Thompson sparks without having to score in Pistons debut

When those who make a living from the NBA draft industry predicted Ausar Thompson as an Andre Iguodala clone in the lead-up to last month’s draft, it was nothing more than a loose framework for the type of player he could one day become. When Troy Weaver volunteered the comparison on draft night … well, that was a different matter. It was worth noting.

General managers throw out such comparisons with great caution. And while Weaver is more transparent than many of his peers, he doesn’t make such rants recklessly. He has a deep and abiding respect for the work accrued by anyone who stays with the NBA long enough to earn another contract, never mind the 19 seasons and four NBA titles Iguodala has on his resume.

With the caveat that extrapolating what happens in a player’s rookie season based on his first Summer League outing is bad—and projecting how his career will pan out based on such flimsy evidence is wrong—well, these comparisons look appear to be based on solid foundations.

Gifted scorers are rare, good shooters are forever sought after, dominant rebounders will never go out of fashion, and shutdown defenders are on every team’s wish list. But just as unique are the jack-of-all-trades types who do enough things either slightly better than average or much better than average. If Thompson can fit into that bucket, something that appears to be within his reach, it will go down as one of Weaver’s best moves.

Maybe one day Thompson will mature into a 20-point-a-night scorer and a 40 percent 3-point shooter, and if that happens, they’ll hang his jersey from the rafters. But he showed in frequent flashes in his Summer League debut that he can multi-task at a high enough level that his No. 9 might hang there regardless.

“Man, that kid—well, not kid; I think we’re the same age,” said Jalen Duren, who is actually about 10 months Thompson’s junior, “that guy, he’s a special talent. Right away you just see the length and athleticism he brings to the game and the IQ. He is still very raw. The way he impacts the game on both ends of the floor is amazing.”

Exactly. Still very raw, still a combination of athletic enough, smart enough, big enough and competitive enough to stand out on a day where he scored seven points – but also contributed nine rebounds, three blocked shots, three assists and a steal , while committing just two of his team’s 22 turnovers in a typically hectic Summer League affair.

You understand that if Thompson plays five Summer League games, he can leave five different positive impressions. It might be his defense that makes the biggest impact, it might be his rebounding, it might be his cutting.

On Saturday it was his vision and passing ability. His one-handed play from just above the line that hit James Wiseman in his sweet spot, stepped through two defenders who pinned him, was dazzling. The defensive rebound and one-man fast break that culminated in a precise cross-body pass to Jared Rhoden for a third corner was lethal—simple, risk-free, perfect.

“At the core of him, he makes winning plays,” Summer League coach Jarrett Jack said. “Fifty-fifty balls, trench rebounds, cutting, pushing the basketball, making the extra pass, sacrificing yourself in some cases to cut so someone can get the extra pass on the backside – that’s something you can’t teach. I’m excited for his growth.”

When the Pistons brought Duren and Jaden Ivey into the fold in the 2022 draft, holdovers immediately recognized that the two newcomers were a different athlete than anyone else on the roster. Ivey is an elite athlete even by the absurd standards of NBA athletes, but even he just shakes his head and discusses Thompson’s athleticism.

“He just … flows,” Ivey said. “A layup, you could just feel it. It’s something else about him that I’ve never seen before. It’s like he’s floating in the air when he jumps. A lot of my teammates have seen it and noticed.”

You get the chance for special results when you combine Thompson-level athleticism with the kind of IQ the 20-year-old suggested he had in his reveal.

Fellow Pistons rookie Marcus Sasser spent four years in Houston and comes to the Pistons as a first-team All-American with an NBA-ready 3-point shot and a defensive tenacity honed under the stern eye of veteran coach Kelvin Sampson. The Pistons personnel department fell in love with Sasser for his character, talent and toughness. Sasser doesn’t seem like the type to hand out platitudes carelessly. Thompson has won him too.

“As time goes on, I feel like he’s going to get more comfortable and the scoring is going to come for him,” Sasser said. “He’s a great playmaker. Because of his height and how athletic he is, he can see the floor so he makes really good passes. He makes a lot of game-winning plays. I think that’s something that gets overlooked. But I think he’s a plus every time he’s on the floor.”

And that’s the essence of what makes a player one every franchise wants, what allows a player to stick around for a decade, or in very rare cases—hey, Mr. Iguodala—maybe two decades. It’s a comparison no one should make lightly. But on the first day of Ausar Thompson’s career, it doesn’t feel wrong.

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