After playing sparingly his freshman year, Sam Thompson became a vital part of the Buckeyes lineup in 2012-2013. His shooting numbers shot up, his defense was dependable and his dunks provided SportsCenter with fresh highlights every game. They should really send him a thank you letter.
Thompson will be even more instrumental for Ohio State's success as a junior. How did look in his sophomore season?
7.8 PPG, 3.5 RPG, 1.0 ASG, 0.8 BPG, 0.7 SPG. Shot 50 percent from the floor, 40 percent from beyond the arc. Played 25.1 minutes per game.
No. of Flying Sam Thompson DOT GIFs: Probably like a thousand.
Best games: Thompson's scoring was sporadic throughout his sophomore campaign, but he stepped up in Ohio State's first game of the tournament to post a career-high 20 points and 10 rebounds against the Iona Gaels. It was the first double-double of his young career at Ohio State.
He finished shooting 6-for-10 from the floor and a perfect 8-for-8 at the free throw line. And these weren't end of the game fouls to just send someone to the stripe. Thompson attacked the rim and put on a show in just 27 minutes of action.
Ohio State cruised in the end against Iona, but it wasn't a complete walkover the entire way. With 1:38 left to play in the first half, the Gaels surged to make it a 37-33 game. Thompson sank two free throws to put the Buckeyes up 43-33 at the half, and then came out of the locker room to score six of their next eight points. Pair that with his tenacious rebounding, and you have yourself one impressive performance.
Worst games: An 0-for-5 shooting day against then No. 11 Illinois was tough to watch. Ohio State was trounced 74-55 on that first Saturday of January, and Thompson contributed with a single point in the loss.
There were a few other games worth mentioning. He failed to get on the scoreboard at all against Wisconsin on Jan. 29. Unfortunately, though, his worst game of the year might have been the final matchup with Wichita State. The Buckeyes all played poorly until a late comeback ensued, but Thompson never really took part in the action. He played 33 minutes, picked up three fouls and scored just four points.
Of course Thompson isn't the one Ohio State relies on to take over offensively, but he found some good looks against the Shockers that he passed up. Maybe he was timid in the spotlight of the Elite 8.
The Skinny: This kid hustles. I often complain out loud when I watch Ohio State basketball, commenting on lazy fouls or lack of energy (lookin' at you, Amir), but I can't recall a single time where Thompson wasn't giving his full effort.
Thompson's athleticism is hard to match. Obviously he's known for his highlight-reel dunks, and why shouldn't he be? It's unreal some of the plays he makes. But, he developed into a solid shooter as the season progressed. He made 23-of-57 three-point attempts. If he can sustain those numbers in larger volume and find the drive to be a more aggressive shooter, the Buckeyes offense will possess another reliable scorer, which they need with Deshaun Thomas departing.
He finished second on the team in blocks and steals. Thompson's defense won him minutes over LaQuinton Ross initially, but now it will be interesting to see how Thad Matta manages their playing time as juniors.
The Prognosis: We know Thompson can score. The question is, does he know he can score? He, like Ross, disappeared offensively at times. When he finds a rhythm, though, it's fun to watch. You can actually enjoy seeing the shooting side of his game, along with the ridiculous dunks. If he can build more confidence offensively, the Buckeyes won't be reeling too bad from the loss of Thomas.
Slam Thompson will always be able to depend on his athletic ability to run fast breaks and provide solid defense every game. Can he become a consistent scorer? He's slowing growing into that role.