPP (41st percentile) when his passes are included. That’s a substantial disparity between his pick-and-roll numbers and his isolation numbers from earlier. While Thompson’s lack of a jumper doesn’t necessarily hinder him much in isolation, it puts him at a disadvantage in the pick-and-roll. In isolation, Thompson can use his athletic gifts to brush aside his defender and either score or counter defensive rotations. In the pick-and-roll, though, another defender is immediately introduced, and the defense can more effectively build a wall to prevent him from getting downhill.
Despite that, there is still a lot to be encouraged about Thompson’s ability to pressure the rim out of the pick-and-roll as he is more than comfortable exploiting any defensive miscues. Here, the defense fails to remember the scouting report as Thompson’s defender goes over the screen while the screener’s defender hard hedges. Thompson easily splits the two defenders before Euro stepping around a defender, who inexplicably jumps, and finishing with an open layup.
This time, the defensive coverage is solid, but Thompson shows excellent composure that we expect from lead ball-handlers. As he comes off the screen, Thompson feigns an escape dribble that makes his defender pause and the help defender retreat back to his man. This move creates a pocket of space for Thompson to attack. As he does so, Thompson takes off from a ludicrous distance, forcing the drop defender to reengage. Thompson doesn’t have any plans of scoring here, he just needed to get the defenders to commit to set up his teammate for the dunk.
Amen Thompson is going to be one of the most difficult evaluations of this draft class. For every brilliant highlight play, there are two more plays that reek of inefficiency. There is an aspect of chaos in his game that can produce absolute brilliance but too frequently goes unharnessed. Thompson’s highlight film is some of the most impressive stuff that you’ll see in the 2023 NBA Draft class, but it’s also just the highlights. There are a lot of little things in his game that need significant work like his finishing consistency, ball security, use of angles at the rim, and finishing through contact, and that’s only talking about his rim pressure. Thompson’s ability to get to the rim and create for himself and others is going to be his calling card early in his career, and it has the potential to be special enough to render his lack of a jumper moot.