Deconstructing the deconstruction of Jason Thompson’s game

Jason Thompson makes his move against Nick Collison. (Photo: Steven Chea)It’s gone beyond a slump. For the last 14 games, Sacramento Kings starting power forward Jason Thompson has fallen apart. After a breakout season last year and a very solid start to the 2012-13 campaign, something is clearly wrong with the Kings’ most consistent player.

Through the team’s first 35 games, Thompson averaged 11.8 points and 7.6 rebounds on 51.6-percent shooting in 30 minutes per game. But he has taken a major step back since the Kings’ Jan. 7 match up against the Memphis Grizzlies. In the 14 games since, he is posting just 6.2 points and four rebounds in 22 minutes per game and shooting just 43 percent from the field.

“He’s been playing at a high level and sometimes you hit that,” coach Keith Smart told reporters before the Kings took on the Oklahoma City Thunder and hit the road for their current six-game trip. “Sometimes you may hit a window of fatigue. Sometimes you might hit a window where the ball isn’t bouncing your way offensively.”

A wall of fatigue would be a new thing for Thompson. Known for his incredible work ethic, the last thing you would expect from the fifth-year pro is a downswing that could be attributed to a lack of energy or exhaustion.

Beyond the reduction in points, rebounds and minutes over the last 14 games, advanced statistics show an even a steeper drop off in Thompson’s play. His offensive rating has gone from 103.2 in the team’s first 35 games to 93.2 in the last 14.  His defensive stats have taken a similar beating, going up from 106.6 to 111.2. His usage rate has dropped from 16.6 to 14.6 percent and his assist rate has gone from 7.1 to 4.6 percent. It is like a different player is taking the floor.

Perhaps the biggest tell that Thompson is struggling are his rebounding numbers. After posting 20-percent defensive and 9.7-percent offensive rebound rates through 35 games, those numbers have shrunk to just 15.3 and 6.3-percent, respectively. Something is visibly amiss.

It is clear that Thompson is frustrated with his own play and he is a player that wants to play major minutes. Against the Philadelphia 76ers on Friday night, the former Rider star had between 40-50 friends and family members in the stands. Thompson notoriously plays well against the team he grew up watching, but again, he put up a lackluster six points and four rebounds in 31 minutes.

On Saturday night, coach Smart went to Francisco Garcia to start at power forward and match up against Carmelo Anthony.  After 48 straight starts this season, Thompson finished with four points and four rebounds in 16 minutes off the bench.

The development of Thomas Robinson hasn’t helped either, as the rookie has improved and started to cut into minutes. But this is more than just losing a few minutes to an up and comer.

“Those two are battling for that position,” Smart added. “Power forward is a position in the NBA that is very, very valued because it’s a dirty work job. You have a power forward there (in Thompson) that understands the dirty work job (and) that you don’t get any credit for it.”

There is no question that Thompson understands his role with this team. He is one of the few Kings that know his job and up until 14 games ago, you could count on him bringing his workmanlike approach to every single night.

As the second-longest tenured King behind Garcia, Thompson is one of the few who own a home in the Sacramento area. After signing a new five-year deal this off-season to remain with the Kings, it is possible that a potential move to Seattle is having a bigger effect on Thompson than it is on many of his teammates. But that would only be speculation.

Throughout his four-and-a-half seasons in the NBA, Thompson, if nothing else, has been a consistent contributor. Through his last 14 games, he has been consistently out of sorts. Surely it’s an aberration, but the Kings do need him to snap out of his funk.

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About: James Ham

James Ham provides coverage through news analysis and in-depth interviews with Kings players and staff. James is also one of the producers behind the award-winning, independent documentary "Small Market, Big Heart". James graduated UC Davis with a degree in history and is happily married with two children.