The potential has always been there for Sam Thompson. The hyper athletic swingman from Chicago has created more breathless, all-caps tweets than any other Buckeye in recent memory, save perhaps D'Angelo Russell. They didn't call him 'Slam Thompson', after all, because he was bad at dunking. We knew Thompson could slam as good as just about anybody else in college, and we knew he could have been something special, if his game became just a little more complete.
Thompson teased at this, but never fully turned the corner at Ohio State, remaining a useful role player on teams that needed him to be something more. But does his game translate better to the NBA? Could Thompson find a way to stick on a roster, even without being drafted? Let's take a closer look at what he can hypothetically bring to the table.
Boy howdy can he dunk: Again, he was called Slam Thompson for a reason. For whatever flaws Thompson's offensive game might have, and we'll go to those in a second, he is a superlative dunker. Ohio State ran an alley-oop off an inbounds play seemingly every single game, and nobody was able to stop it. Not only does Thompson have excellent jumping ability, he's able to adjust in mid-flight to the ball, has great hands, and can finish in traffic. I mean, these all look cool as hell, but being able to elevate and finish is a nice skill to have. Here's a highlight clip of BTN that shows how Thompson is able to flush it home in a variety of different ways:
He's also a shotblocker: Thompson's leaping ability isn't just for GIFs, Vines and outrageous dunks. He also had strong shotblocking instincts, and is able to quickly elevate to deny a shooter. Thompson averaged nearly a block a game over his career, and added 1.3 steals a game over his senior season. Despite not being a very big guy, or necessarily playing only in the paint, Thompson's bounce allowed him to frustrate shooters and erase shots completely if a player wasn't careful. For example:
He has the foundations needed to be a very good defensive player: Thompson doesn't have a huge wingspan (6'9), but he is tall (6'7), can jump out of the gym, and also has excellent lateral quickness, allowing him to stay in front of his man and jump into passing lanes. You don't see the court much under Thad Matta if you can't play defense, and Thompson was on the court quite a bit over the last four years, serving as one of Ohio State's best individual defenders over the last two seasons, especially against bigger wings. Thompson played a fair amount of power forward at Ohio State, but he has the body to potentially defend twos and threes at the next level. He's not a finished defensive product by any means, but there's a lot to like about his potential on that end of the floor.
Shooting: Ohio State fans were begging for Thompson to expand his offensive game, and he showed a few glimpses, before things fell apart last season. Despite getting all kinds of open looks, Thompson only shot 26% from downtown last season, and a career low 46% from the floor. Thompson was only a 'just okay" free throw shooter as well (68%), and wasn't a great finisher at the rim if he wasn't dunking on somebody. The failure for Thompson to improve as a shooter was a big reason that Ohio State struggled last season, and after four years, its fair to wonder if he'll ever make that leap. The market for a 'Three and D' type player in the NBA is almost limitless, but it does require you to, you know, actually hit the threes.
Size: Sam Thompson tall enough, although his wingspan might not be NBA elite, but the real issue isn't his length as it is the fact that it looks like a stiff breeze could knock Thompson over. He's listed at 200 pounds, and to withstand the physicality of the NBA, or even some European leagues, Thompson would likely to need to put on some weight and improve his strength. That lack of size has hurt him with rebounding, something you'd expect a player with his motor to be much better at, and would keep him from getting muscled out of plays.
Dribbling: Sam Thompson is a really smart kid (he was a great student at Ohio State, and came out of Whitney Young, a very academically challenging high school in Chicago), and he seems to have a strong understanding of what he's good at and what he isn't good at, so he isn't going to force the issue much. That's great for helping a college basketball team win, but perhaps it also slowed down his development in other areas. Case in point, not only is Thompson not a great shooter, he struggles badly to dribble, or to create opportunities for himself, or others. You may be able to get away with not being able to put the ball on the floor much if you're a great shooter, but you can't get around being bad at both.
Thompson is not likely to be drafted, but in the right system, he has the potential to be a useful role player and stick around the NBA for a few years, or at least, a Summer League Team. Failing that, Thompson should be able to make a solid amount of money playing in Europe, perhaps joining a few other Buckeyes in Italy or France.