2023 NBA Draft: Ausar Thompson would be the ultimate “consolation prize”

Detroit Bad Boys

A generationally bad season for the Detroit Pistons should be rewarded with a generational prospect like Victor Wembanyama, right?

While it’s true that the Pistons won the second-fewest games in team history (behind only 1979-80s 16-win squad), and it’s true that Wembanyama is a generational prospect (and I’ve thought Detroit is his best fit even before I started doing draft content on the team), the Pistons are stuck with just a 14% chance at Wembanyama for another several weeks before the May 16 NBA Draft Lottery.

The lottery is drawn for the first four picks then 5-14 is left up to records (worst-to-best). The Pistons are tied with two others for a 52.1% chance at hearing their name drawn in that coveted top four, but that means they’ve also got a 47.9% chance at falling to their worst possible draft position at fifth overall.

Plenty has been made already about the general consensus top 3 from Wembanyama to Scoot Henderson to Brandon Miller, though you can totally throw Amen Thompson in there as well if you want to be bold.

But who are the “consolation prizes” worth considering at No. 5 if it comes to that?

Enter a 6-foot-7, 204-pound wing with a 6-10 wingspan, Ausar Thompson, the twin brother of Amen, both hailing from NCAA alternative Overtime Elite, or OTE as I’ll refer to them.

Both brothers are in a league of their own in terms of athleticism and creativity, which is nearly enough to warrant a star projection on its own. But with Ausar, you’re getting an elite defensive stopper who can guard 1-3 and an elite self-creator with and without the ball.

Maybe a little undersized for the time being, Ausar has the frame to support another 10-15 pounds of muscle to help expand that 1-3 range out to potentially 1-4 and even 1-5 against small-ball centers.

He boasts a good-not-great +3-inch wingspan, which can help disrupt actions to some extent (1.4 steals per game), but he mostly has to rely on quick feet and discipline, and he’s very successful, holding opponents to 39-of-121 (32.2%) shooting and forcing turnovers on 20.2% of possessions he defended this season, per Synergy.

Most impressive to me when looking at Ausar’s defense is how he functions as a team defender, helping when necessary but never leaving his man alone. He knows his athleticism is a tool, but he’s not trigger-happy when it comes to defending the rim, averaging 0.8 blocks per game and holding offenses to 11-of-31 (35.5%) shooting inside.

A lot of those same principles translate to the offensive side for Ausar. When it comes to athleticism serving as a foundation for his offense, just look at his transition game, which is the largest share of his offense at 26.6% of his possessions; he scores 1.105 points per possession (PPP) on 51-81 (63.0%) shooting.

He uses his rare level of craft to adjust on the fly to find the best route for his drives as well as for his passes when necessary. Be sure to take note of the funky passing angles he finds on the assists in this next video package, as well as just the fire and confidence he has when taking it himself:

The playmaking is very real, and not just a product of a more open floor in transition. Thompson finished the season averaging 3.8 assists and 3.0 turnovers per game. He had 61 possessions as a pick-and-roll (P&R) ball handler, including 39 out of the high P&R, where he produced 0.879 PPP, good for roughly the 75th percentile.

Similarly to the transition assists, he’s great with weird angles and doesn’t have a problem feeding cutters off a live dribble, plus he’s happy to chuck outlet passes across the court for buckets:

The pieces are slowly starting to come together to paint a picture of what Ausar can become in the NBA alongside NBA-caliber talent. There’s just a small hang-up … basically, every wing in the league has to be able to shoot, and there’s just not a lot of evidence to support Ausar projecting out as a good shooter.

In the regular season playing for OTE’s City Reapers squad, Ausar shot just 29.8% on 3.8 three-point attempts per game, and calling the mechanics “funky” would be generous. The mechanics were inconsistent and generally lacked touch.

Over the course of the season, you could tell Ausar was really working to shore up that shot; each game the form would be a little cleaner, culminating in a breakout performance in the OTE playoffs, shooting 38.5% on 7.8 attempts per game, including a game-winner. Notice in this video how as we move onto the different games (which span a roughly three-month stretch), his shot just looks better than the last.

If he can connect the dots on his shot, Ausar could easily be one of the best players from a loaded draft class. There are a lot of prospects who can’t shoot each year who get labeled “Well if only he could shoot…” but this is often misleading, because they aren’t as close as that implies.

Ausar is different because he already has so much else going for him, including an already-solid scoring package at the rim, earning 1.19 PPP (61st percentile) working harder than comparable archetypes due to his poor shooting. Just look at the craft he uses in and around the paint:

Especially in a situation like Detroit’s where you already have some young primary creators in the fold, falling to No. 5 (or falling below No. 2, really) leaves them in a spot where taking a higher-floor player rather than an upside swing is the right avenue. Luckily for them, there are prospects like Ausar Thompson, who fit into both.

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