Pistons draft preview: Could Amen Thompson be this draft’s Jaden Ivey?

(Editor’s note: With the Pistons holding the No. 5 pick in the June 22 draft, Pistons.com today starts its series of previews of potential targets with the built-in assumption that the consensus top-three prospects – Victor Wembanyama, Scoot Henderson and Brandon Miller – will be off the board. Today: Overtime Elite’s Amen Thompson.)

Could Amen Thompson be this year’s Jaden Ivey?

While Ivey was considered the best perimeter athlete among last year’s lottery prospects, Thompson – or his twin brother, Ausar – is that guy this time around. The Pistons were picking fifth last season and fifth again this year and, just as there was last year, three players are considered almost certain to be taken before the Pistons go on the clock.

The three likely to be out of reach for the Pistons this year are Victor Wembanyama, Scoot Henderson and Brandon Miller. Ivey was the betting favorite to be picked fourth, by Sacramento, a year ago but fell to the Pistons.

Houston picks fourth this season and mock drafts quickly projected Thompson to the Rockets in the lottery’s aftermath. If history repeats itself, Houston ultimately goes in another direction and the consensus No. 4 prospect is available for the Pistons at No 5.


ID CARD: 6-foot-7 guard/wing, Overtime Elite, 20 years old

DRAFT RANGE: Ranked fourth by The Athletic, fourth by ESPN.com, fourth by The Ringer, third by Bleacher Report

SCOUTS LOVE: Athleticism is in the first sentence of every Thompson scouting report. Even among NBA players – already the far end of the athletic bell curve – Thompson will stand out as an elite athlete. Combine that rare level of athleticism with evolved ballhandling and court vision and you have the makings of the type of rangy playmaker that every team desires. Thompson might project best as a lead ballhandler, but his athleticism and size – he measured out with a 7-foot-0 wingspan at the NBA draft combine – would allow him to play any perimeter position and defend all five against all but the most accomplished centers. In addition to the playmaking potential, defense will be a significant appeal for the team that drafts Thompson. His lateral mobility, speed, length and quickness give him the ideal toolkit to be an All-Defense candidate down the road. Thompson and his identical twin, Ausar, were trailblazers in being the first truly elite prospects to commit to Overtime Elite, skipping their senior year of high school and then spending a second season with the program. 

SCOUTS WONDER: There are two main concerns with Thompson. The biggest is his shot. He came to Overtime Elite with a form that needed to be completely rebuilt and the results have been spotty. He’s hit about a quarter of his 3-point shots. His free-throw percentage – often seen as a barometer for 3-point ceiling – has hovered in the 60s. Given the premium on 3-point shooting in today’s NBA – and the edge defenses gain when even one player represents a non-threat – there will be a limit to Thompson’s impact if defenses can get away with ignoring his presence at the 3-point line, dulling the effect of his playmaking potential. The other question mark with Thompson is the quality of competition he faced in Overtime Elite. Front offices have learned over the years through historical precedent how to interpret results in far-flung international leagues and compare it to American college counterparts, but there is no database for how Overtime Elite products stack up. Scouts will have had some data points from the Thompsons in their amateur days predating Overtime Elite, but it’s still new territory and could cause some hesitance to pull the trigger.

NUMBER TO NOTE: 20.5 – As in 20 years 5 months old. The Thompsons would have been eligible for the last NBA draft based on age but they weren’t a year removed from their high school class’ graduation at the time, so they had to spend a second season in Overtime Elite. That only serves to complicate the evaluation process since they competed against players almost universally a year or two – or three – younger than them in 2022-23.

MONEY QUOTE: “At first I didn’t want to come. It’s hard to be the first, or one of the first, to do something. But seeing the training, being around great coaches like (Kevin) Ollie, (Dave) Leitao, (Timothy) Fanning, (Ryan) Gomes, there were a lot of pros. The pros outweighed the cons for me. One of the biggest things is, during the season I feel at some places you might not get to develop because it’s all about win-win-win right now. At OTE, after a game I get to do a whole workout.” – Amen Thompson to Matt Babcock in March

PISTONS FIT: If the determination is that Amen Thompson’s value is tied to his use as a primary playmaker, then the fit with the Pistons might be a little clunky given the presence of Cade Cunningham and Jaden Ivey on the roster. But Troy Weaver might have pre-emptively doused that concern in April when he was asked about how he imagined Cunningham and Ivey fitting together after Ivey thrived as a primary ballhandler when Cunningham missed all but the first 12 games of 2022-23. “You want as many guys who can handle the ball and make plays as possible. If you can get five of ’em like that, you’re pretty good. Good players figure it out. They figure out how to share the ball.” Thompson’s athleticism, length and defensive abilities surely would add desirable qualities at an area of need on the wing. He would get more chances with the ball in his hands with the second unit or with staggered minutes apart from Cunningham. Weaver’s preference for players with upper-end positional size and athleticism would seem to put Thompson squarely on the radar if he gets past Houston, which picks fourth and immediately became a popular landing spot for Thompson in mock drafts after the May 16 lottery.