Our pre-season evaluation of UNC big man Deon Thompson
ended with the following conclusion: Thompson has surprised us before. Its not out of the question that he could surprise us again. Well, this season he has surprised usthanks in large part due to the absence of Tyler Hansbrough
. In fact, its hard to imagine how much Deon Thompson
For one, his averages of 14.9 ppg (58.9% FG), 7.9 rpg, 1.5 spg, 1.6 bpg are by far the best in his collegiate career, and have largely been accomplished against solid competition. Similarly, in his first two seasons, he scored in double figures just 12 times and only recorded one double double. This year, he already has two double doubles and eight straight games in double figures including a 20 point, 9 reb, 1 stl, and 1 blk performance against Patrick Patterson
and Kentucky Wildcats and 19 pts, 13 reb, 2 stl, and 1 blk game against Luke Harangody
and the Notre Dame. His numbers are up across the board and this year he has taken some big steps forward.
Physically, its the same story for Thompson. He is undersized for the NBA post and not quite athletic enough to fully compensate, running the court awkwardly and not possessing ideal lateral quickness or leaping ability. He does have a nice frame, though, which he has started to use more effectively this year.
Offensively, Thompsons improvements can be summed up by the following statistic: his current 14.9 ppg average in 27 minutes is almost is a point higher than he scored per-40 minutes pace adjusted last season. This year, he has a more diverse offensive repertoire and has expanded his game significantly from the past two seasons. Without Tyler Hansbrough
in the lineup early in the season, Thompson was forced to play more in the post, and responded with some of the most refined footwork of his career.
Combined with his soft touch around the basket, Thompson has become a very capable post scorer at the collegiate level. He can sometimes become a bit mechanical the deeper he gets into the post and occasionally looks like he could be more aggressive around the basket, but there is still time for him to work and his improvement over the summer is a good sign for future development.
Another area for Thompson to improve is his ball-handling ability, as he is far more comfortable going left than right and has trouble putting the ball on the floor without turning it over at this stage. That said, Hansbroughs presence in the starting lineup has a tendency to stunt Thompsons offensive effectiveness. With Hansbrough back in the middle for the Tarheels, Thompson again resorts to his arsenal of mid-range spot-up jumpshots or turnaround jumpers on the baseline. While it would be great to see him post-up more often, Thompson is shooting better from the field than ever before, boasting TS% and eFG%s of 59% (up from 50 and 48% last year) and showing far more fluid mechanics than before. His free throw shooting, on the other hand, is a different story, at a very mediocre 54%.
On the defensive end, Thompson shows better awareness, especially when guarding his man in the post. While he lacks the ideal size and athleticism to guard perimeter-oriented big men, he is putting forth more effort this year, keeping his feet active and his hands up. He also does a great job of staying in his defensive stance. His focus sometimes wanes, however, and he is still not great at defending against the pick and roll or rotating out to the wings to close out shooters. Similarly, he is boxing out more than he did in the past, but he still needs to focus on gaining position under the basket.
With Thompson, however, this season has been a night and day difference when compared to last season. This year, Thompson has emerged as a passionate player, aggressive on both ends of the floor, and an essential element of UNCs post game. We said earlier this year that it would be a positive step if Thompson earned playing time, let alone improved all of his numbers and remained a starter.
With this in mind, Thompson has started to realize his potential and show that there is a reason to consider him a prospect down the road. He still has a long way to go, however, and consistency is still very much the key on both ends of the floor. Considering that his role in the NBAif anywould be to come off the bench, he must show already right now that he is capable of being productive with limited minutes and playing time. If this year is any indication, though, he is well on his way to emerging as one of the breakout players of the out of conference portion of the regular season and, minus Hansbrough next year, could easily reemerge once again for the duration of the year.