Pac-12 Burning Questions: Can Stephen Thompson Jr. Make the Leap?

Posted by Mike Lemaire on October 21st, 2016

It has been a weird offseason for Oregon State. If you were looking ahead at the team’s prospects for this upcoming season last March, the future looked very bright even if do-everything guard Gary Payton II was graduating. But Payton’s heir apparent, combo guard Derrick Bruce, transferred out of the program in April followed by steady senior Malcom Duvivier leaving the program for personal reasons in September. These departures suddenly left the Beavers’ backcourt without most of its depth and experience, isolating sophomore Stephen Thompson Jr. as the lone returnee with any on-court experience. Yet Wayne Tinkle and Beavers’ fans are still bullish on their team’s potential this season, with Thompson being the biggest reason why.

Stevie Thompson Jr. Is Now The Big Man on Campus in Corvallis (AP Photo/Timothy J. Gonzalez)

Stevie Thompson Jr. Is Now The Big Man on Campus in Corvallis (AP Photo/Timothy J. Gonzalez)

The son of former Syracuse great Stephen Thompson, the younger Thompson was the crown jewel of Tinkle’s touted 2015 recruiting class that may already be one of the best in program history. At times last season, he lived up that billing, scoring 18 points in a home win against Washington and dropping 23 in a crucial road win against UCLA two weeks later. At other times, he looked like a trigger-happy freshman who struggled to find his offensive rhythm — especially in the half-court. His inconsistency was understandable from an experience perspective, but it was also driven by Payton II dominating most of the team’s offensive possessions. This year Thompson will become the focal point of Oregon State’s perimeter offense and that means the team won’t be able to weather his shooting slumps quite as easily.

Make no mistake, though, Thompson will have plenty of help around him this season. Classmates Tres Tinkle and Drew Eubanks are both all-conference caliber talents who should be much better with a year of experience under their belts; junior college transfer Keondre Dew should become an immediate contributor; and four-star freshman JaQuori McLaughlin is the reigning Washington State Player of the Year and one of the top 100 incoming recruits in the country. Throw in a few more underclassmen and some athletic bodies and there is the making of another NCAA Tournament team in Corvallis.

Payton II’s importance on both ends of the floor cannot be overstated. The Honorable Mention All-American was, not only one of the best defensive and rebounding guards to ever play in the conference, but he took almost 150 more shots and dished out almost 100 more assists than any other player on the team. Put simply, the main reason Oregon State’s offense was a tick above-average last season was because Payton II was such a creative playmaker. With apologies to McLaughlin (who has the talent but not the track record), there is only one player on the Beavers’ current roster with remotely comparable ability – Thompson Jr. At 6’5″ and 180 pounds, the sophomore has ideal length for a shooting guard and is still quick enough off the bounce to get to the rim or pull up over a defender. He is most dangerous from behind the three-point arc (36.4% last season) and it wouldn’t surprise anyone if he approached a total of 200 three-point attempts this season. Luckily, his stroke is smooth enough that he could eventually shoot at a 40-percent clip from downtown. The key to his improvement will be his ability to work within the Beavers’ half-court offense to take the right shots.

Last year Thompson attempted more than 200 field goals in what considers “non-transition offense,” and his effective field goal percentage on those attempts was just 43.9 percent. That percentage dipped all the way to 38.4 percent on his 56 attempts that came 25 seconds or more after the start of a possession. Shot selection is an obvious culprit for some of these struggles, but Thompson Jr.’s lack of strength also likely hurt him around the rim — he converted fewer than half of his 98 shots at the rim. Also, for such a prolific and skilled shooter, his 69.1 percent mark from the free throw line is shaky. If Thompson Jr. can continue to add strength (he has reportedly added 15 pounds of muscle over the offseason), work to become more efficient on offense, and make more of his free throws, he has the potential to be a 20+ PPG scorer and lead the Beavers to another NCAA Tournament berth. If he can’t improve in the half-court and continues to make Tinkle cringe with too many of his long, off-balanced jumpers, the Beavers could regress back toward the bottom of the conference.

mlemaire (324 Posts)

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