Jason Thompson struggles to find an offensive role


For the last six seasons, the Memphis Grizzlies’ Marc Gasol and Zach Randolph have formed one of the premiere power forward/center combinations in the NBA.  They have made All-Star teams and advanced deep into the playoffs.  One a scorer and the other a defender, the duo have always complimented each other well.

For the last five seasons, Jason Thompson and DeMarcus Cousins have more often than not been paired together on a dysfunctional Sacramento Kings front line.  Neither has been known for their defensive effort or acumen during their time in the league.  Both have offensive and rebounding skills, but both on and off the floor, they are oil and water.

As Gasol and Randolph have grown as teammates, they have slowly evolved as players.  Z-Bo no longer has the athletic ability to carry the load on his own.  At 33-years-old and with over 30,000 total NBA minutes on his body, he has conceded some control to his giant post partner. Gasol is off to a career start, averaging 17.8 points and 7.5 rebounds per game.

There is a poetry to the Randolph/Gasol tandem.  The synergy between the two has Memphis off to a league-best 7-1 record and they have as good a chance as any to represent the powerful Western Conference in the finals.

The same cannot be said of the Cousins and Thompson tandem.  Maybe they are just a bad pairing or two players that are unwilling to compromise.  The Kings are off to a fast 5-3 start and initially, Thompson looked every bit the part of Charles Oakley, to Cousins’ Patrick Ewing.

Thompson turned heads with his stellar defense against Golden State, Portland, and the Los Angeles Clippers and he held Kenneth Faried in check in back-to-back games.  But on the offensive end, Thompson is being frozen out.

Through eight games, Thompson is averaging just 4.3 field goal attempts in 24.5 minutes per game.  When played out of a per 36 minute basis, the Sacramento Kings starting power forward is averaging 6.2 shots per game, which ranks him last on the roster.  Last, behind Ryan Hollins and Reggie Evans.

Thompson isn’t helping himself on the offensive end.  He is shooting just 29.4 percent from the field and 25 percent from the line.  His Player Efficiency Rating (PER) is 1.3 on the season and his -0.2 win share is atrocious.

JT Shot Chart

A closer look at Thompson’s offensive woes tells an interesting story.  Thompson is 0-for-8 from 16-24 feet this season.  A year ago, he shot 41.1 percent from mid-range.  After viewing all eight of his jumpers, the eight-year veteran is being asked to do a lot more pick-and-pop plays.  Of his eight attempts, five came at the top of the key as a catch-and-shot opportunity and all five rimmed out.

The remaining three jumpers came from the baseline, again on catch-and-shoot chances and two of the three were way off.  You can even hear color analyst Jerry Reynolds say, “That was a kabonger,” on one of his attempts.

In the post, you can see Thompson rushing his shot on almost every isolation post up.  Most of his points are coming on tip-ins or the occasional pass for an open dunk.  On the season, Thompson has had three nice post up isolation baskets, one against LaMarcus Aldridge, Markieff Morris and a nice repost against Dreymond Green in the opener.

When teams go small on the Kings, Thompson has held his own on the defensive end, but instead of taking advantage of his size advantage on the offensive end, the Kings have gone to different options.

Cousins is off to a tremendous start and so is Rudy Gay.  Darren Collison is providing a different look over last season’s team that included high-volume shooter Isaiah Thomas, but still.

Over the last four games the Kings have made a concerted effort to get second-year shooting guard Ben McLemore going early.  The result has been a stunning outburst by the 21-year-old.  After scoring 15 total points in Sacramento’s first four games, McLemore is averaging 14.5 points per game on 54 percent (20-of-37) shooting in the last four.

Is there a similar push in the works for Thompson?

Teams are collapsing on Cousins in the post and it is having a ripple effect on the rest of the offense.  McLemore’s 3-point shooting outburst is a welcome sign, but teams are beginning to try zones and other defensive schemes against the Kings.

With Cousins’ ability to shoot from the perimeter, it might behoove the Kings to draw a bigger player, like Marc Gasol away from the basket where he might get lost in space against Cousins.  The adjustment might lead to better spacing and maybe even a few extra chances for Thompson to take a smaller player into the block.

Eight games is a very small sample size, but judging from his 34 shot attempts, it is clear that Thompson is not part of the offensive game plan.  While Thompson is holding his own on the defensive end, sustaining the effort is going to become more and more difficult if the veteran is left in the cold on the offensive end.

Throughout his 468 games in the NBA, Thompson has been a reliable 50 percent shooter from the field.  He has worked on his jumper and his post game.  But he needs to find a rhythm and that is extremely difficult to do when you get less than five shots a game.

Things are going well for the Kings early this season, but their frontline needs to work the kinks out.  This isn’t a team that can afford to get zero offensive production out of a rotational player.  While Cousins and Thompson might not be a match made in heaven, like Gasol and Randolph have proven to be, Thompson is still the Kings’ best option as the starting power forward.

His defense is keeping him in the lineup, but it’s probably time to throw Jason Thompson a bone on the offensive end.



About: James Ham

James Ham is the senior editor of Cowbell Kingdom, providing extensive Kings coverage through news analysis, in-depth interviews with players and staff and daily coverage of breaking news since 2010. Along with providing original content for the site, including the Cowbell Kingdom Podcast and his weekly Sunday Musings column, James also contributes to ESPN.com and is one of the producers behind the award-winning, independent documentary film "Small Market, Big Heart".