The subtle improvement of Jason Thompson

Kyle Terada-US PRESSWIRE

Despite a lack of gaudy box scores, Jason Thompson has quietly been exceptional. A statistical analysis of how Thompson has improved.

When Jason Thompson signed his 5-year, $30 million extension with the Kings this summer, reactions were mixed but most of us were happy with the deal. Thompson had earned a spot in the hearts of most fans for carving out a niche as a reliable player, even if he wasn't flashy. While there have certainly been some dissenters, and some more vocal than others, the general sentiment around JT has been positive.

Imagine my surprise when I realized we may be undervaluing just how good JT has been this season.

Jason Thompson has not put up gaudy stats, and excels at allowing the game to come to him. Because of this, what he does produce can appear understated even if it carries significant value. With a tip of the cap to Otis29 who suggested I take a glance at Thompson's Synergy numbers, I present the case that JT is not only living up to his contract, but is exceeding expectations.

First a bit of context. Here, via Synergy Sports, is how JT rated out last season in a few key areas:

Play Type # of Plays PPP NBA Rank
Overall 584 0.97 82
Post-Up 116 0.79 94
Off Rebound 108 1.1 70
Cut 122 0.98 187

While JT was good last season, none of these numbers stand out as being particularly impressive. Let's compare them to how JT has rated this season:

Play Type # of Plays PPP NBA Rank
Overall 158 0.97 101
Post-Up 32 0.84 22
Off Rebound 28 1.32 3
Cut 29 1.03 27

Overall, JT's points per possession remain the same, but in the areas where the majority of JT's offensive opportunities come, he has excelled. A seemingly minor improvement in JT's post-up efficiency has made him one of the more efficient post players in the league. JT is number three in the NBA at scoring off an offensive rebound. Considering how many shots the Kings miss, this is a hugely valuable skill. When cutting to the basket, we again see that a seemingly subtle uptick has vaulted JT into the top tier in the NBA. Thompson isn't flashy, he's efficient.

Jason Thompson's value comes from his ability to score efficiently in the situations where he gets opportunities. Thompson doesn't get used as an isolation scorer, and thank goodness, the Kings have enough of those. Instead, he's the clean-up guy who can quietly and efficiently contribute.

Of course, offense is but one side of the floor. Let's take a look at defense. Again, let's begin with last season's number for context.

Play Type # of Plays Opp. PPP NBA Rank
Overall 370 0.82 147
Post-Up 133 0.77 91
Spot Up 117 0.9 134

Similar to on offense, we see JT ranking at a respectable but unspectacular level last season. You'll notice I'm only listing two specific areas. That's because these two areas, Post-Up and Spot Up, account for the majority of the plays where JT defends a player who attempts a shot. These areas match up with this season's early numbers as well. Now let's look at this season.

Play Type # of Plays Opp. PPP NBA Rank
Overall 88 0.63 12
Post-Up 43 0.6 5
Spot Up 25 0.48 n/a*

Thompson's defensive numbers have improved dramatically. JT's overall defense has launched him into the upper tier of NBA defenders. He's currently the 5th best post-up defender in the NBA. And although he hasn't had enough defensive possessions to be ranked at spot-up defense, he's allowing an absurdly low points per possession in the 25 opportunites thus far.

Thompson's most "impressive" individual stat this season is his block rate. Thompson currently rates 38th in blocks per minute. For a player never known as shot blocker, he's currently in the company of known shot blockers and defensive specialists like Omer Asik (49th), Marreese Speights (33rd), and Ekpe Udoh (32nd). But even still, it belies his overall contribution to the Kings.

As with any statistical analysis this early in the season, there are bound the be questions of sample size. Those concerns are certainly valid, and we'll have to see how the remainder of the season plays out. But Jason Thompson is 26 years old, entering what should be the prime of his career. It would not be unreasonable for him to make a legitimate leap as he matures as player and applies the lessons he's learned over the previous four years.

Whether this is a fluke or not remains to be seen. But the start of this season is very surprising, and very promising.

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