Ausar Thompson is basketball’s answer to the Swiss Army Knife. Monty Williams will get around to using all of his wondrous tools at some point. But he’s mindful of not using them too much, too soon.
Thompson is a thoroughly unique player – at least until his twin brother, Amen, drafted one spot ahead of him by Houston, recovers from an ankle injury – and that, ultimately, is nothing but a positive for the Pistons. But maximizing his value necessitates some outside-the-box thinking from Williams and he’s absolutely envisioning what that might entail.
For now, though, Williams is tapping the brakes and “not putting too much on his plate,” he said. “We already put him on the toughest guy every single night. I feel like the biggest heel when I have to correct him on the fly when he’s making an honest rookie mistake, but I do expect a lot out of him.”
In fact, Williams said he and general manager Troy Weaver talked last week “about different ways to use him in regard to playing him in pick and roll a little bit, because he does make good decisions. I think it’s a work in progress, but at the same time I don’t want to flood his mind with too much.”
Thompson’s impact goes well beyond what the numbers say, but the numbers say a lot. Thompson went into Monday’s NBA games second only to the great Nikola Jokic in rebounds with 116, the only non-center among the top 10. He also was tied for fourth with Rudy Gobert in blocked shots with 20. It’s wild that someone who spends the bulk of his time guarding on the perimeter is rebounding and blocking shots like a much bigger player who positions himself within a step or two of the rim.
That’s a testament to Thompson’s quickness and all-around athleticism but also to his mindset and hunger for the ball. No one is Dennis Rodman – the guy NBA lifer Jack McCloskey said was both the best rebounder and best defender he’d ever seen – but Thompson is the closest the Pistons have had to Rodman since he wore their uniform to launch his Hall of Fame career.
Williams came up with another apt comparison on Sunday in Chicago when he said Thompson reminded him of Shawn Marion, a four-time All-Star who had five seasons where he averaged double figures in rebounding as a 6-foot-7 wing.
“You look around and you wonder why a guy isn’t getting a certain amount of rebounds, it’s because Ausar is stealing them.”
The best measure of how thoroughly Thompson has won over his coach is the playing time he’s warranted. Only Cade Cunningham and Isaiah Stewart have logged more minutes to date.
“I told him I trust him because of the work he puts in,” Williams said. “He doesn’t run from any situation. Sometimes I get too far ahead when I put too much on his plate, so expanding him right now is not at the forefront because he does have a lot on his plate.”
When you’re doing things that only Hall of Famers have done, that’s another pretty good indication you’re getting your career off on the right foot. In the Nov. 5 game against Phoenix, Ausar Thompson finished with 14 points, nine rebounds, four steals, four blocked shots and four assists. He’s only the third rookie in NBA history to reach those thresholds and the other two had pretty good careers: Kevin Garnett and Ralph Sampson.
Who was the first Pistons coach to be named NBA Coach of the Year?
A: Rick Carlisle
B: Dave DeBusschere
C: Ray Scott
D: Chuck Daly
DID YOU SEE THIS?
Cade Cunningham scored 33 points at Milwaukee last Wednesday to go with eight rebounds and eight assists, joining arguably the three greatest players in Pistons history as the only ones who’ve worn their uniform to hit those benchmarks at least three times. The others are Grant Hill and Dave Bing, who did it five times each, and Isiah Thomas, who did it three times. Cunningham, 22, has a long pathway ahead of him to leapfrog Hill and Bing.
THIS WEEK IN PISTONS HISTORY
When USA Basketball announced the 1992 men’s Olympic basketball team on Sept. 21, 1991, there was one glaring omission – Isiah Thomas. By any measure, he deserved inclusion. The team wasn’t put together with roster fit foremost in mind; the United States was going to win the gold medal going away, everyone knew, in the first Olympics where professional players were permitted to play. Thomas, coming off two recent NBA championships as the face of the Bad Boys, certainly had the star power to fit among a superstar-laden roster that would include Michael Jordan, Magic Johnson, Larry Bird and Charles Barkley.
But Jordan, for reasons that have been debated ever since, allegedly made clear his participation was conditional on Thomas’ exclusion. And Jordan, a money-making machine for the NBA at the very height of his fame, would get his wish. The placeholder in Thomas’ spot on the roster was Utah’s John Stockton. And on Nov. 15, 1991 at The Palace of Auburn Hills – the first meeting of the Pistons and Stockton’s Jazz since the team was unveiled – Thomas made his point. Forty-four of them, in fact. He hit 15 of 22 shots, 2 of 4 from the 3-point line and 12 of 16 free throws in scoring 44 points for the first time since 1983. A month later, when the Pistons visited Utah, Stockton’s teammate Karl Malone walloped Thomas with a vicious elbow that would require 40 stitches.
Ray Scott was named NBA Coach of the Year in 1974 after leading the Pistons to their first 50-win season, finishing 52-30. The Pistons finished third in the Midwest Division behind Milwaukee and Chicago. The Bulls beat the Pistons 4-3 in a fiercely contested first-round playoff series that saw the road team win the first two games – they alternated home and away for all seven games – and the home team hold court for the final five. The Bulls won Game 7 96-94. Scott is fourth in career victories (147) among Pistons coaches after Chuck Daly (467), Flip Saunders (176) and Stan Van Gundy (152).
(Eddie Rivero, Pistons basketball information specialist, contributed to this report.)