The Dallas Mavericks are considering trading their pick if they stay at 10 in the NBA lottery, but there are a number of consensus top ten players who can help them in the departments they are weak; defense, size, and athleticism. It seems more likely they trade the pick if those wings and forwards are all off the board, but it’s also possible one falls that would bring many of those traits.
I’ve seen certain mock drafts where Ausar Thompson falls a little for various reasons, whereas I think of him as closer to my fifth favorite prospect than tenth. The Mavericks would have a difficult choice if he fell; Thompson may not help immediately, yet his longer-term projection is exactly what they need.
Ausar is one-half of the Thompson twins, who have created quite a buzz playing in the unconventional development league known as Overtime Elite. Ausar is much more of a wing, much more of an off-ball player than his brother Amen, who plays like a 6-7 Russell Westbrook. Ausar’s comparison points are Shawn Marion or Andre Iguodala.
He does so much on the court. He’s a high-level athlete in transition, but also a very heady passer even if he isn’t the initiator his brother is. He profiles to be great both at the point-of-attack as well as a ferocious secondary rim protector for being 6’7”. His biggest weakness, as we will see, is his shot.
Ausar’s defensive ceiling is so high. He can pressure ball-handlers all the way up the court and has the closing speed and instincts to make highlight-reel plays. The benefit of having a lengthy player who can chase around small guards is a cheat code; the ability to marry weakside helper instincts to that is just insane versatility. He’s had an issue–that his stance was sometimes lazy or he played too high–but we’re talking about all-world athletes playing in a near-exhibition league, and boredom did ensue. In any crunch-time scenario, Ausar was low and close to ball handlers (and effective).
Even though Ausar is not the athlete his brother is, he would immediately be the best athlete the Mavericks have had in a decade. A big-time leaper, he can outrun a backtracking defense and catch lobs. Ausar is also very adept at cutting and playing off-ball to utilize that athleticism, and his spatial awareness and court mapping mean he’s a killer “junk scorer”. He’s a put-back machine and doesn’t waste much movement.
That cutting ability is really indicative of his intelligence as well. He’s not like his brother Amen as an initiator, the type who can simultaneously read the floor, weaponize his burst and then make the pass. Many things need to go right for him to be a full-time point forward, but he absolutely is a “connector”, and like Iguodala I think he will end up a secondary initiator. This also makes his transition talent even more dangerous; he can lead the break too. Ausar genuinely likes to pass, and is the type to make an entire unit more capable of ball movement (again, like Iguodala).
Scouts say both Thompsons also have very mature personalities and outlooks, and in interviews, they already show self-awareness about weaknesses. Taking bad shots to work through his shooting issues is unlikely.
The most obvious is his shot; he’s shown a more consistent form and better percentages than his brother, who’d more appropriately be called a non-shooter, but Ausar would be heavily sagged-off early on. This is what keeps him from having that ceiling as an initiator; Amen is literally a top 5 athlete the moment he’s drafted, and so when teams go under screens he can still press the issue by living in the lane. Ausar must keep the ball moving when the screener goes under; a respectable long-range shot unleashes him as an all-star.
He doesn’t have great mid-range touch either as far as self-created jumpers. These are such an integral part of a scorer’s diet, and he is stiff getting into off-the-dribble moves. While I’ve said he’s a strong finisher, those baskets between the rim and the mid-range are important; can he master floaters, push shots, and baby hooks?
It may sound damning to say he’s neither a floor-spacer or a player with a mid-range game, at least to the idea of Ausar going as high as five. Still, while I’m no shot doctor, his form is not as flawed as his brother’s. It improved as the season went along, and he shot 38% in the Overtime Elite playoffs. He was more fluid in how he gathered on catch-and-shoots, which is more important for him to fit within an NBA context. The Overtime Elite arc is also the same as the NBA’s, rather than the shortened college one, so his 30% mark doesn’t look quite as bad.
Part of why I’m high on him despite such a limited game is that while those are very loud weaknesses, he’s nearly elite at almost everything else. His floor is of a rotational stopper to guard other team’s primary wings, play out in transition, and be extremely effective next to a stretch big, and that’s not bad when your ceiling is a point-forward-y Shawn Marion.
Fit with the Mavericks
It’s understandable to be scared off by an iffy shot, but there is room to sacrifice a perfectly geometrical offensive playground for positional size, defense and intelligence. Luka must be guarded to the three-point line and will hopefully begin weaponizing himself off-ball; with some schematic jostling, having 3.5 spacers on the floor can work in the name of balance.
Because as far as filling needs, Ausar very much does. He’s the rangy wing everyone needs, but with playmaking that Dorian Finney-Smith didn’t have. He’s long and reactive, which will help protect other bad defenders. He can handle the ball, up the pace and guard the other team’s primary options. It may sound like I’m downplaying the difficulty of adding a non-spacer, but it’s more so that I think the risk would be worth the squeeze as far as seeing if Ausar’s shot can develop quickly.
The bigger issue is that shooting development may take time. I’ve chosen in my draft profiles to only make a passing glance at the team’s timeline and situation with Luka Doncic (lord knows we don’t want to think about it, and it doesn’t effect the prospect’s evaluation themselves), but as far as “fit”, it’s paramount. I like Ausar enough to believe that he would soon hold major trade value, and help enough as a role player in the early going.
As I’ve stated, Iguodala and Marion are the two I come back to, especially Iggy as a secondary playmaker. I’ve seen Grant Hill as well. A lower-end comp might be a playmaking Gerald Wallace, but with passing chops. An even lower one could be Justise Winslow (who I also admittedly loved out of college, though Ausar is a much better athlete). An example of when such players bust might be Michael Kidd-Gilchrist or a Josh Jackson, but Ausar’s difference from them is the high-level feel.
When you get into these top tier guys, it’s easier to understand why prognosticators are so high on this draft as a whole. Ausar Thompson doesn’t fix the Mavericks. But he’s the toolbox that certainly could, if things broke right. There’s so much talent, it’s hard to ignore the upside.