As his heart raced, his mouth was drier than a June day in the Jamaican heat.
Shevon Thompson said a prayer, sighed and marched toward the check-in line for his Miami-bound American Airlines flight.
And even as he checked his bags, the 19-year-old couldn’t believe that he had made it to this point. For the first time, Thompson was leaving his native Jamaica to pursue his basketball career.
The day began at Kingston’s Norman Manley International Airport and, after three connecting flights, terminated at Midland College in Texas.
But the journey began far away from Kingston’s international airport. Far away, at Vere Technical High school in Clarendon, Shevon Thompson picked up a basketball and, without knowing at the time, changed the course of his life.
If things go according to plan, making the fateful decision to pick up the basketball may help him wind up in the NBA.
* * * * * *
“There’s no doubt that he has the size of an NBA player,” one scout who was present at one of Thompson’s recent workouts told Basketball Insiders. “But what could make him special is his rebounding instinct and his knack for tracking the ball. He’s a phenomenal rebounder. Considering he’s only been playing for a few years, he’s impressive.”
As a prospect, Thompson’s work ethic and determination speak volumes, but a recurring theme among the four NBA teams that have invited Thompson in for workouts has been the fact that his game has seemed to develop so quickly—even with a dearth of organized playing experience.
“At 16 years old, when I first picked the ball up, going up against other guys, it was terrible,” Thompson said with a laugh.
“I wasn’t really good at basketball and I never imagined I’d have an opportunity to play in the NBA. But after playing my first year, I heard about a lot of basketball camps in Jamaica at the time and I went to almost every basketball camp.”
Before he knew it, after being recognized as a youngster with tremendous upside, Ajani Williams, the immediate past president of the Jamaican Basketball Federation, invited Thompson to train at Jamaica’s Elite Academy. Williams—a former NBA player who has dedicated a substantial portion of his life to growing the game of basketball in Jamaica—corralled the island-nation’s most talented basketball players and gave them access to coaching, tutelage and, most importantly, opportunity.
Of that, Thompson has taken full advantage.
Perhaps due to his playing soccer for most of his adolescence, from the beginning, Thompson seemed to possess a knack for reading the basketball and became quickly revered for his rebounding instincts. As a goalkeeper, the fate of his entire team rested on his ability to track the soccer ball and appropriately judge how to best position himself to recover it.
That skill translated.
It took Thompson all of six years to go from a basketball novice to one of the finest rebounders in the nation. After spending two years at George Mason University, Thompson leaves the program with an impressive average of 11.2 rebounds per game. In each of the his two seasons at the Division 1 level, Thompson led the Atlantic 10 Conference in total rebounds, rebounds per game and both offensive and defensive rebounding percentage.
Augmented by his underrated scoring ability—he scored 11.7 points per game on 58 percent shooting from the field—to the informed few, he has the looks of a promising NBA prospect.
“I realize that I’m an outstanding rebounder, but once I realized that, I’ve dedicated myself to developing the other parts of my game—both offense and defense,” Thompson said. “I spent a lot of time watching basketball and a lot of time in the gym. I started with the first thing I had a knack for and began to build.”
He’s been building ever since.
Prior to enrolling at George Mason, Thompson spent time at Midland College and then Pennsylvania’s Harcum College. Eventually, he was discovered by former George Mason head coach Paul Hewitt.
“If people knew who he was and what he was all about, he would’ve had 50-60 Division I offers,” Hewitt once told The Daily Orange—Syracuse University’s independent student newspaper. Hewitt saw potential in the unknown Thompson and knew that with the proper attention and coaching, he could be an asset on the basketball court.
Today, although many know of Thompson and his impressive growth and contributions on the court, in many ways, he is still trying to get people to know who he is.
For him, the process began anew a little over two months ago.
* * * * * *
Established in 1953, the Portsmouth Invitational Tournament has served as a platform for some of the nation’s less heralded college basketball players. Each April, the Portsmouth Invitational Tournament Foundation invites more than 60 seniors to participate in the four-day, 12-game tournament. As the years have progressed, the event has become more and more heavily attended by a bevy of NBA teams.
After participating in the tournament, Thompson relocated to South Florida, where he has been training at the storied IMG Academy in Bradenton.
“Portsmouth was a bit of an introduction for me,” Thompson said. “It showed me what the competition was going to be like and also helped me see what I needed to work on.”
Acknowledging that he is still a work in progress, scouts believe that Thompson—who really has played just four years of organized basketball—is nowhere near his ceiling.
“I think Bismack Biyombo is a fair comparison,” one front office source who attended the Portsmouth tournament told Basketball Insiders. “When Biyombo came into the league, he was regarded mostly as a [potential] defensive specialist, but people put work into him and helped him develop and now, he’s an impact player at this level.”
Aside from the investment at the NBA level, Biyombo had the benefit of being discovered at the age of 16 and began training in earnest in Spain. He began his professional career in Spain at the age of 19 and gained the attention of the NBA with a dominant performance at the 2011 Nike Hoops Summit in Portland.
Since then, after being selected with the seventh overall pick of the 2011 NBA Draft, Biyombo has slowly carved out a place for himself in the NBA and was a major catalyst in the thriving of the Toronto Raptors this past season.
The story of Biyombo and the witnessing of his growth over the years is a tale of how opportunity, work ethic and investment can help a young, promising player blossom. Having been discovered late, Thompson is hoping to find similar success at the NBA level, and his impressive knack for rebounding the ball, explosive athleticism and impeccable timing are all tools that may yield success. That, as well as his impressive motor.
“No matter who I’m going up against, they’re in for a tough time because I compete in every situation,” Thompson said. “I go 100 percent all the time. Whenever I’m on the court, I do my best to have an impact.
“I’ve only been playing for a few years, but I’m true to the game. I love the game a lot. Tracking the ball off the rim, creating space, not waiting for the ball to come to you, those are some of the principles. In life and in basketball, if there’s something you want, you have to go out there and get it.”
Six years after first picking up the basketball and four years after since leaving his home country in pursuit of his goals, that’s exactly what Thompson is doing.
From Clarendon, Jamaica to Midland, Texas and to the brink of completing a journey that once looked improbable, in the end, Shevon Thompson is exactly the type of player that has the potential to make a general manager in the National Basketball Association look very smart.
With the weight of Jamaica on his shoulders and the support of one of the Caribbean’s basketball hot spots—with proven rebounding prowess and major upside—Thompson has shown that he has the tools to excel.
With a few impressive workouts under his belt and one of his skills rising to the level of elite, leaving Jamaica may have been the best decision for the 19-year-old kid from Clarendon.
Indeed, as he boarded his flight to Miami with his final destination still two more connecting flights away, Thompson embarked on a journey whose final destination was, at the time, unknown.
Four years later, somehow, believe it or not, he’s still searching for his opportunity.
Somehow, after opening the eyes of NBA scouts, four years after beginning his ascent, Thompson is still soaring.
Defensive Player Of The Year Watch – 1/22/17
Spencer Davies checks into the DPOY race with his latest list of candidates.
It’s a new year and Basketball Insiders is continuing its Defensive Player of the Year watch with sample sizes widening and new players emerging in the conversation.
There were a couple of names knocked out of the list, but that gives more of a spotlight to those who have really stepped up since our last edition ran on December 29. Without further ado, let’s get into it.
6. Hassan Whiteside
After missing nearly a month of action with a knee injury, Whiteside has returned with a vengeance. The Miami HEAT were already a good defensive team before he came back, but he’s really bolstered that reputation even further. Since Dec. 26, the 7-foot center has recorded eight multi-block games. In five of those, he had at least four swats, including a six-rejection performance in a win at Milwaukee. Overall in ESPN’s Defensive Real-Plus Minus, Whiteside owns by far the best rating at 4.73. “Agent Block” is back and daring all comers to try him.
5. Anthony Davis
Slowly but surely, the New Orleans Pelicans are creeping away from the bottom of the league in defensive rating. Once ranked in the bottom five a few weeks ago, they’ve shot up to 18th in the league (108.4) rather quickly. While that’s not the most impressive statistic to provide, the obvious reason for their improved standing on that end of the floor is Davis. He’s been an absolute workhorse for Alvin Gentry in the restricted area as an elite rim protector, with a heavy responsibility and a ton of minutes. Without him on the floor, the Pels are allowing 8.9 more points per 100 possessions, which puts Davis in the 96th percentile according to Cleaning The Glass.
4. Josh Richardson
Notice there are two members of the HEAT on this list. It’s because they are on fire right now, no pun intended, so it’s about time they received some love in the conversation for DPOY. Whiteside was addressed first, but if we’re talking about a greater sample size with consistent evidence, Richardson fits the bill. Opponents are attempting over 11 shots per game against him, yet are only making 38.9 percent of those tries. That’s the lowest conversion rate in the league with a minimum of 10 attempts.
Battling injuries a season ago, Richardson has played in all 46 games for Miami this year. While it’s been a team effort, he is the heart and soul of Erik Spoelstra’s defense, taking on the most difficult assignments each game. For that reason, he deserves long overdue recognition on this list.
3. Kevin Durant
This isn’t a case where Durant is slipping because of his performances. He’s only ranked third this time around because of the job others have done outside of him. The Golden State Warriors are still a juggernaut on both sides of the court. He’s still a top-notch individual defender. The numbers don’t suggest otherwise and the eye test certainly confirms it.
In isolation situations, Durant is allowing only 0.53 points per possession, which is second in the NBA to only Tony Snell. When it comes to crunch time, he’s always locking up. In fourth quarters, he is limiting the competition to shooting less than 30 percent—and his defended field goal percentage and field goal percentage discrepancy is the best in the league at -17.2. He’s got as good of a chance as anybody to take home DPOY.
2. Joel Embiid
Everybody loves to focus on the off-court antics and hilarities that come with Embiid, but the man deserves his due when it comes to his reputation in the NBA as a truly dominant big. The Philadelphia 76ers have won seven out of their last eight games and it has started on the defensive end of the floor.
Take the games against Boston, for example. Al Horford is a crucial part of the Celtics offense and has had problems getting going against the 23-year-old. In the 22 minutes per game, he’s been on the floor along with him, Horford has been held to below 30 percent from the field on an average of nine attempts. With Embiid off, he’s converted nearly 73 percent of his tries.
Another matchup you can examine is with Andre Drummond. The two have had their fair share of words with each other, but Embiid’s had the edge one-on-one. Similar to Horford, the Detroit Pistons big man has had a rough time against him. Embiid has limited Drummond to under 38 percent on five attempts per game in an average of over 23 minutes on the floor together. When he’s not playing, Drummond has had close to a 78 percent success rate.
Regarding centers, Embiid ranks second in ESPN’s DRPM and fifth in Basketball Reference’s Defensive Box Plus-Minus. Citing Cleaning The Glass, the Sixers are allowing 10 more points per 100 possessions when he’s sitting, which slots Embiid into the 97th percentile.
He’s altering shots. He’s blocking shots. He’s forcing kick outs. And that’s a big reason why the NBA gave Embiid its Eastern Conference Player of the Week honors. Trust The Process.
1. Paul George
Basketball Insiders was well represented this past Saturday in Cleveland when the Oklahoma City Thunder decimated the Cavaliers in their own building. The focus was on the “OK3” exposing a terrible defense, but the real story in this game was how in-tune and sound George was on both ends of the court. He was sizzling shooting the basketball, but perhaps more defining was shutting down LeBron James on a day that was supposed to belong to him.
Any time 23 got the ball to try and get the Cavs going, George was there. He suffocated him with pressure, forcing James into bad decisions and contested shots. The talk of the day was the 30,000-point mark, but PG-13 had other ideas.
“I was hopeful that it took two games for him to get to that,” George said after the 148-124 win at Quicken Loans Arena. “I actually didn’t know that stat until right before coming into [Saturday]. They told me he needed 25 to go to 30,000. I’ve been a part of a lot of those baskets that he’s had, so that’s an achievement or milestone I didn’t want to be a part of.”
Thunder teammate Steven Adams spoke to his prowess on that end of the floor.
“He’s a really good defender man,” Adams said. “It was like a perfect matchup, honestly. He played LeBron really well in terms of our system and what we want him doing. He did an amazing job there.”
Oklahoma City head coach Billy Donovan is a huge fan as well.
“He really I think puts forth good effort,” Donovan said pre-game. “He’s long, smart. He’s disruptive. He’s got good feet. He’s a physical defender. He’s hard to shoot over. Certainly, with he and Andre [Roberson] on the wings, that’s certainly bolstered our defense.”
That was one performance, but it’s obvious how much George brings to the table as one of the toughest guys to score on in this league. He’s got a league-leading 188 deflections and is tied with Eric Bledsoe at the top of the NBA with 2.2 steals per game.
Recently, the Thunder have allowed 91 points at most in three of their last four games. They are also in the top three allowing just 104.7 points per 100 possessions and George has been a huge part of that.
NBA AM: Most Likely All-Star Snubs
Damian Lillard seems to top the All-Star snub list every season. It couldn’t happen again, could it?
This year the NBA has famously decided to mix up the way the All-Star rosters work, while rather infamously deciding against televising the draft that will organize those players into teams, but even as some things change, some things remain the same.
Just like every year, there will be snubs when the All-Star reserves are announced on Tuesday night. Oh, there will be snubs.
The starters already have been selected, chosen by a combination of fan votes, media votes and player votes, the latter of which were taken so seriously that Summer League legend Jack Cooley even earned a single nomination from one especially ornery player voter.
For those that missed the starters, they include LeBron James, DeMar DeRozan, Giannis Antetokounmpo, Kyrie Irving, and Joel Embiid from the Eastern Conference and Kevin Durant, Steph Curry, DeMarcus Cousins, Anthony Davis, and James Harden from the Western Conference.
That leaves seven more reserves from each conference and way more deserving players than that from which to choose. These will be selected by the coaches, per tradition, but it’s anybody’s guess who ends up making the team. There absolutely are going to be some massive snubs this year, so let’s take a quick look at the most likely candidates to earn roster spots this winter, as well as who that might leave out of this year’s event in Los Angeles.
The Eastern Conference
Let’s start with the “sure things,” which almost certainly will include with Indian Pacers guard Victor Oladipo. Not only is he putting up a career-best 24/5/4 line, but he’s also averaging two steals per night for an Indiana team that currently lives in the playoff picture despite dismal expectations. That’s almost entirely because of Oladipo.
In the frontcourt, there was plenty of healthy debate when Embiid was voted the starter over Al Horford and Kristaps Porzingis, so there’s a very good chance that those two guys find their way to the roster, as well.
Kevin Love, who also is having a monster statistical season, seems like the most obvious third frontcourt guy, but his defense stinks and the Cavs haven’t exactly proven themselves worthy of two All-Stars. Detroit’s Andre Drummond and Tobias Harris both are having borderline All-Star seasons for a borderline playoff team, but they are the closest contenders to stealing away that third frontcourt reserve slot from Love.
Beyond that, Bradley Beal or John Wall likely will be the “other” guard reserve, but choosing which one is dicey. Wall’s the four-time All-Star, but Beal arguably is having the better year and has been snubbed for this event entirely too many times already. It doesn’t seem likely that both guys will make the team.
The wild cards could be that “other” Wizards guard among Beal and Wall, one of those two Pistons players, Miami’s Goran Dragic (they are fourth in the conference, rather surprisingly), Milwaukee’s Khris Middleton, Toronto’s Kyle Lowry, or Rookie of the Year candidate Ben Simmons.
What seems most probable is that Oladipo and Beal earn the Eastern Conference reserve slots, with Horford, Porzingis and Love earning the backup frontcourt positions. Lowry and Wall feel most likely as reserves.
That means the most likely Eastern Conference snubs will be: Goran Dragic, Ben Simmons, Andre Drummod, Tobias Harris and Khris Middleton.
The level of controversy with this group feels fairly low, though if Dragic or Drummond were to make the team over Wall or Love, the conversation would be a lot feistier.
The Western Conference
Choosing the reserve guards in the Western Conference is a no-brainer. It will be MVP candidates Jimmy Butler and Russell Westbrook, which immediately means that if Klay Thompson, Damian Lillard, Chris Paul and Paul George are not named as Wild Card players, they will be left off of the team. That’s about as “yikes” as “yikes” gets.
The battle for the frontcourt spots are going to be no less brutal, even with Kawhi Leonard effectively out of consideration having missed so much time at the beginning of the season. The Spurs will have an All-Star anyway, though, which makes LaMarcus Aldridge all but a lock.
Towns, who is averaging a 20/12 with over two assists and 1.5 blocks per game on one of the West’s top teams, also feels likely to get in. That means Draymond Green and Nikola Jokic are the two guys expected to battle over that last frontcourt spot, and both deserve real consideration. Green’s importance is less obvious to this Warriors team with Durant on the roster, but he’s no less essential even if his offensive numbers are down. Jokic, meanwhile, has kept Denver in the playoff hunt even without Paul Millsap, and is the best passing big man in the game.
The most likely scenario in terms of Western Conference reserves has Butler and Westbrook getting voted in at guard, Aldridge, Towns and Green voted in as frontcourt players, and Thompson and Lillard voted in as the wild cards.
That means the most likely Western Conference snubs will be: Chris Paul, Paul George, and Nikola Jokic.
Paul has missed 17 games this season, which is just too many when there are so many other great guards from which to choose, and George’s usage has dropped massively in Oklahoma City. As for Jokic, somebody has to get snubbed, and the other reasonable possibility is that he be named a wild card player at the expense of Lillard, and no NBA fan should have to see that happen yet again.
The 2018 NBA All-Star Reserves will be announced at 7:00 p.m. EST on January 23 on TNT.
Tune in Tuesday night to see which players will make the team, and which will inevitably be snubbed.
NBA Daily: Rockets Might Be Formidable Challenge For Warriors
If nothing else, the Rockets gave everyone, including the Warriors, something to think about by beating the champs.
For those that had any lingering doubt as to the authenticity of the Houston Rockets, Saturday afternoon’s win over the Golden State Warriors should serve as a bit of a wakeup call.
Sure, championships aren’t won in mid-January, but by virtue of the win, the Rockets won their season series against the Warriors, 2-1.
Since the beginning of the 2014-15 season—the year the Warriors won the first of three consecutive Western Conference Finals—they’ve lost a season series to just one other team: the San Antonio Spurs.
A review of the tape suggests that those that believe that Gregg Popovich and Kawhi Leonard are truly the team that has the best shot of beating the Warriors is founded in some fact. In the last three seasons, the Warriors have lost a total of 39 games.
In total, during that span, seven teams have failed to beat the Warriors even once, while 12 teams have beaten them one time. Four teams have beaten the Warriors twice and only the Denver Nuggets, Los Angeles Lakers and Memphis Grizzlies have beaten them thrice.
The Spurs, though, have managed to beat the Warriors five times, with Popovich leading his team to a 2-1 regular season series win over the Warriors during the 2014-15 and 2016-17 seasons.
It’s safe to say that they have been the only team worthy of calling themselves anything near a worthy adversary to Stephen Curry and company.
At least, that was the case until Saturday night.
* * * * * *
With all due respect to Michael Jordan, if the Warriors win the NBA Finals this season, they can legitimately claim to be the best team in NBA history.
Two titles in three years is nothing to sneeze at, but the claim holds no weight whatsoever without ever having won two in a row, especially when scores of other teams have been able to accomplish the feat.
Aside from the two championships, the Warriors can claim the best regular season record in the league’s history and the distinction of being the only team to ever win 67 or more games for three consecutive seasons.
It is true that the Warriors have been almost invincible since the 2014-15 season, but things have changed now that Chris Paul has joined forces with James Harden.
This season, the Mike D’Antoni coached team ranks 12th in points allowed per 100 possessions, a marked improvement over last season’s rank of 18th.
With Trevor Ariza, P.J. Tucker, Clint Capela, Luc Mbah a Moute, they have four defensive stalwarts, one of whom (Ariza) who wasn’t able to suit up due to being suspended.
At the end of the day, beating a team in the regular season doesn’t really count for much, especially when you consider the greatest irony: in each of the seasons the Spurs beat the Warriors in their season series, the Warriors won the NBA Finals. The obvious asterisk there is that the Warriors didn’t play the Spurs in the 2015 NBA Playoffs and only managed to sweep them once the Spurs lost Kawhi Leonard in 2017.
Still, beating the defending champs in any game, much less a season series, has got to feel good. Whether they want to admit it or not, Saturday’s game against the Warriors was one that the Rockets wanted to get, that’s probably why Mike D’Antoni opted to reinsert James Harden into the game after he surpassed his 30-minute playing restriction.
In the end, Harden logged 35 minutes and ended up making what was the game’s clinching three-pointer.
* * * * * *
With the season a little more than halfway over, the Warriors still appear to be head and shoulders above those competing for their throne. Of the other contenders, the Rockets and Boston Celtics, at least for now, appear most formidable.
At the end of the day, what the Warriors have to fear more than anything is their own arrogance. As a unit, the team believes that it’s the best at playing small ball and that no other team can beat them as their own game. While that may be true, there have been a few instances over the past few years where that belief has ended up costing them.
What the Warriors seem to struggle with is understanding that not every possession can be played the same way, and as some possessions become more and more valuable, it would be wise for the team to play more conservatively and traditionally.
For example, when the Cavaliers beat the Warriors in Game 7 of the 2016 NBA Finals, Kyrie Irving made one of the most incredible shots we’ve ever seen, but it was Stephen Curry who helped leave the door open for the Cavs with a pitiful final five minutes of the game.
Among the worst atrocities he committed was an ill-advised turnover that came as a result of an off target behind the back pass to Klay Thompson. In such a situation, any second grader could have and would have known that a simple bounce pass to the flashing Thompson would have sufficed.
Steve Kerr’s message to his team, though, is to play like themselves and not overthink their execution.
While that’s fair, it does at least leave room to wonder if the Warriors will have the humility to play conservatively when the game is on the line.
Curry himself admitted to playing too aggressively and making poor reads and decisions down the stretch versus the Rockets. The team passed up wide-open two-point shots for three-pointers that didn’t fall, and those botched opportunities played a direct role in causing the loss.
Fortunately, for the Warriors, not much was at stake, but their performance and decision-making in those tight minutes leave us to wonder what will happen if and when they find themselves in another tight moment or two…
And by virtue of the Rockets becoming just the second team to take a season series from the Warriors since the beginning of the 2014-15 season, we can also fairly wonder whether they truly have what it takes to take down the Golden Goliath.