Why Jason Thompson should remain a starter


It’s no secret that the Sacramento Kings expect more production from Jason Thompson, and from the power forward position in general.

Since Thompson was drafted 12th overall in 2008, the Kings have tried to replace him with Carl Landry, Donte Greene, Chuck Hayes, J.J. Hickson, Thomas Robinson, Patrick Patterson and Landry again. Yet Thompson has emerged from the mess, which is a testament to his hard work and maturity.

He started 31 straight games, but the Kings benched Thompson last week to start Ryan Hollins on Wednesday and Derrick Williams on Thursday. Head coach Tyrone Corbin reinserted Thompson in the starting lineup on Sunday, and the permanent plug to the hole at power forward may be too obvious.

Thompson, for all his talent, has never managed to put the tools together and become more than a role player. The 28-year-old signed through 2017 has likely hit his ceiling, and will be nothing more than DeMarcus Cousins’ shadow while they remain together on the Kings.

The 6-foot-11, 250-pound Thompson is far from a stiff. He hunts for rebounds, puts back shots, features a set midrange jumper, and embraces playing interior defense. He turns the ball over when he puts it on the floor, and struggles to stick with quicker bigs, but nobody’s perfect.

It’s been noted that Thompson and Cousins have struggled to mesh their offensive styles when sharing the floor. Both like the ball on the elbow and low block, which has cluttered the paint with defenders. But Thompson has checked in his ego this season, taking a back seat to Cousins while attempting a career-low 4.8 field goals per game. Cousins, meanwhile, is recording career-highs in points and shooting percentages.

Thompson has freed up Cousins to exploit his scoring, while the longest-tenured King has focused on boxing out and shutting down the NBA’s premier fours. Their cohesiveness was a large reason why the Kings began the year 9-6 before Cousins sat 11 games with viral meningitis.

For whatever reasons, Thompson’s temporary benching hinted that the Kings think he is part of the problem, and not part of the solution. Perhaps, but Sacramento’s remaining options are no better.

Former No. 2 pick Williams, at 6-foot-8 and 240 pounds, is an offensive tease, but too undersized to consistently rebound and defend traditional starting fours. The same goes for tweener Omri Casspi.

Hollins is seven feet tall and 230 pounds, but surrenders a good play for every one that he makes. The journeyman has averaged 11.9 minutes a contest in eight NBA seasons.

The rugged Reggie Evans is a better rebounder than Thompson, but his offense is nonexistent. At 34-years-old and also undersized, he’s effective now for spot stretches.

Landry would appear to be the best candidate, since the 6-foot-9, 250-pounder can score inside, pop a midrange, and guard back-to-the-basket types inside. But the 31-year-old serves as the bench’s sole interior scorer, and can’t run the floor as the front office is now emphasizing.

This leaves Thompson, who shares the strengths of all his frontcourt teammates. As bad as the Kings may want to stick a Greg Monroe or Kenneth Faried next to Cousins, they don’t have the luxury. Until they can, their best move is to build continuity between Thompson and Cousins, rather than mishandle Thompson the way it’s been his entire pro career.

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