Recapping the 2022 Overtime Elite Pro Day with Amen and Ausar Thompson, Jahki Howard, Naas Cunningham, Bryson Tiller, and More
No Ceilings' own Corey and Stephen traveled to Atlanta to get an up close look at some of the top prospects in the 2023 NBA Draft and beyond at the 2022 OTE Pro Day
Corey Tulaba: No Ceilings is everywhere. Last week that everywhere brought me and my colleague Stephen Gillaspie to the Overtime Elite Pro Day in Atlanta to get an up-close look at a bevy of OTE prospects in the 2023 draft class and beyond.
The OTE is still new, entering just its second season as a league; however, it’s quickly making its mark within the draft community by nabbing highly ranked prospects from all over the globe and placing them within their incubation system, where the players get access to pro-level facilities and training to aid in their development.
The Overtime Elite is a unique league in the states in that it has given high school-aged athletes the opportunity to either become paid professionals or, more importantly to the growth of their league, the opportunity to forge NIL deals that will allow them to monetize their name, image, and likeness through endorsement deals while keeping their college eligibility.
As impressive as the OTE operations and facilities are, the main draw is the talent, which is why the arena was filled with a who’s who of NBA executives, scouts, and media to evaluate the OTE’s talent, headlined by potential Top 10 picks Amen and Ausar Thompson.
Amen Thompson - currently projected to be selected third overall by ESPN - has been on the NBA radar for years due to his unique blend of elite athleticism and court vision. The NBA has seemingly trended towards small ball over the last decade; however, that is only half true as the league has also become infatuated with upsizing the guard spots with big jumbo initiators like LaMelo Ball, Josh Giddey, Scottie Barnes, and Cade Cunningham. Supersized guards are the wave. At 6’7” with a tight handle, first step burst that would make The Flash jealous, and the type of bounce that is reserved for the elite of the elite athletes, a primary jumbo initiator is exactly what Amen Thompson could be…theoretically. The hang-up with Thompson is the jump shot, which is not some small improvement area for a potential lead guard. We’ve seen what the lack of an outside shot did to a once-heralded prospect like Killian Hayes’s game once he got to the league. The obvious difference between Hayes and Thompson is that Amen will undoubtedly be able to pressure the rim even without a reliable jumper. He’s too fast for a defender to consistently stay in front of one-on-one; once he gets into the teeth of the defense, he has the feel and vision to make plays all over the floor. Whether it was in isolation or off a ball screen, Thompson got to wherever he wanted on the floor during the 4v4v4 and 5-on-5 scrimmages, showing how he can keep a defense guessing by finishing at the rim with impressive body contortions or kicking the ball out to the open man when teams overhelp on his drives. But it will all come back to the shot. When it's winning time, Thompson is going to have to prove that he can score from all three levels of the floor.
So when trying to evaluate Thompson’s long-term potential, the question becomes: is the jumper fixable?
The mechanics are very much a work in progress. The base is solid and fairly consistent. Some people will claim it’s too wide, but there are plenty of successful shooters with a fairly wide base. Where I want to see improvement throughout the year is his release. Thompson starts his shot with a big dip that he brings below his waist and finishes his follow-through at a 60-degree angle. Even in warm-ups, Thompson fails to knock down shots consistently going hot and cold. The shot has a long way to go, and it will be analyzed under a microscope all year, but getting to watch and speak to Amen in person gave me a clearer picture of what he can bring to an NBA team with the proper roster construction around him.
Stephen, did getting to see Amen in person give you a more comprehensive evaluation?
Stephen Gillaspie: In the environment that we saw him in, I felt he did a good job. The events for the day were scripted, so I felt like that gave him more of an opportunity to be comfortable. That confidence was evident in his defense and driving—things I knew he could do coming into the Pro Day. I did walk away feeling like he could be a threat in the mid-range, as well as doing some helpful things regarding off ball cutting, screening, etc. The shot—EVERYONE cares about the shot. I do not feel he is there on it yet, and you could tell by how he answered some postgame questions regarding his abilities that he knows he has a way to go with it. I did come away with a good feeling about how he communicates with his teammates and how he can hold them accountable. He is very charismatic and holds a confidence about himself and his teammates that speaks to the intangibles he will bring to a team. His ceiling? I think he can be a LaMelo-esque style of playmaker—a jumbo creator that carries a unique blend of sheer speed and immaculate feel that can pressure the rim.
Corey: Ausar is another OTE prospect that has the potential to be selected within the first ten picks. What did you think of Ausar’s Pro Day performance?
Stephen: I hated the fact that he was dealing with coming off a minor injury. Don’t get me wrong—I think it speaks volumes that he was willing to tough it out and participate in a highly anticipated event. It just sucks that it has to be factored into what we saw. I know we were commenting throughout the day that it looked like he was sort of going through the motions during the skills portion of Pro Day. Then we didn’t get a chance to see him during the 4v4v4, but he did showcase some of his game during the scrimmages. Like Amen, Ausar did step up his intensity during the scrimmages. His defense is real. His off-ball game is legit. I just do not like his shot. It feels very rigid, which I think hurts his shot off movement. I do believe, like Amen, he can improve his shot mechanics and, ultimately, his efficiency. I would love to see him clean that up.
Corey: After watching Ausar shoot it in person, I actually left a little more optimistic about his shot moving forward than I do with Amen’s. Don’t get me wrong, it needs work, but I actually think it feels a bit more natural. Sometimes Amen’s shot feels too robotic, as if he’s thinking about each step of his release, whereas Ausar is more feely letting it fly. Now I do want to see Ausar clean up his rigid feet, but I think his release is a lot cleaner than Amen’s right now.
I really wanted to get a look at Ausar’s athleticism up close, but as Stephen alluded to, Ausar wasn’t going a hundred miles per hour during the skill portion of the pro day due to the injury. However, I was still impressed by how he moved on the floor. On one particular possession during the scrimmage, Ausar Euro-stepped through multiple defenders, and it was just so fluid. There was a timing to his jumps that looked like he was gliding. Amen’s movements are so quick and sudden, and I’m not saying one is more effective than the other, but Ausar has a smoothness to his movements that is so aesthetically pleasing. Although I didn’t get to see the explosive bounce in the skill portion, Ausar’s Pro Day performance left me higher on his NBA potential than when I came in.
Who stood out to you outside of the 2023 Draft Class Prospects?
Stephen: Oh man. There are so many prospects that OTE has on their roster that caught my eye. I’ll start with the City Reapers roster. Jahki Howard was so much fun to watch. He is in the 2025 Draft Class. Listed at only 6’6”, he felt like he was closer to 6’8” or 6’9” when I watched him. He displayed some nice shooting potential, along with nice rebounding and defense. Somto Cyril looks like he could really make noise as a rotational big. At 6’10” and 244 pounds, Cyril looks like he’ll be a heck of a rim-runner, rebounder, and shot blocker. He put his armpit in the rim during one of the skill drills—a la Vince Carter. I loved watching the 2024 Draft Class prospect.
On the Cold Hearts, BRYSON TILLER was the one prospect I couldn’t stop watching. I told Corey he looked like a little Giannis out there. And he’s in the Class of 2026! During the presser, he said he actually watches Giannis film, which had me beaming. He’s already listed at 6’9” and 220 pounds. He is so strong, plays very good defense, and carries himself as a professional at such a young age. Remember his name.
Finally, the YNG Dreamerz. Two names. Naasir Cunningham—Draft Class of 2025—looks very smooth operating with the ball in his hand. He’s a little lean but isn’t afraid to get up into someone’s jersey. His shot looks like it’ll be a real weapon, but he also possesses “old man game,” meaning he plays with maturity and doesn’t ever seem rushed. Lastly, Alex Sarr. I’ve heard mixed reviews on his gameplay, but from what I saw at the Pro Day and the practice the day before, Sarr has some potential as a floor spacer and help defender. He needs to get a little stronger (210 pounds at 7’1”). When he does, he’ll be a real prospect in his 2024 Draft Class.
Corey: I already wrote about how impressive Bryson Tiller and Naas Cunningham were up close when I saw them at the Hustle and Hearts Classic in Jersey a couple of weeks ago, so the guy that really popped to me was Jahki Howard. Howard’s jumper is picturesque, and he is an insane athlete, but man, that kid works! That combination of intensity, work ethic, and ability to listen and put what he’s learning in drills into practice is what made me really take notice. There were little details, like making certain calls when you’re open in the corner, that the OTE coaches were preaching that I later heard Howard call out during games. It’s a small detail but an important one. He’s always talking on the floor, both in drills and games. He’s keeping teammates engaged and bringing consistent energy. One of the last things I wrote down in my No Ceilings Scouting Notebook (on sale now) was “Bradley Beal?” Howard is bigger than Beal, and the ball skills will have to continue to develop, but the kid’s potential is through the roof.
What were your final impressions of the OTE program?
Stephen: Getting to talk to some very lovely people from the OTE program, I left the trip with a much more optimistic view of their direction. I feel like the draft community at large gave a definitive assessment of an upstart league last season. Getting a chance to see where these players spend the majority of their time, I love what they’re looking to do. In a world where we’re seeing prospects like Baba Miller or Courtney Ramey get penalized games for things that aren’t criminal or severe in nature, it’s refreshing to see an environment where basketball is at the forefront of the schedule for these players. They practice so much on top of a full playing schedule. They also have access to a cuisine area, film room, weight room, and places for the athletes to continue their education. They are getting everything they need without the distraction that players like Paolo Banchero have openly spoken about while “attending” a university for one year.
They have nailed their coaching staff hires as well. Ryan Gomes has become a No Ceilings favorite. The involvement and communication he can provide to a player like Tiller will be vital to his development. Where else could he get the NBA-level insight Coach Gomes brings? Coming over from Tel Aviv, Coach Fanning can give Naas Cunningham and Alex Sarr the type of coaching that can promote the whole dribble-pass-shoot concept that NBA teams are looking for in prospects. Coach Dave Leitao experienced success at the college ranks; that is invaluable for the City Reapers. With Coach Kevin Ollie running player development, I am very encouraged with the overall direction of the program.
Corey: The people at OTE really have done a fantastic job creating an alternative pathway to the next level. The facilities are top-notch, as are the coaches and development team. They chose a great location. I love that these kids have gotten the opportunity to play internationally, which gives us a clearer picture of what they look like against other pros. When I asked Amen Thompson what he learned from that experience, he mentioned how smart international players are and how they play without always relying on their athleticism. That kind of experience is invaluable for young players.
I’m really looking forward to watching the league continue to expand and what kind of broadcasting deals they may have in the works. The continued exposure for these players on a larger scale is going to be tremendous in providing opportunities for their athletes to build their brands before they get to the league. But most importantly, the basketball is GOOD! It isn’t the perfect context for scouting yet, but it’s getting there. Five years from now? There’s no ceiling.