Detroit Pistons forward Ausar Thompson made his return to the starting lineup after coming off the bench for four games. In just one outing, he did what needed to be done to solidify his standing there.
In the four bench games, Thompson totaled just 17 points, never hitting more than two shots and never playing at least 20 minutes in a single game. Though he still managed to rack up five fouls in two of the four; he fouled once every five minutes during this stretch.
In his return to the starting lineup — a 131-123 loss to the Indiana Pacers, fresh off an In-Season Tournament Finals appearance in Las Vegas — Thompson eclipsed 20 points in 33 minutes, going 8-for-10 from the field with four fouls; good for a much better rate of one foul every 8.25 minutes.
With his return came a new role: power forward. A vast majority of his time on offense was spent below the free throw line, and much of the little time spent above it was screening for ball-handlers like Cade Cunningham.
Speaking of Cunningham, remember a few weeks ago when I brought up his poor shooting at the rim? Just in the time since then, his rim numbers have gone from 48.1% in the 12th percentile up to 52.9% in the 23rd percentile. Thompson and his new role are part of why.
See, when there are players like Thompson who lack in the shooting department but excel with their energy, effort and athleticism, a coaching staff is responsible for making sure they’re put in a position where those strengths can be utilized.
Because Thompson is as tough as he is, he can slot in nicely down the lineup at the 4 despite his 6-foot-7 height, able and willing to take more of that beating. Because of his athleticism, teams are forced to respect his at-times violent rolls to the basket off a screen. Plus, he’s a good enough ball-handler himself that he can take one or two dribbles to better attack the glass when he’s fed the ball.
It’s helped him to a better-than-Cunningham rim efficiency of 58.5% (43rd percentile) as a rookie.
Out of the pick-and-roll specifically, his roll man possessions (12) have nearly caught up with his ball-handler possessions (13), and if you look at the trends of which games they’re coming in, you can see how his role is shifting.
As a roller, there were a few sprinkled in the early part of the season, but it’s really picked up since then, including at least once in every game this month so far. As a ball-handler, possessions were coming roughly once a game earlier, but it’s only happened once since Thanksgiving.
Take a look at how he starred in the near-win against a very good Pacers team.