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Meet The Thompson Brothers

Jason and Ryan Thompson talk to Basketball Insiders about their supportive parents, the NBA and playing overseas.

Oliver Maroney

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Ryan and Jason Thompson are two very unique individuals. Jason is the older of the two siblings, and they grew up in the same household. Both of their parents were blue-collar workers; their father was a UPS employee while their mother was a nurse. Neither son grew up assuming that they’d someday make basketball or professional sports their career. They had supportive parents who were strict, strong-willed and smart.

“Sometimes I think kids don’t want to be around strict tones,” Jason told Basketball Insiders. “But I think a family with structure works and pans out for the future. Education was always a priority in our household. After that, we could go to [play basketball].”

Their parents were always involved and helpful. As the two brothers grew older, they knew their parents would be there to support them.

“Every single game, you would see them,” Ryan said. “As competitive as they are, they would never sit next to each other. They would also sit on opposite sides of the court. They were at every game. Even every college game, they were in the stands and gave us the support that we needed.”

Both Jason and Ryan credit their parents for a lot of their success. As noted, they would push them – on and off the court. Of course, they both had to put in extremely hard work as well in order to achieve their success. Jason and Ryan attended Rider University, a small school in New Jersey, where they both had illustrious college careers. Jason would graduate and become the No. 12 pick of the 2008 NBA Draft by the Sacramento Kings.

Since that point, a lot has changed. Both brothers are now playing professionally overseas in China and Germany, respectively.

After eight years in the NBA – playing for the Kings, Golden State Warriors and Toronto Raptors – Jason made the leap to the Chinese Basketball Association this season where he’s now suiting up for the Shandong Golden Stars. The move takes him far from home, but as he looks back on the ups and downs of his NBA journey, he’s excited to be in China and is taking full advantage of the opportunity.

“Well, for me, I am very blessed,” Jason told Basketball Insiders. “I got to play at a small school in Rider and developed, growing three-to-four inches and gaining 50 pounds in college to become an NBA prospect. I was projected from lottery to mid-to-late first round. When you go in the lottery, you don’t go to a good team. Obviously, I had an amazing seven years with Sacramento, but in that time we had two different ownership [groups] and seven different coaches. I had over 100 teammates. So no coach I had was there for over two seasons. I put up good, solid numbers at times, double-figure seasons in most years I played in Sacramento. Then, I just wanted to see if the grass was greener on the other side.

“So I went to Philly and almost immediately, Golden State traded for me. I was in an unfortunate situation with a team coming off a championship where none of the guys were leaving and everyone was coming back. So it was tough getting minutes on a team that just won a championship. Then, I had the opportunity to play in Toronto and experience my first playoffs with a team that was high in the NBA as well. So I went from a team that was not as good, playing a lot of minutes and being a starter my whole career, to higher-ranked teams and not playing as much but just doing what it takes to win. Definitely two different scenarios in that sense of being with an organization for seven years and then being with two teams all in one season. It’s definitely crazy when it comes to that. With the CBA it’s a different opportunity, but it’s a great one.”

For Ryan, he’s also in a different situation. He decided to play in Germany for Telekom Baskets Bonn after playing in the NBA’s Development League. He obviously watched his brother experience success in the NBA and dreamed about playing in the league as well. However, he can appreciate his own path and where his career has taken him over the years.

“The motto that my brother and I have is just, ‘Control what you can control,'” Ryan said. “If you go into a game thinking, ‘I’m going to do this and this, or worrying if coach going to put me in,’ you’ll never be comfortable. Just control what you can control and play the game the way you’ve been playing for your entire life. That’s how I’ve approached my career as well. As the years have been going on and I’ve been getting older, you just kind of hit the point where whatever happens, happens. Before when I was younger it was hoping, hoping, hoping [I’d be in the NBA]. Now, I’ve been playing overseas in what is my sixth season. This is home now until it’s over. Unless another road opens up for me, this is where I am and where I’m going to be.”

thompson-brothers

Rider University Website (rider.edu)

It’s pretty remarkable that the brothers have followed such similar paths. Both were raised under the same roof, played at the same high school and college, and ended up playing professionally. They’re also currently leading their respective teams overseas in player efficiency rating and performing very well. While they’re in two different countries, they keep in close contact because the time zone difference isn’t too bad.

“With [Jason’s] experience, it wasn’t always the greatest of times because he wasn’t always on the winning side of things,” Ryan said. “You got to push through it, and the same goes with me. We always talk because situations aren’t going to be in your favor at all times, you just have to make the best of every situation that you’re in. The thing that’s good about us is we talk a lot. We actually talk more now because he’s overseas and the time change isn’t so different. Also, in the summer when the season is over, it’s good to have somebody in your corner that’s competitive too. In the summer, we’re always working out together and keeping things competitive so we’re ready for whatever is to come next.”

“It’s a great situation,” Jason added about his relationship with his brother. “Obviously, with having a brother two years apart and having the same interests in a lot of things, especially basketball, it’s a great relationship. We went to the high school together and we also went to the same college, which is not heard of. Getting to play two years in high school and two years in college together was great because we’d be there for each other. Any time he needed me for advice as a pro, with things on and off the court, I was always there for him throughout the way. Now with me being on the other side of the water right now, I’ve been getting a lot of advice from him since he’s been over here for the past seven years. It’s definitely been a learning experience and a change of direction, with him knowing more that goes on over here.”

As they’re both playing overseas in different countries now, they’re also mindful of starting their careers after basketball. They grew up in a family that takes pride in working hard, having strong morals, ensuring financial stability and planning for the future. Ryan and Jason each have plans for when they’re done playing because they know their on-court careers can’t last forever. Jason plans to work in broadcasting, while Ryan wants to coach.

“I always keep in contact with my coaching staff at Rider University,” Ryan told Basketball Insiders. “That’s where Jason and I played. Whenever I decide to stop playing overseas or don’t have the opportunity to play overseas anymore, I think coaching is a thing I want to do. I want to stay around the game of basketball and help kids go through the process that I went through – teach them some of the things I’ve learned and watch kids grow up and be able to do some of the things I have.”

Jason, on the other hand, wants to have a future in broadcasting.

“My degree is in TV and Radio Communications,” Jason said. “So I want to be some type of analyst for sports and, obviously, preferably basketball. But really, any sport would be nice. Starting a show on television, being on the radio, hosting a podcast and doing things like that. I also want to do something on the side of SiriusXM radio, where I talk about relationships and being single. I think that would be intriguing from the athlete’s perspective. Those are all things I want to do media wise. But I also have my Jason Thompson Foundation. It’s helping out kids to speak their minds on certain things and keep them out of trouble in the urban areas.”

Jason has attended the NBPA’s sportscaster program and hope to continue pursuing that career path long-term. His foundation is built in support of his cousin, Tiffany Carroll, who passed away to a disease known as Hypertrophic Cardiomyopathy (HCM). HCM is known as a leading cause of sudden cardiac death in young athletes. The foundation was built around raising awareness of heart disease for athletes, children and young adults. However, Jason also has goals for future endeavors with his foundation.

The Thompson brothers are two basketball players who are living out their dreams on a level they’d never thought possible when they were growing up. Their parents provided them with motivation and support, and through hard work and the desire to learn, they’ve managed to thrive in any situation.

“I want to teach kids that everyone has a dream, and don’t let anyone tell you that you can’t do anything in life,” Jason said. “With hard work, having yourself around the right people and making the right decisions, you can achieve anything you want.”

He also stresses the importance of having a back-up plan just in case, adding: “God forbid something happens to me playing wise, I have my education to fall back on.”

The slogan “Live Like J.T.” is on his website as well as “learn, imagine, voice, educate.” This statement clearly sums up what the Thompson brothers have achieved and will continue to work toward. While they aren’t currently in the NBA, they’re enjoying the international game and looking forward to their respective futures.

Oliver Maroney is an NBA writer for Basketball Insiders. He is based in Portland and covers the league as a whole.

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NBA Daily: Marcus Morris Thriving Off Bench

Marcus Morris has been one of the Clippers’ most dependable reserves this season, David Yapkowitz breaks it down.

David Yapkowitz

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When Marcus Morris Sr. came over to the Los Angeles Clippers last season near the trade deadline, he stepped right into the starting lineup at power forward. He started all 19 regular season games – including the bubble – and when the team re-signed him this past offseason, he looked like a lock to remain in the starting lineup.

But he’s been one of the main anchors of the Clippers’ second unit this year and coming off the bench was something he requested of new head coach Tyronn Lue. Along with Lou Williams, the pair have spearheaded one of the most formidable bench units in the NBA. The pair has combined for 24.8 points per game on the season and they’re both shooting lights out from three-point range.

On a call last month with media, Morris admitted that this dynamic pairing with Williams was exactly what he was envisioning when he initially asked to be part of the second unit.

“Building that chemistry with me and him both coming off the bench, we’ve to be one of, if not the best bench in the league. Both of us are proven vets, proven scorers in this league,” Morris said. “I think our camaraderie, us being really good friends, I think that helps on the court. Not just scoring but just being vets, being able to talk and being able to lead our unit.”

As well as he’s played this season, it wasn’t always such a smooth transition to the Clippers. Morris’ numbers dropped last year from his career averages and he shot 31 percent from the three-point line; the lowest he’s shot since his second year in the NBA. Like most of the team, he faded a bit during the team’s second-round playoff debacle against the Denver Nuggets.

This season, although his scoring isn’t as high as it used to be at 12.4 points per game, Morris’ shooting has been much more efficient. His 46.3 percent from downtown is a career-high. He looks much more comfortable in the flow of the offense and he’s played his role to perfection. Naturally, Morris credits Lue with helping him establish his role.

“I think the biggest difference is just having that exact from [Tyronn Lue] just talking to me and telling me exactly what he’s wanting me to do. Last year, I thought I was a lot of times in no man’s land, I couldn’t really put my finger on my role,” Morris said.

This year, I’m coming off the bench to be aggressive, coming off to bring energy, shoot the ball, the guys I’m playing with just playing off them. Lou does a great job of drawing the defense and you have to have guys that can knock it down. I’m just here to do whatever it takes, whether it’s to bring energy or to score.”

Morris began the season missing the first eight games due to a knee injury. But he’s always been one of the more durable players in the league and since then, he only sat out one game. Thankfully for him, he didn’t end up needing surgery only rest.

Lue has been quite pleased with Morris’ contributions this season. He credited Morris’ conditioning while acknowledging the extra work he’s put in to be as effective as he has.

“Just putting in the work, just trying to get his body right, just trying to adjust to the speed of the game, when you’ve been out for so long it is kind of tough to just step back in and play well,” Lue said. “We’ve been needing and asking more from him in the post, rebounding the basketball and, of course, shooting the basketball. He’s been great and he’s been putting in the work. You see the results.”

Like the rest of the team, Morris has been able to shut out any lingering effects from the bubble. He knows the Clippers have championship aspirations this season and, because of the way they flamed out in the playoffs, there will doubt as to whether this team is capable of winning a title.

“Seeing how many people jumped ship last year, I think it definitely helped us. That’s how it works when you have a good team and doesn’t work, people tend to jump off the ship,” Morris said. “We get back to work and we get a championship, people will jump back on the ship. That’s just how it works. We are going to continue to find our camaraderie and we are going to continue to get better. Come playoff time, we’re going to be ready.”

And for the Clippers to win their first championship in franchise history, they’re going to need Morris to be at his best. His versatility is key to their attack, while that ability to stretch the floor with his three-point shooting –plus putting the ball on the floor or posting up – is a big part of what makes the Clippers so dangerous.

He’s willing to do whatever needs to be done.

“I’m a hooper. Whatever you need me to do. One thing I do, I don’t just talk,” Morris said. “I’m just playing. I’ve been in the league for a long time, going on my eleventh year. It doesn’t change for me. One thing you’ll find out about me is I’m never too high, never too low.”

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NBA AM: Defensive Player of the Year Watch

Will we see Rudy Gobert win another Defensive Player of the Year Award? Or will we have a new winner this year?

Dylan Thayer

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In the fourth edition of the Defensive Player of the Year Rankings, Basketball Insiders continues to look at the players excelling on the defensive side of the ball. The Utah Jazz continues to be a powerhouse in the Western Conference amidst a surprising season, and they will still be well represented in these rankings. But there’s another newcomer to the list, an MVP-caliber player looking to lead his team to the NBA Finals. Ready to take look at the rankings? Let’s get into it.

1. Rudy Gobert (Previous: 2)

The 28-year-old center out of France is one of the best defensive big men the game has seen in recent years – and this year is another example of that as Gobert has been the anchor of the best team in the NBA. Better, he has been a vital piece to their unanticipated success by taking part in all 35 of the Jazz games thus far.

Looking at Gobert’s numbers, he is still second in the league in blocks with 2.8 blocks per game, trailing only Myles Turner in that category.  Gobert has had three or more blocks in 18 games, even reaching four in 12 of them. 

In the defensive rating category, Gobert ranks third in the league with a rating of 103.0, per NBA Advanced Stats. This number is just enough behind Lebron James at 102.6 and teammate Mike Conley, who leads the NBA with a rating of 100.8. These three players are also in the top three for defensive win shares, with Gobert sitting in third with a DWS of 0.154. Gobert should be the current frontrunner as he has led the best team in the NBA on defense through the first half of the season. 

2. LeBron James (Previous: 4)

As a reminder, LeBron James has not made an All-Defensive Team since 2014. How about breaking that streak with a DPotY award as well? He very well could.

Without Anthony Davis, James is unarguably the tone-setter for the defense. The Los Angeles Lakers’ victory over the Portland Trail Blazers on Feb. 26 is a prime example of this. During that contest, James had 3 blocks and 4 steals as the Lakers won by 9. Furthermore, James has managed to average 1 block and 1.3 steals per game since the injury to Davis.

Notably, James ranks in the top three in both defensive rating and defensive win shares. James is just behind Conley in defensive rating at 102.6 compared to Conley’s 100.8 rating. Keep an eye on James’s defensive impact for the defending champs as the season continues to unfold.

3. Joel Embiid (Previous: N/A)

Embiid has been very neglected on this list, but now is the time for him to make his appearance. Yes, it is very high for a player to debut on this list, but he’s been on a tear as of late. 

In his career-high night on Feb. 19, Embiid went off for 50 points, 17 rebounds and 4 blocks in a matchup with the Chicago Bulls. This is the game that put the league on notice of Embiid’s brilliant season, both offensively and defensively, as he leads the first-place Philadelphia 76ers. As things stand right now, he’s averaging 1.3 blocks and 1.2 steals per game.

Taking a deeper dive into Embiid’s floor presence is what makes him stand out. He’s 13th in the NBA in defensive rating at 106.6. He also ranks 10th in defensive win shares with 0.131, per NBA Advanced Stats. The coaching change in Philadelphia has allowed Embiid to run the Sixers’ offense and, as things stand right now, he’s certainly in both the MVP and DPotY conversation. 

4. Mike Conley (Previous: 1)

Since an extended absence, Conley returned to make an instant impact in the Jazz lineup, averaging 2.0 steals over his last five games. The unexpected success has been due in large part to Conley’s improved play. Of course, Conley is high up on this year’s All-Star snub list, but his significant individual improvements won’t go unnoticed here.

Conley is currently tied for third in the league in steals per game at 1.5. He is also first in defensive rating with a rating of 100.8. Beyond that, he then ranks second in defensive win shares with 0.168. Without Conley, it’s hard to see the Jazz having the success they’ve enjoyed this year. Watch out for him as the season approaches the midpoint as he tries to become the first guard to win the award since Gary Payton during the 1995-96 season. 

5. Myles Turner (Previous: 3)

Despite a slip in the standings for the Indiana Pacers, Myles Turner has been a very bright spot for the team defensively. He leads the league in blocks with 3.4 per game and has a pretty sizeable lead over Gobert in that category. Add in the fact that he is averaging 1.1 steals per game, it’s easy to see why Turner is so high in these rankings.

If the Pacers can manage to get things back in order amidst a sub-.500 record thus far, Turner could rise into the upper part of these rankings again.

Honorable Mention: Giannis Antetokounmpo (Previous: N/A)

While voter fatigue may hinder the chance of Giannis earning his second consecutive DPotY award, he should be in the conversation again. The Milwaukee Bucks are amongst the top three in the Eastern Conference standings, thanks to the stellar defensive play from the two-time MVP. 

It will be interesting to see where he finishes in the voting after the season’s end. Maybe he gets this award for a second-straight year, while the voter fatigue towards him takes place in the MVP ballots.

While these rankings have gotten competitive as of late, there’s still plenty of time for rising and falling in Basketball Insiders’ weekly Defensive Player of the Year rundown.

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NBA PM: The Wizards Are Good Now?

The Washington Wizards went from 5-15 to 13-18 out of nowhere. Much improved from their early-season play they make a run? Dylan Thayer examines.

Dylan Thayer

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After the swap of John Wall and Russell Westbrook, the Washington Wizards did not look like they were going to be a playoff team. 20 games into the season, the team found themselves at 5-15 with trade rumors constantly buzzing. At one point, they even had the worst record in the NBA, while looked like a trade of Westbrook, Bradley Beal or even both was a certainty with the team was set to pivot into a true rebuild.

Now, all of a sudden, Washington has the look of a team that could make the postseason play-in game. 8-5 in their last 13 with wins over the Boston Celtics, Denver Nuggets, Portland Trail Blazers and Los Angeles Lakers, the Wizards have started to climb the conference, now just 2.5 games back on the Charlotte Hornets for the East’s eighth seed.

But what’s changed? Let’s take a step back and look at what exactly made them start the season out so slowly.

Early in the year, the former MVP Westbrook was playing through a left quad injury. He wasn’t nearly explosive with the ball as he’s always been, settling for low-percentage jumpers and outside shots, perhaps the biggest weakness in his game. Between the injury and COVID-19 postponements, Westbrook and many other Wizards were away from the court for a significant time — the whole team was in flux.

Then, on Valentine’s Day, the team took the floor in Boston and destroyed the Celtics; the 104-91 final doesn’t truly reflect that, but at one point the Wizards led by as many as 25. A national game beatdown, their play led into the best stretch the Wizards have seen this season.

Westbrook, over his injury, looked like his former explosive self. He’s posted six triple-doubles since, while he came within a point or assist of doing so in three other contests. And, back on the court, the entire team was also able to spend some time together, which allowed them to further jell as a unit and build some momentum toward future games.

It was a surprise when Beal came out and said he did not want to be traded from Washington, with more than a few curious as to how the NBA’s leading scorer could be satisfied with such subpar play from the rest of his roster. But he “shared a consistent viewpoint” with the team, according to Shams Charania, as to what they have done to build around him. The Wizards’ clear leader, Beal has signaled he’s in it for the long-haul, while additions like Westbrook should only serve to solidify that commitment.

Beyond their two stars, the Wizards roster has also stepped up in their most recent stretch. Sophomore Rui Hachimura has proven capable alongside the star-duo in the first unit, while Robin Lopez has stepped up in the absence of Thomas Bryant, who was lost for the season to a torn ACL. Deni Avdija and Garrison Matthews have both flashed as well, with Matthews shooting 41.3 percent from three and even earning a starting role.

If they can sustain their recent success, Washington could easily make the postseason in an underwhelming Eastern Conference. In fact, the tightly-packed nature of the East — while they’re 2.5 games behind Charlotte, just four games separate the Wizards and the fourth seed Celtics — should only serve to benefit Washington in their quest for their first postseason berth since the 2017-18 season. And, if the Wizards want to bolster their team for a playoff run and look to buy at the deadline, they certainly have the pieces to make some interesting moves. With most of their draft capital for the foreseeable future, along with some interesting contracts they could flip for more win-now type players, anything could happen.

The Beal-Westbrook, while it started rough, has not nearly been as bad as most people would think. For the team, the 2020-21 season has proven more promising than they may have thought and, if they can continue to elevate their game, don’t be shocked to see the Wizards on the big stage come May.

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