30Q asks the important questions about the Kings all through September.
You may not know it, but Jason Thompson stands at a crossroads. (Note: he may not know it either. Note #2: he may not actually be standing at a crossroads, which may explain why he nor you may not know that he is standing at crossroads.) After a rookie campaign in which Thompson showed elements of consistent offense while offering vigorous (if flawed) defensive intensity, Shock can follow one of two paths.
He can become a high-volume offensive threat.
Or, he can become a defensive star.
Circumstances may prevent Thompson from increasing his usage rate much beyond what he had last year (a bit over 19). Those circumstances actually have names: Kevin Martin, Tyreke Evans and Spencer Hawes. The Kings have possession soakers. But Thompson can force himself into the equation -- heck, he actually did so last season by cleaning up so much garbage around the rim.
On defense, the opportunity is there. The team signed Desmond Mason to be a stopper, for crissakes. ("Consecutive days bemoaning an unguaranteed minimum salary signing" streak intact. Yes!) Thompson's work ethic and energy level befit a defensive star. He just needs the skill development and league smarts now. (Those are, of course, no small things to wish for.)
There does exist a middle path for Shock Thompson, though.
I spoke with David Thorpe about Thompson last week. Thorpe, as you know, trains Kevin Martin and (now) Omri Casspi. He also writes for ESPN.com. I suggested to Thorpe that I feel Thompson has the opportunity to move toward a LaMarcus Aldridge type of play (midrange focused) who always looks for his shot, or a Udonis Haslem (who shoots as the recipient of a set-up by Dwyane Wade or, previously, Shaq) and instead focuses on defense.
Thorpe suggested Thompson could do both: focus on hitting the shots set up by Martin and Evans, while concentrating on defensive excellence.
We pay a lot of lip service to two-way players in this league. But in all but the most extraordinary circumstances -- I'm talking Michael Jordan, LeBron James, Tim Duncan -- there's a sincere trade-off to be made. Even Kobe, an exemplary scorer and defender, has to balance his energy on each side of the court. When Kobe is at his truly best on offense, someone else is guarding to opponent's top dog. When Kobe is in shutdown mode on defense, he noticeably drags a bit on offense. (Of course, because so few NBA writers pay attention to defense before marking up their award ballots, Kobe -- who hasn't consistently performed at All Defense team level for at least four years now -- still gets honored for his D.)
Thompson cannot be a 20-point scorer and an All Defense candidate in this league. If he is too focused on offense, he won't be shutting down the Kevin Loves and Blake Griffins and Paul Millsaps. But this isn't to say Thompson can't do his best to become the Kings best defender all while relieving the pressure on offense by hitting shots and the boards consistently. The Kings have playmakers. While the assist numbers may never be great, Evans can set up his teammates -- he did it for Shock in Vegas. And while Martin isn't renowned as a passer, he draws so much attention. (And rightly so.)
A lot of great defenders are nothing but role players on offense. Bruce Bowen in the corner. Dikembe Mutombo, waiting for a carom under the rim. But Thompson can be more than that -- he has a versatile offensive game, and he showed it off in Vegas and last season. He's solid (if unpolished) at the rim. He's smart on the pick-and-roll. He's able to hit 18-footers fairly well. He can draw fouls. He's one of the best in league on the offensive glass. He has multiple useful tools on offense. But those can be best utilized, in my opinion, in roles complementary to what the playmakers are doing. Don't run plays for Jason Thompson -- run plays which leave Thompson open and the guards in a position to hit him with a pass.
And let him focus on defense. Lord knows we need a killer defender. (Actually, we need about three.) Hopefully, everyone in the organization (Thompson included) can get behind a drive to make him the defensive centerpiece of the frontcourt, an evolved Udonis Haslem/stopper version of LMA. He has the body and the spirit. He can do it.