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Who’s Jason Thompson?

“WHAT?!!”

It was the only thing I could think, and the only thing I could say, on Thursday night. If you’re a Kings fan, and you saw what I saw that night, you were probably screaming the same thing – in various obscenity-laden forms.

The truth was, I was looking forward to the NBA draft last Thursday. With the 12th pick in the draft, the Sacramento Kings had many options to look at, and a lot of needs to fill. Many fans’ main wish was a point guard – with last year’s opening day starter, Mike Bibby, traded during before the deadline last season, and incumbent PG Beno Udrih most likely bolting for free agency, many felt that the organization could land a franchise floor general – perhaps Texas’ D.J. Augustin, or possibly even Arizona’s Jerryd Bayless. Kansas’ Brandon Rush was also a possibility at the 12th spot, while draft experts talked up LSU PF Anthony Randolph, and Georgetown C Roy Hibbert as possible selections for the Kings, needing size in their lineup.

So, when Augustin was snatched up by the Charlotte Bobcats at #9, while Bayless fell agonizingly close to the 12 spot, only to be taken by the Indiana Pacers at #11, many Sacramento fans’ hearts, who were hoping for a point guard, were broken – mine included. Though, there were still many big name prospects – Randolph, Hibbert, Rush and Stanford C Robin Lopez, just to name a few, and when NBA Commissioner David Stern came up to the podium to announce the pick, one of those names were expected to be called.

“With the 12th pick in the 2008 NBA draft, the Sacramento Kings select …”

Pause for effect …

“… Jason Thompson, from Rider University.”

I must have been yelling at my TV set for a good two minutes. First and foremost, I had never heard of Jason Thompson. It’s no surprise, really – he wasn’t on anyone’s radar for another ten picks, speaking purely on projections. He also played for Rider – a university in the MAAC (Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference), a Mid-Major that no one outside of the immediate area really pays attention to – least of all, major prospect scouts. Second, players like Lopez, Randolph and Rush were still on the board. And, considering our need at point guard, I figured Rush would have been the logical choice. The pick, simply put, perplexed me.

The pick perplexed the experts, too. While called a “solid pick” by NBA draft expert Jay Bilas, Thompson at #12 left many scratching their heads. NBA draft insider Chad Ford called the pick “the biggest surprise of the draft.” His explanation for the Kings taking Thompson? “Perhaps the Kings were shell-shocked after losing out on Bayless and Augustin, the two point guards they wanted.” Initial reaction by the ESPN fan base reflected the outrage – the majority graded the Kings’ 12th pick with an F, saying the pick made no sense.

After having calmed down, however, there were a few positive things I could pull from this “inexplicable” pick:

1) Geoff Petrie and the Maloofs are still good judges of talent. After all, they were the ones who plucked Kevin Martin with the 26th pick in the 2004 NBA draft. Currently entering his fifth season, Martin averaged 23.7 points per game in 2007 – sixth in the league in scoring average. Petrie also drafted the likes of Peja Stojakovic, Hedo Turkoglu, and Gerald Wallace – all key impact players, now on the New Orleans Hornets, Orlando Magic and Charlotte Bobcats, respectively. 1998 lottery pick Jason Williams was a sparkplug for the Kings uprising, starting in 1999, and was a part of the 2006 NBA champion Miami Heat.

2) This Thompson guy actually looks pretty impressive. While he was under the radar, Thompson has been “classically trained” as a point guard. Then, he grew 10 inches in three years. This tells me he potentially has all-around game. He has a prototypical frame and skill-set for the type of power forward the Kings are looking for – 6’11”, 250 lbs, can bang the boards and score in the paint. His senior season reflects this: with 20.4 points and 12.1 rebounds per game, Thompson was named 2008 MAAC Player of the Year. One of his most impressive “mainstream” highlights – in a game vs. Kansas State, Thompson went toe-to-toe with #2 overall pick Michael Beasley, and went for 24 points and 7 rebounds in an 83-69 loss. As for Beasley? Thompson held “The Beast” to 13 points and 10 rebounds, pedestrian numbers compared to his 26.2 point-per-game and 12.4 rebound-per-game average.

3) “Potential, Potential, Potential!!” A direct quote from the college basketball authority, Dick Vitale. Many critics of the pick say that he’s very raw – which can actually be seen as a good thing. The fact is, he’s athletic, he’s not afraid to go inside, and he’s got a more-than-decent jump shot. He’s a senior – unlike other lottery pick “projects”, Thompson’s four-year experience could help the Kings in the immediate future. If Petrie is right about him, and if head coach Reggie Theus can guide him correctly, Thompson has the potential to be a very good player. With his all-around skill set, and his capability for growth, he could flourish as a player into someone we haven’t seen in these parts for awhile – possibly, even, the next Chris Webber. (The perennial all-star Webber, of course – not the one who blew out his knee every year.)

4) A point guard in the draft might not have been THE answer. People need to remember that, while point guard is a glaring need, the organization obviously feels that 1) a franchise point guard is not something they could find in the draft, 2) they aren’t going to rely on a rookie point guard, no matter how potentially good, going forward, and 3) they can probably find a more experienced, better suited point guard in free agency. Point guards can be found in free agency – possibly with talented players like Ben Gordon or Kirk Hinrich. Lately, there has even been talk of moving SF Francisco Garcia to the point. Then, there’s second-round pick Sean Singletary – a talented PG prospect from Virginia. Regardless of what the Kings do with their backcourt, with the Maloofs moving forward in their youth movement, their frontcourt needs the biggest renovation. A healthy Spencer Hawes, along with a possible bruiser in Thompson, and a talented veteran in Ron Artest, could prove formidable in the future.

While it could be true that Thompson could flame out as a huge bust for the Kings, we just don’t know that yet. With Thompson’s potential, he could turn out very well for Sacramento. The truth is that experts, with their criticisms, are wrong as often as they are right. The point is that, as questionable as Petrie’s pick looks, we need to be patient and optimistic with Thompson. Many fans, even with their reservations, come out with a resounding rally cry: “In Petrie We Trust.”

It sure is a lot better than “WHAT?!!” – or any of its obscenity-laden forms.

2 Trackbacks / Pingbacks

  1. The Sacramento Kings 2011 Draft Day: Umm … What? | Sports Thoughts By Big P
  2. Kings’ NBA Draft Lottery: A Recent History | The Macho Sports Report

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