A closer look at Jason Thompson’s improved defense

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Averaging a career-low three points per game, Jason Thompson is enjoying the best start to his career. He’s a huge reason why the Sacramento Kings have opened 3-1 (2-0 on the road) to begin the season, despite his anorexic offense.

Thompson came into training camp in head-turning shape and recommitted to win the starting power forward job back. Entering his fifth year playing next to DeMarcus Cousins, the longest-tenured active King seems to have finally acknowledged that “Boogie” will always be the primary option in the post. Making the most of his situation, it only seemed natural to focus on improving his defense.

“I think it takes watching film. I think it takes playing the game, and just learning different techniques,” Thompson shared last week at practice “Every game, especially in the West or East or wherever, you’re going to play against a different matchup, and the game has changed. As a big man, you would think you would have to work on the guys’ post up moves and things like that, but now the four-men and five-men are stepping out. I just think defensive principles, making sure you’re staying down and making sure that you take away certain strengths from the player.”

“I think that our field goal percentage has to be down for teams. I think for us, as we start to get adjusted with the new guys, the thing is just talking. Sometimes, talking can make up for some mistakes that happen. So I think the more talking we do, the more accountability people take for not letting their man score. If guys can help each other out and be there having each other’s back, it should be good.”

Sacramento is currently ranked third in the NBA in opponent field goal percentage (40.1). That’s in large part to Thompson, who’s thrown opposing starting fours out their comfort zone with his shuffling feet and the leverage to push them out of the paint. The 28-year-old is producing a 97 defensive rating this season (Anthony Davis is currently notching a 92 and Chris Bosh a 107 for perspective), and he’s also grabbing a career-high 21.6 percent of available defensive rebounds, sparing the Kings from back-breaking second opportunities.

Here’s how Thompson’s opponents in the starting lineup at power forward fared against the new Kings stopper:

*FG = field goals, TO = turnovers

**Statistics listed are those which Thompson was responsible.

Draymond Green – 0-of-1 FG

Thompson played a season-low 21 minutes in the opener, so Green and him hardly tangoed. Green’s lone attempt with Thompson in the vicinity was an open long two while the Kings big ran into a screen. But Thompson regularly beat his counterpart on the glass, even when in bad position. The rope provided also hinted that Michael Malone trusts his towering starter to cover pure stretch-fours for considerable periods at a time.

LaMarcus Aldridge – 3-of-9 FG

The Kings’ first win of the season was where Thompson made his mark. The 6-foot-11, 250-pounder neutralized Aldridge’s back-to-the-basket game and forced him to take jumpers. The Trail Blazer’s only makes were two fadeaways and a set shot a foot within the top of the key. Aldridge missed four more fade attempts, a face-up jumper and a desperation 3. The three-time All-Star did draw two trips to the stripe on Thompson when he already had deep positioning, but the Kings forward helped keep his adversary off the glass too.

Blake Griffin – 3-of-12 FG, 2 TO

There’s sexual harassment in the workplace, and then there’s what Thompson did to Griffin in a season-high 37 minutes on Sunday. The Kings four held strong like a barricade every time the Clippers star aggressively backed down, which prompted Griffin to settle for three midrange shots and a 3-point attempt.  All were misses where Thompson wisely left space. Throughout the game Griffin was determined to score down low, and he worked Thompson on a few occasions with the help of interior feeds by Chris Paul. But when the Kings big was beat, he twice fouled Griffin on the ground, or he was simply trapping Paul on the perimeter. Thompson’s best sequence may have been late in the first quarter, when the veteran was alone guarding Griffin on the fast break, and made the Clipper miss his first layup before blocking his second-chance opportunity. Thompson also drew a charge and stole a lob by Griffin intended to an ooping Spencer Hawes.

Kenneth Faried – 2-of-5 FG, 1 TO

Faried, like those who failed before him, tried to post up Thompson to no avail. His first hook shot was nearly an airball and the Nuggets star struggled to box out his foe.  Faried’s baskets came on a coast-to-coast drive which Thompson botched at a capable angle and a fast break dunk where the Kings forward overcommitted to Ty Lawson in the open court. Cousins’ help defense was influential in slowing Faried, and contributed to his turnover when Thompson and he trapped the “Manimal” on a drive. The apparent willingness of both frontcourt mates to cover each other’s back is a very encouraging sign in the team’s development of a defensive identity.

 

Statistics provided by basketball-reference.com.

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About: Rui Thomas

Rui Thomas is a writer and reporter for Cowbell Kingdom. He previously covered the Sacramento Kings and the NBA for Sports Out West. He is published by Sports Illustrated’s Truth and Rumors and Yahoo Sports NFL among others.