Six years into his NBA career, Jason Thompson has turned himself into a versatile, talented, and productive veteran. The one-time surprise of a lottery pick has forged a career as a steady veteran on a team so permanently starved of them. And despite the turmoil around him, Thompson has been one of the few constants of the ever-shifting Sacramento Kings, a team where no one has ever really known what was going on.
It has been at times an inconsistent road, with the occasional bump to be found. Perpetually beset by foul problems born out of his aggressiveness, Thompson has also at various times been subject to competition - by Mikki Moore, by Thomas Robinson, by Patrick Patterson, by Ike Diogu, by Drew Gooden, by Kenny Thomas, by Sean May, and twice by Carl Landry. Nevertheless, Thompson has outlasted all challengers, and has been a starter for most of his career.
Now, though, Thompson has hit a new crossroads. In the midst of his career worst season (an 11.5 PER against a career average of 14.3), Thompson is struggling to find a role, an odd but true thing to say of a player who has been one of the NBA's best role players the previous five seasons. As the Kings have stabilised under the new ownership, management and coaching regimes, Thompson's career has become destabilised. He is now the odd man out.
Thompson's mainstay to date has been points in the paint, and any jumpshots in his game have been secondary to this primary offensive weapon. Thompson has developed his post game to the point that he can make moves over either shoulder and finish sufficiently with both hands, in addition to a reasonable mid-range baseline jumper and some dribble drives. Further combined with good rebounding effort and position, and acceptable if foul prone defense at the power forward spot, Thompson contributes sufficiently on both ends of the court, and is a productive scorer in the paint, an increasingly rare skill to have.
However, a downside to DeMarcus Cousins' break-out season has been the impact it has had on Thompson's play. This season marks the occasion that Cousins has finally taken the hint, and almost exclusively played in the post - not coincidentally, this has led to huge spikes in his overall scoring output and his efficiency. Yet nailing Cousins to the low block pushes Thompson away from it, and thus away from his strengths. Thompson has found it difficult to get looks - his efficiency is in line with hiis career averages, but Thompson's scoring opportunities are way down, an inevitable situation for a player no longer taking the shots he calls his own.
Furthermore, despite the good play from the Kings' other two primary scorers, Isaiah Thomas and Rudy Gay (whose career in Sacramento is off to a surprisingly fantastic start), neither is known for their consistent creation of open looks for others. Thomas can do it, but would rather not, preferring to be a score first player. The two guard combination of Marcus Thornton and Ben McLemore most certainly are not playmakers for others. And Thompson, as the fifth starter, is the one who loses out.
Thompson's career to date has been confused, stagnated and sacrificial. He is good, and the Kings know it, but they have nonetheless always sought more. They are perfectly justified in wanting to seek more, for in Thompson, we are talking about a fringe starter or quality backup. But doing so has adverse affects on Thompson's own career - no one thrives as the fall guy.
Nevertheless, despite it all, Thompson has stayed committed, stayed in shape, continued to develop his game, and tried to adapt it to suit the team's needs. He has tried to become the Malik Allen-style mid-range shooter they need, he has tried defending the center spot, he has tried being the third big. He consistently tries and fairly consistently succeeds.
Versatility, skill, good temperament, sacrifice, perfectly palatable contract. You could not ask for more from a role player. The Kings need quality role players, as much as anyone and more than most. It follows, then, that Thompson is the kind of player to keep.
However, they might not. And there is logic to support it. As capable of a role player as Thompson is, it is seen above that he is not the perfect fit for Sacramento that he could be for another team. The Kings require an athletic rim-protecting mid-range shooting power forward to compliment the grounded interior play of Cousins - ideally, they require the next Serge Ibaka (or indeed the actual Serge Ibaka). Thompson is not this. Carl Landry is not entirely this player, either, yet he brings the range and athleticism that Thompson does not, making him a better fit. And while Landry is yet to play this season due to injury, he will return one day - until that time, Derrick Williams could use the minutes to audition and develop, while Quincy Acy is a decent role player himself, bringing athleticism, toughness and efficiency from the deeper parts of the bench. Thompson, then, is a very good candidate to be moved.
Jason Thompson helps any team he is on, playing a position not readily filled, with an adaptable skillset and no attitude concerns. But he is on the one team where he cannot help that much. With his value still somewhat high and his contract sufficiently cheap, competitors should bid on him come the deadline. And they surely will.