I’ve always wanted to keep this column generally positive, but right now it’s hard to look at the Detroit Pistons and think anything positive, especially riding a nine-game losing streak.
One player I did want to touch on is Ausar Thompson. I felt like I was very high on him relative to the rest of the draft community with him firmly at fourth ahead of Brandon Miller and my no-brainer choice for the Pistons at No. 5. He’s blowing even me away with his early play.
The number one stat with Thompson is rebounds, and you better strap in because this one is insane.
He is second in the league in total rebounds (124; 13 behind Finals MVP Nikola Jokic) despite his listed 6-foot-7 height. You have to go all the way down to 36th to find another player as tall or shorter than Thompson (Jrue Holiday, 73).
His ability to do everything and play above his size has forced me to further contemplate his star potential. I thought Amen might be the only Thompson twin with star potential, but he’s doing solid things that lead to winning.
Now if only we can do something about that three-point shot. Thompson has just four 3PM on the season and only three in the last 11 games. And that’s on an incredibly disappointing sample size of 27 3PA. It’s just not something teams have to worry about at all right now, and it’s tough to envision star outcomes when you’re not a threat from all areas.
But what I really wanted to focus on this week is the Champions Classic, which in a lot of ways really kicks off the college basketball season. Held at the United Center in Chicago, home of the Chicago Bulls, the Champions Classic features four of college basketball’s preeminent programs: Duke, Michigan State, Kansas, and Kentucky.
So here are the biggest standouts from the Tuesday double-header; one for each team, even though there were several more who impressed:
One Blue Devil who blew me away was Caleb Foster, one of Duke’s heralded freshmen. I wasn’t as high on Foster coming into the season because I don’t like banking on players who rely on shot-making, but when you’re letting it fly as freely and cleanly as Foster did in this game, it’s tough to not be excited.
Listed at 6’5 and nearly 200 pounds, Foster came off the bench to play the fourth-most minutes of any Duke player and finishing as the only Blue Devil with multiple 3PM, shooting 4-of-5 from distance. Two of his threes came back-to-back late in the game as Duke tried to pull away.
On the Michigan State side, AJ Hoggard really impressed me with his playmaking (eight assists to two turnovers), and he needed to distribute well with how poorly he shot the ball, just 1-of-8 overall and 0-for-2 from three.
I am not about to talk to Detroit about a former Michigan man finishing with 27 points and 21 rebounds. Instead, allow me to shine a light on Kevin McCullar Jr., one of the most fun prospects dating back to his time at Texas Tech.
The 6’7 utility McCullar Jr. finished with a 12-10-10 triple double, which is just the third triple double in Kansas history, and the first in his career. The 10 assists is a career-high, and he had just 10 career double doubles coming into this game, so definitely a career night on the big stage.
While he came up empty from three in this game (0-for-3), he shot 5-of-12 3P over Kansas’s first two games, so the hope is that improvement is here to stay. He also continues to be an impactful defender, able to guard pretty much anyone.
It would just be wrong to prop up any Kentucky Wildcat without first propping up Rob Dillingham, who is the first prospect this cycle to make me audibly cackle.
congratulations to rob dillingham, the first prospect to make me cackle this cycle with his four threes and assist for a fifth within a <2:30 span pic.twitter.com/8SnkXmZJjJ— Damon Allred (@iamdamonallred) November 15, 2023
Coach John Calipari needs to play Dillingham more; he took him out right after this stretch. Part of that is on Dillingham, I’ll admit; it’s bad to foul out in 18 minutes of play, so he can turn down the steal hunting a couple notches.
Overall, an incredibly fun night of college basketball.
If these two games — and an earlier game between Duke and Arizona — are any indication, the college level should be a wild ride this season and give Pistons fans a nice, relaxing break whenever the Pistons, who are in pole position on Tankathon for now, are on stretches like this one.
Fun whether you’re watching potential future Pistons or not.