Senior Sam Thompson must grow his role this year if the Buckeyes are to succeed. Though he's never quite materialized into that standout scorer many had hoped he would upon his first arriving on campus at The Ohio State University, there's been some murmurs that this year might be the season where he does just that.
After representing the team at Big Ten Media Day and earning high praise through the Buckeyes' Bahamas scrimmages and intrasquad games alike, Thompson has the opportunity to make his senior year a special one.
If Thompson plays the sort of minutes we expect, continues his evolution as a scorer, and takes on the increased amount of touches one would expect from a senior with his experience in the offense, there's no reason not to expect we'll be looking back at Thompson as one of the bright spots on this team come March or April.
A Look Back:
Thompson logged an average of 25 minutes a game last year, rotating into the starting lineup at times to allow Shannon Scott to give a spark off the bench. While he spent a good amount of time on the court, Thompson was never a significant offensive weapon. Thompson managed a 45% field goal percentage, 35% from three-point range, and just shy of 8 points a game. He was good for almost three rebounds a game, too. While Thompson won't be remembered for providing any game-changing point production last year, his 2013-14 campaign will definitely be remembered for his monstrous dunks:
Its impossible not to love the pure joy on Thompson's face when he's throwing the hammer down.
Outlook for 2014-15:
Thompson is already comfortable in a starting role, but he'll can't pigeon-hole himself as a dunking defender any more. Thompson will be called upon to lead this team now, particularly as several new freshman or first-year players are expected to play significant minutes. Coach Thad Matta agrees: "I would expect all of our seniors to be — in terms of leadership — supplying some (leadership), but obviously we have to grow that as the season continues."
As one of two remaining starters on the team (Amir Williams being the other one), Thompson will undoubtedly be called on to shoulder more of the scoring load this year. Saturday's open scrimmage game some indication that Thompson is ready to contribute with mid-range fieldgoals and three-pointers to compliment his dunks. Thompson understands this new expectation: "I’ll definitely have to score more than I did the last few years if I want to have the type of season that I think this team is capable of having."
Thompson's teammates think he's ready to put up points this year, too. Marc Loving called this year's Buckeye squad a "well-balanced group...Shannon and Sam [Thompson] can score ... we have a lot of weapons."
Thompson is ranked as the 60th best basketball player in the nation right now, based mainly on his potential to turn his freak athleticism into a complete player who can knock down jumpers, defend, drive the lane, and get the crowd on its feet with backboard shaking dunks.
Best Case Scenario:
The best, most likely use of Thompson is a sort of Lenzelle Smith, Jr. role: a strong defender with enough offensive potency to demand the attention of defenses so that the Buckeye's other offensive weapons can get open. If Thompson is able to thrown down 10-15 points a night from mid-to-long-range, he'll help spread and space the floor so Anthony Lee, Shannon Scott and D'Angelo Russell can go to work. Thompson's ability to fly through the air with the greatest of ease should allow him to beat taller players to offensive and defensive rebounds, too, helping the Bucks control the tempo of the game and get extra offensive possessions.
Ideally Thompson would use his speed and hops to do some work driving the lane, but his frame and build don't necessarily support that kind of role. If Thompson can become a consistent scorer and maintain his 2013 level of defense, he doesn't need to be a 20-point a night guy to fulfill his role on this team, but that's not entirely impossible either.
Worst Case Scenario:
If Thompson is unable to step up his field-goal shooting, he'll be nothing more than an extra body clogging up the floor that allows defenses to double-team OSU's other players with abandon. Unless Thompson forces defenses to account for him as a jump-shooter, opponents will likely choose to live with the occasional alley-oop in exchange for keeping Scott, Russell, Lee (or other shooters) locked down. OSU's toughest games last year where when one or two role players went cold, allowing defenses to smother Aaron Craft, Amir Williams and LaQuinton Ross and keep them from scoring. All the defense in the world won't save Thompson if he can't step us his offensive game.