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Double Trouble: Amen and Ausar Thompson are Cheat Codes
The high flying Amen and Ausar Thompson put the Overtime Elite on the map. Now it's time for the dynamic duo to take their talents to the NBA.
The path to the NBA used to feel simple. If you were an elite talent, you would go to college, spend a few seasons developing, and then eventually enter your name in the NBA Draft to begin your basketball career at one of the five designated basketball positions. But basketball, like life, evolves. No longer is the NCAA route a prerequisite to a prospect’s NBA journey. Players like Brandon Jennings and LaMelo Ball proved that forgoing college to start a professional career overseas is a viable alternative to the traditional route. And the more recent introduction of domestic developmental programs like the G-League Ignite and Overtime Elite have given young prospects even more opportunities to create an alternate pathway for their pre-pro development.
With all of these new pathways becoming a viable means of entering the league, it feels like we’ve hit not only a talent wave, but a talent tsunami that has sent us at warp speed into the midst of basketball’s Industrial Revolution, where every generation seems to have more tools at their disposal to build upon the foundation laid out by the players of yesteryear.
The goal is still to put the orange thing into the other orange thing, but the way players are capable of doing it looks a lot different than it used to look. Players of today are just too skilled to fit into a positional box. You used to be able to look at a prospect and say: that dude is a point guard or a power forward. However, the positional landscape has become so blurred that the league will eliminate positional designations for All-NBA teams going forward.
Enter the Twins: the first two prospects projected to be selected in the lottery for the Overtime Elite.
At 6’7” with the kind of dynamic athleticism that few basketball players have ever been blessed with, Amen Thompson and Ausar Thompson are showstoppers and may have the kind of game-breaking potential that lands them not only in the lottery, but in the Top 5 on draft night.
Now, wait just a dang second, Corey Tulaba. You know that any discussion involving the Thompson Twins is going to involve some sort of chaos. So please, allow me to help you steer this ship of anarchy on the NBA Draft waves of madness.
Throughout the entire 2023 NBA Draft cycle, this conversation has generated more debates and discussions than any prospects in recent memory. The truth about that last sentence is that the “debate” hasn’t necessarily been from a negative perspective.
Last year, Ausar and Amen Thompson sent shockwaves throughout the scouting world when they were destined to be the “guys” that were the focus of the Overtime Elite league. While the OTE has done a sensational job of adding talent in just their second year, there were plenty of eyes focusing on the development of both Ausar and Amen this season.
As Corey brilliantly stated before, the modern-NBA game has transformed into an entirely new dimension of basketball nirvana. The game continues to be more “positionless” than ever. At the end of the day, teams are looking for players that look to raise their ceiling when it comes to potential, with the realization that positions can be figured out on the fly.
It doesn’t take long to find yourself glued to your television or computer screen when it comes to consuming the film involving the Thompson Twins. The highs are electric. Listed at 6’7”, both Ausar and Amen have the tools at their disposal to become transition demons at the NBA level. In the blink of an eye, both Ausar and Amen can hit another gear and glide all over the court before attacking the lane with violent intentions.
But while both players offer similarities when it comes to their athleticism and playmaking, the Twins each present a different type of flavor when it comes to their potential outcome at the NBA level. At the same time, they also both project to have different questions that must be answered when it comes to their roles early on in their NBA careers.
MAN OF SCIENCE, MAN OF FAITH:
My all-time favorite television show was LOST. The show takes us through the journey a group of passengers find themselves on after their plane crash lands on a mysterious island.
The two central figures of the show—Jack Shephard and John Locke—have diametrically opposed philosophies on leading the group through surviving their time spent on the uncharted island. Jack, a spinal surgeon back home, makes decisions rooted in science and reason, whilst John Locke believes the island is magic after his paraplegia is miraculously cured upon the crash.
Jack sees and feels that magic throughout the show, but he struggles internally to come to terms with the mysterious things that are happening on the island that shouldn’t exist in the world as we know it. John Locke accepts these mysteries right away and shows an unwavering faith that ending up on that island together was fate.
I bring up this particular dynamic of that show because it is the best way for me to express my feelings on Amen Thompson.
The word generational has been thrown around a lot during this draft cycle, and Amen Thompson’s athleticism is one of the main reasons for that. Amen will be the most electric athlete on the court the minute he steps onto NBA hardwood for the first time. Amen’s first step burst is so dynamic that it feels next to impossible to stop him from getting into the paint, and once there, he can rise up with such immediacy and elevation that he feels like he’s flying. When you add in the fact that Amen is also a 6’7” point guard that can make any pass in the book, it feels like it should be pretty easy to place my faith in the kind of prospect that consistently does some pretty special things on the basketball court.
And yet Amen’s evaluation has been the root cause of many sleepless nights, as the Jack Shephard side of my brain has trouble coming to terms with fully buying into a player that is so far behind developmentally with regards to perhaps the most important skill a perimeter player needs in the modern NBA game, regardless of how magical some of his highlight reels feel.
It’s become arguably one of the most fascinating case studies in recent draft memory. When Zion Williamson got drafted first overall by the New Orleans Pelicans in 2019, many of us “joked” that Zion just became the best athlete in the NBA. Amen Thompson has the potential to have that exact same storyline when he goes onto the stage to shake Adam Silver’s hand on draft night.
But at the same time, Corey, you’re completely right. The evaluation of Amen has resulted in plenty of restless nights. On the one hand, it’s easy to fall in love with the tools that Amen has at his disposal. He’s an incredible athlete at 6’7” with terrifying explosiveness and the ability to go from 0 to 100 MPH in the blink of an eye.
Going into every NBA draft cycle, I find myself wanting to get an early feel for the potential “headaches” that could come with prospects in each class. Once I figure out who those players could be, I want to make an effort to go see them in person. Scouting from the couch is one thing, but evaluating in person can always help you clear your mind when it comes to the potential of an individual as an NBA player. It didn’t take long before I found the Thompson Twins at the top of my list. Right alongside them were Victor Wembanyama and Scoot Henderson, but that was more for a “hey, do they deliver on the hype?”
So that’s just what I did. I hit the road to get an up-close look at both Amen and Ausar Thompson. When I witnessed them both in person, it didn’t take long for me to buy in with the tools on full display. Amen and Ausar both have promising frames at 6’7” that pair beautifully with their athleticism and ability to float all over the floor. But I knew that there was only one area that I needed to get answers on…
As evaluators, we hate to use this phrase more than anything in the world. “If the shot just comes around…” Trust us when we say this, we hate to have to hang our hats on that specific set of words. But with the Thompson twins, it’s more evident than ever. Just watching in warmups, I could get an idea of where both of the potential Top 10 selections stood. Amen looked to clearly be favoring the work in progress. There was a lack of consistency that looked to almost be creating a mental block.
When it came to Ausar, I found myself a bit puzzled. The shot looked improved when it came to fundamentals, but it was a bit slow in warmups—almost as if it was someone that was clearly making a calculated effort to eliminate some bad habits. Once the game started, that idea clearly got shifted. In one of his first touches of the game, Ausar had a clear catch-and-shoot opportunity that was lightning quick with his release and resulted in nothing but net.
I still left that experience with the realization that both Ausar and Amen Thompson have the tools to be legit serious talents at the next level. But at the same time, I continued to wonder just where that projection could take them. Is the superstar upside legit with both? Are we putting up too lofty of expectations? Are these phenoms both just set to be effective players at the NBA level for years to come? If so, isn’t that last sentence something we should get excited about instead of looking down upon?
You hit the nail on the head, Rucker; sometimes you need to get up close eyes on dudes. I’ve hit the road a ton this year to watch prospects live, but I was most anxious to see Amen and Ausar—mostly because I HAD to see the shots up close.
Now I want to really focus on Amen for a minute because there may not be a more important swing skill for a prospect than Amen becoming a respectable shooter. If he shoots it in the league, we’re talking superstar. If you were doing a First Take segment on the shot you could make passionate arguments for or against it even mattering. Amen’s shooting has been very bad for years now and he can still get a paint touch pretty much at will; the competition is certainly questionable, but we work with what we have. He’s also made visible tweaks to his jumper that could maybe get you to lean into a more optimistic outlook. The results clearly haven’t been there, but the work has been. The question is: does an NBA team completely rebuild his form from scratch, or keep moving in the same direction?
Let’s break down the specifics of how his mechanics have changed over the last two years.
In year one with OTE, Amen was a bit of an…umm…tentative shooter. He only took 61 total jump shots—on which he shot 29.5%—but when he did let it fly, his form was all over the place. His release point was low and out in front of his face with a follow-through that ended at a 40-degree angle. His base featured a pronounced leg kick and an awkward back bend in his posture. The whole thing looked uncomfortable.
In year two, Amen saw progress in getting shots up, increasing his attempts to 114. His percentage, however, dipped to 28.9%. More concerning is his 33.3% on unguarded catch-and-shoot jumpers. Teams would often not only dare him to shoot but double dog dare him to shoot, giving him the Simmons/Westbrook treatment. Not great, Bob. But if you’re a believer in Amen as a shooter down the line, you can put your faith in the idea that while the percentages were bad, he had made it a point of emphasis to rebuild the form. When I attended the OTE Pro Day in October, I was really locked in on watching Amen go through his shooting progressions. It was clear that he had cleaned up his base by eliminating that leg kick and forward lean, and while he raised his release point above his line of sight, he was still finishing his shots with the 40-degree follow-through.
Now here is where things start to get interesting. It isn’t often you see in-season development with something like a prospect’s shot mechanics, but Amen had further cleaned up some of his funky releases as the OTE season closed. The base still looked clean and balanced, and the most encouraging aspect was the elimination of the 40-degree angle follow-through. There wasn’t nearly enough volume to make any definitive statements about the change, but aesthetically it looks like a more translatable jumper than anything he had shown prior.
I still have some pretty serious concerns about Amen as an on-ball shooter, and I even still have reservations about him as a potential catch-and-shoot guy, but you have to at least be encouraged by the work.
Alright, so let’s try to stay positive here. That’s what we try to do at No Ceilings when it comes to every prospect in a draft class.
Amen has got a lot of things going for him to still be a weapon at the next level. We have a lethal 6’7” playmaking wizard with turbo speed in the open court and the explosiveness to be an NBA Jam stunt double. You pair that with the defensive upside to be a plus defender at the next level, there’s a lot of stuff trending in the right direction.
Some passionately view Amen as a Top 3 pick, while others view him as closer to the Top 8 in the class. The draft has always been, and will always be, about fit. Things can happen on the night of the lottery that make a potential “fit” challenging for a player like Amen. While the talent is tantalizing, an organization has to have the system, patience, and creativity to allow Amen to let his strengths blossom early on in his career so he can establish some confidence.
That’s the biggest thing for me that needs to come along with the shot. If Amen can get out and run, he looks like an artist painting a beautiful masterpiece. His confidence is surging on the court, and he gives off “showtime” vibes with his burst and creativity. But when you put the sports car in the city with stop lights everywhere, that’s where some traffic can present obstacles.
Now, let’s talk about the other brother.
FLASHES BEFORE YOUR EYES
Sometimes when we see prospect rankings over and over in multiple settings we collectively start to just agree that they’re correct for no other reason than that’s what the consensus says. Oftentimes those sentiments turn out to be true; however, this is the NBA Draft we’re talking about, and the NBA Draft and how players develop once drafted never truly ends up being how it was once predicted because we forget about one thing….the variables.
Ausar Thompson is far from an underrated prospect in that he is usually ranked somewhere around the Top 5-10 picks of the draft, and yet it feels as if he is consistently living in Amen’s shadow in the online draft discourse. And I have to tell you, Rucker: I’ve just never quite understood it, because that dude can flat-out hoop.
It hasn’t made sense to me at all. Before the beginning of the 2023 NBA Draft cycle, it seemed as if Amen Thompson was the knight in shining armor. But I quickly found myself more intrigued with his brother’s upside.
Amen is going to be the prospect that has highlight maniacs in their feelings, but Ausar will have NBA decision-makers in love. While I remain intrigued with both talents, I have firmly had Ausar higher on my big board for the majority of the year. There are tools in his arsenal that I believe offer Ausar the potential to be a legit terrifying two-way player at the next level. Corey, what are you thinking? Are you riding the Ausar hype train or what?
We’ve both been there for a while, and I don’t think we’re alone, as the feelers I’ve put out to NBA execs have given me a similar impression. It’s not hard a hard sell. Ausar may not have that same first step explosion, but he’s still a top-of-the-line athlete, is a plus playmaker, is more willing to seek contact, and has shown a more aesthetically pleasing jump shot form. That’s not to say that the jumper has shown significantly better results than Amen, as Ausar shot just two percentage points higher this season. There was, however, a difference in volume and how they were guarded as shooting threats on the perimeter. Sure, defenders might have been willing to sag off of Ausar, but not nearly as much as they would when Amen was off the ball. I do think Ausar has the potential to have some real on-ball juice as a creator and scorer, but I also think his stroke will ultimately allow him to play off of another star. I have enough belief in Ausar’s ability to play off of the ball that even if he only hits his median outcome, I can still see him fitting in and finding a way to contribute as a role player on a good NBA team.
From watching both Ausar and Amen in person and on film, I continue to believe that Ausar has more tools to hang his hat on. There’s a confidence level in his game that looks natural, especially when it comes to navigating the floor away from the ball.
Amen’s playmaking can be just jaw-dropping at times with some of the insane windows he can fit a dime through at the last second. But when it comes to Ausar, he makes a ton of intelligent passes that might not be as “sexy” but they make him look like an absolute joy to play alongside if you were his teammate. He understands where the ball should go, and he will make the extra pass before the ball even arrives in his hands.
The defensive side of the ball is what personally gets me really buying into Ausar’s upside at a scary level. There are some really legit tools developing there, something that deserves as much attention as the athleticism or playmaking; if you want to consider that a “hot take” go for it.
I’m with you on the passing. It somehow feels like an underrated part of his game, even though he averaged over six assists per game this season. There is just something about the smoothness and pace in which he operates. And then on the other side of the ball, he can be an absolute dog. He can slide his feet with quick shifty guards or frustrate wings.
Once he develops his NBA body, he’ll be able to guard four positions while being a guy who can come over and help at the rim on occasion. He had a transition block during the TBT exhibition where he just straight-up flew through the air to swallow up a layup with two hands. It was one of those holy shit moments. The Twins have a lot of those.
In the end, we’re all going to continue to pick apart the games of the Thompson Twins until draft night. They have become one of the most underrated draft discussions in recent memory. Sure, we can sit around and talk about how we all wish that the finishing at the rim was stronger or that they played against stronger competition. But we can find something to pick apart with each prospect in every draft class. Both Ausar and Amen Thompson will be connected for being twins with a lot of similarities in their games but they could become NBA players with their own unique flavor to offer two lucky NBA organizations.