Amen and Ausar Thompson would bring athleticism, playmaking to Detroit Pistons

Detroit Free Press

The NBA draft is almost here. The Detroit Pistons on Thursday are scheduled to select fifth overall at Barclays Center in New York, looking to add a significant piece to their young core. And there are a variety of prospects they could choose from.

The draft features three clear top prospects in Victor Wembanyama, Scoot Henderson and Brandon Miller, each of whom will almost certainly be gone by the time the Pistons pick. The uncertainty starts with the Houston Rockets at No. 4 (though any trades or surprise picks would throw another wrench into predicting who the Pistons will select).

There’s still a tier of players who appear likely to be among the choices at No. 5, however; let’s explore those options with three questions about each. We already looked at Villanova freshman Cam Whitmore, and a pair of defense-minded power forwards in Houston’s Jarace Walker and UCF’s Taylor Hendricks.

Today we’ll break down the Overtime Elite twins — Amen and Ausar Thompson. They are arguably the two best athletes in the draft, and big guard/wing prospects at 6 feet 7 with 7-foot wingspans. The Pistons are believed to be high on both of them, and Ausar might have a slight edge to the greater likelihood of him being available at five, and his differing skillset.

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How special is his athleticism?

If we ranked this draft’s prospects purely by long-term potential, Amen Thompson might be right behind Victor Wembanyama. It’s largely thanks to his athleticism, as he could be one of the NBA’s top-five best athletes the moment he steps on the floor.

Amen has lightning quick speed with an instant first step, great body control and coordination both on the ground and in midair, and elite leaping ability. He also has great floor vision and profiles as a big point guard who will pressure the rim and produce a reel of highlight dunks. He has been compared to a taller version of Ja Morant, and has franchise player potential.

He’s special, even compared to the usual NBA standard. And he leveraged his athleticism well in Overtime Elite, overwhelming most defenders. But in the grand scheme, athleticism is a small piece of the puzzle. To reach his ceiling, Thompson will have to iron out other aspects of his game and prove that the transition from Overtime Elite to the most skilled and athletic basketball league in the world isn’t too big.

Will his lack of shooting limit him?

Amen was an efficient scorer overall, making 56.8% of his shots overall. Overtime Elite games typically saw a lot of transition opportunities, which boosted both of the twins’ overall field goal percentages. But with his speed and vision, Amen will capitalize on a lot of fastbreak opportunities.

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But his poor percentages at the line and from behind-the-arc will hurt his production. Amen made only 23.3% of his 3-pointers and 64.6% of his free throws, and he has a lot of work to do to smooth out his shooting mechanics. Opposing teams will give him plenty of space to shoot and won’t fear putting him on the free-throw line, and whichever team he lands on will have to surround him with spacing to give him his best chance at succeeding.

Can he play off-ball next to Cade Cunningham and Jaden Ivey?

Thompson is best with the ball in his hands, thanks to his floor vision and ability to blow past most defenders. Without the ball, he’s less proven. He had a tough time knocking down open catch-and-shoot 3-pointers and wasn’t asked to cut as much as his brother. He’ll have to learn how to play off of other ball-handlers in the NBA.

It makes his fit with the Pistons dicey, as Cunningham and Ivey are also best with the ball. With Thompson on the roster, the other two would have to embrace spacing the floor and defending — which they’re capable of doing, but have yet to prove they can do with consistency. Ivey is probably the most proven shooter of the three after hitting 34.3% of his 3-point attempts last season, and he has room to grow.

Ultimately, the Pistons shouldn’t be overly concerned with fit at this stage in their rebuild. If Thompson is the most talented prospect on their board and he slips past the Rockets, they should take him. But he doesn’t immediately address Detroit’s biggest needs (except defense, if you view him as an elite defender), and duplicates many of the roster’s strengths.

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What separates him from his brother?

The twin brothers, unsurprisingly, also have similar games. But there are small differences that have led many evaluators to view Amen as a lead guard, and Ausar as a wing. Amen received more on-ball reps and is likely the superior playmaker, and definitely the superior athlete. But Ausar is still a great passer and athlete in his own right, and embraced the “dirty work” aspects of the game.

Ausar is an engaged defender, willing cutter and slightly better shooter than his brother. His 30% from 3 still has a lot of room for improvement, but that jumped to 38.5% from 3 on 7.8 attempts during the OTE playoffs. It’s a small sample size, but Ausar shot the ball comfortably and efficiently and his mechanics have improved. It suggests he could become a reliable shooter in the NBA.

Is he a better fit with the Pistons?

On paper, absolutely. Ausar profiles well as an athletic, jack-of-all-trades wing who would fill multiple roles in Detroit. He defends, can make primary and secondary reads with the ball in his hands, pressures the rim and rebounds well. He’s a cleaner fit next to Cunningham and Ivey, and should be able to thrive in a variety of lineups.

Outside shooting is still his swing skill, however. He’s shown more upside in that area than Amen, but he’ll have to prove his playoff shooting is sustainable and not just a hot streak.

How will they handle the transition from Overtime Elite to the NBA?

The 20-year-old twins were among the oldest players in an upstart professional basketball league that consists almost entirely of 16- to 19-year-olds. Amen and Ausar dominated, but you’d expect them to dominate younger and less physically-developed competition.

They’re the first NBA prospects that OTE has produced, given that the league was founded two years ago. It’s tough to project how they will adjust from playing against teenagers to the best players in the world. The twins are talented prospects, and almost universally seen as top-10 prospects in this draft. But until they step on an NBA floor, it’s fair to wonder if their OTE struggles will be amplified at the next level.

Contact Omari Sankofa II at osankofa@freepress.com. Follow him on Twitter @omarisankofa.

Listen to “The Pistons Pulse” every Tuesday morning and on demand on freep.com or wherever you listen to podcasts. Catch all of our podcasts and daily voice briefing at freep.com/podcasts.

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