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2023 NBA Draft: Like a Hymn Sung on High, Amen Thompson is Ready to Fly

The dynamic Overtime Elite guard boasts scintillating athleticism that makes him one a fascinating guard prospect in this year’s class.

2023 NBA Draft Combine Photo by Stacy Revere/Getty Images

Amen and Ausar Thompson and their titles as the “Thompson Twins” remind me of the characters from Tintin with similar names. However, whereas Thomson and Thompson stumble over each other, a skill that leads me to put them at the bottom of a Tintin basketball tier list, Amen and Ausar imitate another notable set of twins; they are both Skywalkers.

This piece will focus on Amen Thompson, the combo guard and big facilitator, whereas our guy Benny Hughes will have more on Ausar Thompson, the shooting guard/forward who loves to use his athleticism to score. That can be found on the site later this week.

Basketball: Overtime Elite-Cold Hearts at City Reapers Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports

Path to the Draft: Overtime Elite and Questionable Competition

The largest question mark leading into the draft for these 6-foot-7 brothers will not be any element of their individual games. Both twins did not end up going to college in the typical manner of prospects at their level. They did not join a league with a proof of concept, such as the G-League Ignite team, which rostered fellow draft classmates Scoot Henderson, Leonard Miller, and Sidy Cissoko. They were also uninspired by Iowa Wolves legend Emmanuel Mudiay, and did not end up going oversees. They did something that combined these options in an experiment that makes watching their game film questionable at best and borderline unusable at worst.

The Thompson Twins have spent the last two years playing with Overtime Elite, a program typically for pre-college AAU circuits. They have played against sub-par talent, which leads to serious questions about what either of them can really get away with in the NBA. I’d be remiss if I didn’t add that they have been attending many open runs with NBA level talent, or the fact that Portland Trail Blazers promising rookie Shaedon Sharpe got drafted seventh overall last year with his only notable pre-draft game film being from high school and the 2021 EYBL Peach Jam, a similar, but more competitive and talented environment than Overtime Elite.

OTE and the man who recruited the twins, Tim Fuller, have built this path as an not just an alternative to the typical college route but also as a more specific spotlight than the star-studded rosters of the G-League Ignite. It certainly is different, and unfortunately, based off what I watched, it is not better. The twins have spent the last two years in a situation perfectly curated to make them look good. Iron sharpens iron, and they have spent two years sharpening themselves on graphite pencils.

Basketball: Overtime Elite-Cold Hearts at City Reapers Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports

A Pace Pushing Playmaker with Punishing Parries

This is an extraordinarily deep class for point guards. Leave the lottery and there’s great prospects in Michigan’s Kobe Bufkin, Arkansas’ Nick Smith Jr, and Houston’s Marcus Sasser. Expand out to the oort cloud that is the second round and you can find players that will likely end up having successful NBA careers; Santa Clara’s Brandin Podziemski may find a suitor preferring a safer bet, whereas G-League Ignite’s Sidy Cissoko could satisfy those with an appetite for massive home-run swings. It’s true, there are a lot of places to find guards this year. But even in the top tier of this class’s floor general prospects, there may not be a better playmaker than Amen Thompson.

That conversation essentially comes down to Scoot Henderson and Thompson, but instead of focusing on that argument, let’s get into the details. Amen is a capable, but overambitious passer who excels in turning his driving and rim pressure to beautifully executed kick outs. He’ll regularly get one step into the paint and turn half a second of attention into an open 3. He also frequently finds cutters — most notably his twin brother, who he seems to always find streaking to the basket. Thompson is also very creative with the options he chooses, he was regularly about three or four steps ahead of his competition (this is not as impressive as it sounds).

The main issue with Amen’s passing in the half court is his evident insistence upon making his own life more difficult. He’ll take shots going at the rim and not get free throws because he passed out. He’ll attempt to deliver a fifteen foot scoop pass into a corner shooter’s shot pocket with his off hand from the opposite elbow. He’ll put himself in the air and just wait until something happens. Seriously, he loves his jump passes. While it has worked out in the past, there’s no telling how long it will last.

That problem, however, does not exist in transition. Combining his absurd explosiveness in all categories with his height, vision, and creativity, Thompson lives to run off a defensive rebound. This is where his tendency to push the pace becomes so obvious. He flies down court and does a pretty good job of finding his outlets or taking it himself. His favorite and overused option was snaking under the basket for a dump off that would come about a step or two before the defender expected it, but he also had a penchant for backboard bouncing insanity. I could argue he seemed far too willing to give the ball off in transition than I would like, but it’s certainly not the worst ratio.

Ultimately, this is what Amen is known for. This is his strength on offense. This would be why someone would draft him.

Basketball: Overtime Elite-Cold Hearts at City Reapers Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports

Dodge, Duck, Dip, Dive, and Disrupt Passing Lanes

On defense, Amen is defined not by his elite stopping ability but by how annoying it is to get the ball to his matchup. Thompson excels not just at interrupting seemingly simple passes but at timing attacks on dribbles. For those of you that have seen the clip of Marcus Smart and Gary Payton discussing when to go for a steal, I can guarantee that Thompson has as well. There’s a reason he averaged 2.4 steals per contest. He times his swipe attempts like it’s a rhythm game. It’s a graceful thing... until he lurches at the ball.

Thompson’s confidence in his ability to know where the ball is going does lead to him free-styling a bit, however. I watched every single one of his tipped passes that I could find on film and about 50% of them came from him straight up leaving his matchup to press the middle of the court and dare the ball-handler to make the cross court pass over him. In a glorified AAU bracket, you can do that. In the NBA? (Spoiler alert:) it’s probably not going to work out for you.

The upside is absolutely there though. His athleticism pops off the screen, much like his brother’s, and he has a more advanced understanding of what players around him are thinking than his sibling. His lateral quickness is immense, although he rarely uses it to its full extent, preferring to fall to the side and poke the ball away from behind. He’s also an absolute matchup nightmare with most other point guards. With his 6-foot-7 frame, 6-foot-9 wingspan, and rapidly bulking core, there is no reason he can’t be an excellent defender with just a little bit more discipline. Russell Westbrook led the NBA in tipped passes multiple times in his career, but failed to ever be a game-changing defender because of how he chose to defend. Amen may end up going a similar path, mostly because he loves working around and disrupting opponents, not stopping them. That’s certainly not a bad thing, but also something I found slightly disappointing in my film review.

Basketball: Overtime Elite-Cold Hearts at City Reapers Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports

Crying in the Crease: Trials and Tribulations of Scoring

Look, anyone who has seen any video of Amen knew where this was going. The shot is ugly. Worse than that, it doesn’t go in. Even worse than that, it’s seemingly getting slower and stiffer and still shows no signs of becoming even an okay tool for real game action. Amen shot a gross 16/63 from deep last year. His legs and lower body are inconsistent and borderline self destructive. It just doesn’t look like this can change a lot, which is a terrible sign for a lead ball handler in the modern day NBA. He also exists in the Chandler Hutchinson world of “any shot I take is a good shot because I’ve made it before in my life.” I cannot tell you how infuriating it is to watch him tee up for a trey from five whole feet beyond the arc and watch the defender stare at him, questioning if that’s really all he has to do to make him take that shot.

Shooting is not the only issue in Amen’s game, but it is the defining one. His ability to navigate the pick and roll, something he does quite well, is hampered by defenders leaving him with miles of space and his inability to make anyone pay for that gameplan. It is not exaggerating to say that it is THE road block in his development. We’ve seen players fix their jump shots before, but we’ve seen even more who never did. As is, Amen is a capable scorer from within eight feet of the basket and that is it. Fortunately for him though, he has the athleticism and intelligence to live there.

The only other real wart of Thompson’s game is that his free and lose style of play leads to some unneeded and unintelligent turnovers. He also panics on his dribble sometimes if his first option is cut off. It will take time for him to become who he can be, but that theoretical version of him is enough to warrant a top five selection.

Comparisons, Rivalries, and Wrap Up

This review sounds overly negative in retrospect so let me say this: I believe in Amen Thompson as a prospect. I believe in him as a high level starter that can either put up great stats in a losing environment or help lead a good team to playoff success, where he will be played off the court if he doesn’t develop a shot. I’m only about 40% serious on that, but my thoughts on both the Thompson twins comes down to who the could’ve been already and who they could become. In continuing the Overtime Elite path, they both plateau’d their own growth. Amen may have done so to an even more damning extent than Ausar, who has developed into an excellent three level scorer. Amen needed real coaching and real leadership to remake his shot from scratch, not to let him throw passes off the backboard to himself. This may sound like I’m an old man screaming at a cloud, but it is really sad to want to love a prospect and leave only liking them because you found such a glaring problem that you can’t talk it away.

I left my film watch being significantly less high on Amen than I was before going into the depths of his play. As it stands, my realistic scenario for him is somewhere between a Lonzo Ball scenario and a pre-fourth-quarter-ascendence DeAaron Fox. He has Lonzo’s size and borderline transcendent passing ability but a similar early problem in his shooting. He has DeAaron Fox’s speed but lacks the free throw drawing or mid range game that made Fox a near-All-Star (or my top prospect in 2018). Amen will always be compared to Ausar. Ausar will always be compared to Amen. For either to pop and become great, they’ll need to supplement their own weaknesses with each other’s strengths. I hope both Thompson twins become players I think everyone knows they can be because the league is simply more fun with more good players. Until then, I will continue to ask the basketball gods what the plan is with Amen.