I will now engage in a statistical exercise where I will attempt to project the future performance of Jason Thompson based on his past (college) statistics. Already a mere two sentences into this post and no doubt many of you have already started rolling your eyes. The trajectory of JT's improvement from college freshman to college senior may not be a very good predictor of his improvement as a pro for various reasons that I can think of, and probably many more that you can.
For one thing, JT played at a mid-major college against a fair amount of unimpressive competition (NJIT, Siena, Canisius, Niagara, etc. etc.), although not all of the opponents were stiffs either (e.g., NC State, Kansas State, Rutgers). He also probably physically matured in ways that can't be expected to continue at his age. (By the way, he turned 23 last Tuesday. Belated Happy Birthday to Shock.)
But here is an important point. In college, JT got consistently better every year in almost every statistical category. Not every four-year college player does that. Some players burst on the scene as freshmen and never really improve after that, at least not statistically. (Tyler Hansborough would appear to be an example of that.) From freshman year to senior year, Shock showed significant improvement in points, shooting, rebounding, blocked shots, and assists. His steals per game improved modestly. The only hiccup in his progress at the line occurred in his senior year, where he inexplicably shot a college career low (66%, 70%, 72%, 58% over four years). Red flags not surprisingly appear for turnovers and personal fouls. His minutes per game increased moderately over four years (28, 32, 34, 35 mpg), which could easily happen as a pro.
What I intend to do is to take JT's rate of improvement in college (freshman to senior) in every statistical category, apply it to his rookie stats in the NBA, and then ask if the result is at all realistic. So here we go. I'll start with rebounding.
Over his college career, JT rebounded at a rate of 7.4, 8.4, 10.1, and 12.1 rpg. He thus improved steadily every year. Interestingly, his rookie rebounding stats are essentially identical to his freshman stats. So this same trajectory would apply if we assume similar improvement as a pro. A rebound rate of 12.1 rpg is very solid, and I think Kings fans would be pretty happy to see that. I also see no reason why he wouldn't show that kind of improvement. So 12 rpg by his fourth season seems achievable.
Now let's move onto blocks. JT's shot blocking was a bit disappointing last season at 0.72 bpg, but he did improve steadily as the season progressed, from 0.42 bpg in October/November to 1.1 bpg in March/April. Over his college career, JT blocked shots at a rate of 1.0, 1.8, 2.2, and 2.7 bpg. Applying that to his rookie stats produces the following four year extrapolation: 0.7, 1.3, 1.6, 2.0 bpg. Shock has certainly shown flashes of shot-blocking already and appears to have the makings of a respectable shot blocker (if he can avoid fouling), so this projection also seems realistic for the future.
JT does not appear to have C-Webb-like passing instincts. At Rider, he put up assist numbers of 1.5, 1.6, 2.1, and 2.7 apg---respectable, but not spectacular. For his rookie season, he had a pedestrian 1.1 apg. That extrapolates out to 1.2, 1.5, and 2.0 apg for the coming three seasons---also not that impressive. But in fairness to JT, the Kings did not exactly have a beautifully choreographed offensive scheme where guys knew where to be and what to do. From Reggie's "strong" offense (catchy name Reg) to Kenny's "what the Natt" offense (thanks Aykis), we couldn't exactly expect JT to light up the assists column. So this is one category where he could conceivably do better than projected with solid coaching and an offense that starts clicking at some point. (Oh to have Vlade brought in to coach Shock and Hawes. But I digress.)
Now lets move on to scoring. Over his college career, JT scored at a rate of 9.1, 16.6, 20.1, and 20.4 ppg. As a rookie, he put up a respectable 11.1 ppg. So if you apply his college trends to that, you get 20.2, 24.5, and 24.9 ppg. Conclusion: Not likely. Shock was the go-to guy at Rider; he'll be a complimentary piece on the Kings. No way he puts up those kinds of numbers with Freke'n'Speed on the court. I'd guess that 15 ppg or slightly better might be the best we could reasonably hope for.
But Shock also improved his shooting efficiency at Rider. His field goal average over four years was 44%, 55%, 52%, and 56%. Last year he shot a very respectable 49.7% from the field. If you apply his college improvement to his rookie year, you get 62%, 59%, and 63% over the next three years. Again, not likely. Those are Joel Przybilla-type numbers, i.e., high percentage put-back shots only. If Shock keeps his shooting percentage in the low to mid-50s, while increasing his point total to the mid-teens, I think we will all be very pleased.
As I said, turnovers and fouls remain an issue. Shock's turnover rate in his freshman year was 1.5 tpg, but jumped up to 2.9, 3.0, and 3.0 tpg for the next three seasons. Applying that to his rookie campaign where he had 1.78 tpg, we get 3.4, 3.6, and 3.6 tpg. That's Allen Iverson territory. Obviously there is reason for concern here. Shock needs to learn to play under control and to cut way down on bad decisions. Let's hope the new and (hopefully vastly) improved coaching staff helps.
Fouls too remain an issue, as was on full display at the VSL. Shock's foul numbers were 2.6, 3.2, 3.3, and 2.9 fpg at Rider. Applying that to his rookie campaign where he had 3.83 fpg, we get 4.8, 4.9, and 4.4 fpg. Clearly that can't happen if he is going to show the requisite improvement in the other statistical categories. With numbers like that, he'll be sitting on the bench most of the time. So let's hope this particular red flag stops flapping pretty damn soon, because numbers like that send otherwise promising careers into the coulda-been category.
But I want to quickly add what seems to me to be an important point. JT's statistical improvement as a college player is not only an indication of his emerging talent. It is also a sign of his work ethic and smarts. The guy got better every year because he worked at it and because he cares about the game and is willing to learn. Yes his fouls and turnovers increased in college, but they never got to unacceptable levels. For example, even though he averaged more than 3 fouls per game over his last three seasons at Rider (5 fouls being the limit in college), he actually fouled out four times as a sophomore, twice as a junior, and zero times as a senior. So with good coaching and more experience, his negatives should be able to be limited and maybe eventually overcome; and there is good reason to expect that they will.
Another interesting point about JT is his consistency. The guy averaged more than 20 points per game over his junior and senior years, yet he never scored more than 33 points in any one game. But he also scored fewer than 10 points (9) on only one occasion in 65 games over two seasons. That reminds me of the Hall-of-Fame baseball player "Steady" Eddie Murray. The guy played 21 major league seasons and hit over 500 home runs, but he never hit more than 33 in any one season. He also collected over 3,000 hits, but he never got 200 hits in any one season. Yet the guy was rock solid for two decades, and he ended up in Cooperstown as a result.
Which brings me to a final point---one that I raise with perhaps a hint of trepidation. Here is one of JT's more intriguing statistical accomplishments:
Number of games played in college: 122
Number of games missed in college: 1
And furthermore, Shock was the only King who played in all 82 games last season. The next closest guys were Hawes (77), Beno (73), and B-Jax (71). So in 204 college and professional games, JT has played in 203. There's no telling what the future may hold, and fate can be cruel (as Kings fans know too well). But to date anyway, the guy is durable. And that is a very, very good sign.
So in conclusion, I see a lot of reason for optimism. JT may never score 50 points in a game, and he may not be a perennial first team All-NBA guy. But he has a very encouraging combination of talent, skill, attitude, durability, and smarts. And that's why I'm looking forward to another season of Shock therapy in Sactown.