Howard Samuel Thompkins III, better know as “Trey” (a nickname given to Thompkins as the third Howard in his family’s lineage), is one of the most versatile, talented and polished offensive big men in the 2011 NBA Draft Class.
Thompkins has good footwork in the post, the canny ability to score on either block (highlighted by his nearly indefensible turnaround jumper), above average ball-handling skills for a post-player, a high basketball IQ, college 3-point shooting range, slightly above average shot-blocking skills, and surprising effectiveness in transition.
Blessed with size (6-foot-10) and length (7-foot-1 wingspan) to go along with his all-around offensive game, it appears Thompkins has the package most teams look for in big men joining the NBA.
Why then, would a player with palpable first round talent slip into the second round of such a “weak” draft?
Look a little closer, and you’ll see a player who only has a 30.5-inch vertical jump (27.5-inch off no-step) that will likely limit his shot-blocking, rebounding and finishing abilities in the pros. He isn’t in great shape and his frame has some flab on it. Watch him play and you’ll see a player whose capabilities are limited by a lack of conditioning, high body fat percentage, suspect lateral quickness, and at times, an apprehensive attitude towards getting physical in the paint.
Throughout college, Thompkins used his length, size, strength and wide frame to overpower smaller and less-skilled defenders. In the NBA, he will face talented players who are not only taller, longer, stronger and quicker than him, but who are capable of ruffling his feathers with in-your-face defense.
One major misconception with Thompkins’ game is that he’s an efficient scorer and shooter from the perimeter. According to a statistical assessment by DraftExpress.com comparing the top 18 big men draft prospects, Thompkins ranked second to last in jump shooting efficiency (29 percent FG%). Despite his inability to consistently hit jump shots, 31 percent of Thompkins’ shots are jumpers (fourth most amongst big men), and 20 percent come from spot-up and isolation situations from the perimeter.
Because of his infatuation with being a shooting big man, Thompkins doesn’t draw many fouls (3.8 FTAs per game for his career) or grab a lot of offensive rebounds (ranked dead last amongst the 18 big men … most likely due to his inability to gain positioning after starting off so far from the basket).
Contrary to Thompkins’ own belief, he is a more efficient and better player in post-up situations than on the perimeter. He’s the fourth most effective big man in post-up situations with 1.011 PPP (points per possession), an eye-catching statistic with all of the talented big men in this draft class. His go-to move down low is a nearly indefensible turnaround jumper (from either block and over either shoulder) that doesn’t possess Dirk-level accuracy, but is pretty impressive in its own right.
Thompkins should take a look at Rasheed Wallace’s career and realize that playing in the post will serve the Clippers much more than him standing out on the perimeter and hoisting up bricks (with some makes here and there). By no means is a bad outside shooter, his game is just better served with him playing out of the post and reducing the number of jumpers he takes.
Currently, Thompkins projects to be a fringe rotation player for the Clippers. Unless Craig Smith or Ike Diogu are re-signed, Thompkins will likely be the back-up power forward whenever next season starts (maybe ahead of Brian Cook). With his current body composition, Thompkins probably wouldn’t be able to handle more than 15 minutes per game over the course of an 82 game season, although that number may be too high for the rookie.
As I previously mentioned, Thompkins can add a new dimension to the Clippers’ frontline. He could give them a new scorer down low, as well as a guy who can pick-and-pop, as well as spot up and hit mid-range to long-range jumpers (keeping the defense honest and opening up the floor for Blake and Eric).
If he can improve upon his conditioning, cut his body fat percentage down to 10-12 percent (still higher than the average NBA player), further develop his outside shooting ability (if he becomes a knockdown shooter I have no problems with him hoisting up as many long-range shots as he wants), and reassess his shot selection, Thompson will put himself in great position to eventually become one of the Clippers’ first players off of the bench.
In a best-case scenario, Thompkins develops into a better rebounding, defending and low-post scoring version of Channing Frye (so basically if Frye played like a big man at all). Worst-case scenario? He becomes Brian Cook, a guy who had questionable weight, motor and motivational issues that never panned out into a true rotation player.
There is no denying his talent and skill, and he has the height, size and length many NBA players covet. Yet his attitude, hunger (the right kind) and desire appear to be lacking (why else would it take him this long to decide to start getting into shape?). How he prepares to adjust to his newfound challenges and tasks may end up defining his NBA career before it even starts.
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