His summer league was revealing and generated more buzz than that of many previous Kings picks, probably because few people from Sacramento had watched Rider games on TV. There was a newness to Jason Thompson that didn't exist with Spencer Hawes from Washington and the Pac-10, and certainly an interest level that didn't accompany the first glance of the 2006 pick from another New Jersey mid-major, Quincy Douby of Rutgers. All understandable -- Hawes was a known and Douby was a No. 19 pick joining a backcourt of Mike Bibby and Kevin Martin.
Thompson jumped out because he is new and because he is unique. Power forward frame with some intriguing aspects of a small forward game, the way he can take a defensive board and push the ball upcourt himself or get a power forward on the perimeter and take him off the dribble. Plus, he will score from the block. All good.
Now why you should dial down the immediate expectations.
Defense. It's a problem. That doesn't make Thompson different than most rookies, and won't make him different from a lot of players of any experience level, but it does make him a reserve. Mikki Moore is still better defensively, by a considerable gap, and so Mikki Moore is still the starting power forward, also probably by a wide margin. Maybe the distance closes in training camp, when Thompson will have the chance to go against Moore.
Rebounding. Just as executives and coaches from other teams discount Thompson as a two-time Defensive Player of the Year in the Metro Atlantic Conference, they dismiss 12.1 boards a game in 2007-08 as a number that will not translate to the NBA.
Defense and rebounding.
No improvements in defense and rebounding, no move toward getting to the playoffs in 2010 or '11. The Kings know this. If Thompson defends and rebounds, he goes screaming past Moore. If Thompson at least competes in those areas, he gets good minutes and maybe even big minutes, depending on the health and trade status of Shareef Abdur-Rahim, Brad Miller and even Ron Artest. Hawes may play power forward with Miller at center, remember, and it wouldn't be the craziest moment if Thompson gets a look at small forward at 6-11, 250.
Offense is the least of Sac's problems, though, and offense is what Thompson does best. He gives them a unique dimension, and that's always a good thing. You can see what Geoff Petrie is building: bigs with a high basketball IQ who pass very well and beat teams with the dribble and pass as much as the basket. Hawes-Thompson is not a duplication of Vlade Divac-Chris Webber, Divac one of the most skilled centers ever in those areas and Webber ahead of most power forwards of his time, but it's from the blueprint of that previous generation.
The downside is that a Hawes-Thompson pairing as the future at center and power forward, could realistically be facing years of getting run over on defense and crushed on the boards. With that tradeoff, an exciting offense doesn't do the Kings much good.
The rank in scoring last season: 8.
The rank in shooting: 10.
The rank in scoring defense: 24.
The rank in shooting defense: 22.
The rank in rebounding percentage: 26.
The record: 38-44.
It all gets Reggie Theus the same predicament as 2007-08 with Miller vs. Hawes. Miller made it especially tough because he played well at the same time as Hawes needed several months to recover from knee surgery, but it has to become about building for the future at some point, not what delivers the most wins now. Same thing with Moore vs. Thompson.
The real investment is in Thompson. But if he's not having an impact on defense and on the boards, or at least not getting better, Theus is back in the bad spot of balancing who's the better player against what's best for the development of the roster.