Amen & Ausar Thompson: Should the San Antonio Spurs roll the dice?

Dec 9, 2022; Atlanta, GA, USA; City Reapers guards Ausar Thompson (0) and Amen Thompson (1) shown
Dec 9, 2022; Atlanta, GA, USA; City Reapers guards Ausar Thompson (0) and Amen Thompson (1) shown / Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports
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Differentiators between the Thompson twins & their fit with the Spurs

Amen and Ausar Thompson are almost always compared to one another rather than being evaluated independently of each other, and for understandable reasons. After all, they're identical twins that play on the same team, often sharing the floor together as well. But that makes it especially important to identify any differentiators between the two prospects if any exist. To reiterate a few that I've already glossed over, Ausar appears to be a better shooter at this point, while Amen is said to be a better playmaker and slightly better athlete.

But the twins' biggest differentiator at this point in their careers, without a shred of doubt, is their defense. Despite occasional lapses, I'm very comfortable with labeling Ausar a borderline-elite defensive prospect, as he has the athletic tools to defend four positions in the NBA, can switch on the perimeter, and is highly underrated as a weak-side rim protector. He'll need to work on remaining engaged and in a proper stance more consistently, but when he's operating at 100%, his instincts and feel for the game on that end of the floor are obvious.

While many seem to agree with that sentiment, where I diverge the most from the majority of current scouting reports is with Amen's defense, where I think he can stand to improve quite a bit. When away from the ball handler, he tends to get caught ball-watching, will sometimes lose his man and allow a wide-open shot, and frequently gambles for steals. While Amen has the same, if not slightly better athletic tools as his brother to succeed on that end of the floor, I would argue that his instincts and feel for the game on that end of the floor are questionable to the point that it's a bit worrisome.

While I'd hope that you're at least semi-curious about all the fine details we've just gone over, I'd wager that you're likely just as, if not far more interested in the big question: which brother would be best in a Spurs uniform?

I'm going to jump straight to the point before explaining myself a bit further: while the race for the next several spots after Victor Wembanyama and Scoot Henderson is incredibly tight (and will likely remain that way for some time), I currently have Ausar Thompson rated as the 3rd best prospect in his class over his brother Amen. If the Spurs were to hold the 3rd overall pick on draft night, he is currently the selection I would make.

Ausar currently plays in more of an off-ball role for the City Reapers, while his brother Amen plays mostly as the team's lead guard that initiates the offense. This has led many evaluators to believe that Amen and Ausar will retain their current roles at the next level, but if you ask me, I think whether or not that actually happens is a bit more ambiguous than many are letting on. So, I'll propose this philosophical question: Are we sure Ausar Thompson can't be a lead guard in the NBA?

As you can see in the tweet above, Ausar is clearly a very capable playmaker, and even though he hasn't received as many reps as the team's primary ball handler, he is only averaging 1 less assist per game compared to his brother. There could be an argument made that some of Amen's passes have been more difficult--particularly those coming off the live dribble--and Amen will perhaps have an easier time transitioning to the NBA initially as a lead guard, but what Ausar brings on defense and away from the ball on offense are enough for me to overlook those trivial criticisms.

If I'm the Spurs and looking for a lead guard toward the top of this year's draft, I'm looking for a guard that can comfortably take on primary reps as a lead ball handler by operating in the pick-and-roll, making plays for others, and occasionally pulling up for some shots to keep defenders honest. But I'm also looking for a lead guard that could just as easily play off of other Spurs players like Devin Vassell and Jeremy Sochan and still remain effective on offense.

This is where Ausar's current role with the City Reapers comes into play. Being that he's having to play away from the ball more often than his brother, this has forced him to develop his jump shot a bit earlier, learn how to be effective as a cutter, and learn how to make quick decisions off the catch. This effectiveness away from the ball would allow guys like Sochan and Vassell to maintain a similar amount of ball-handling reps and allow the coaching staff to experiment with different lineups. This strikes me as the brand of "positionless" basketball that the Spurs have been trending toward.

It would be one thing for Amen or Ausar Thompson to come into the league, develop, and reach their individual ceiling at some point down the line. But it would be an entirely different thing for either of them to accomplish all of that while still contributing to winning basketball in a team context. If Amen Thompson has as much trouble playing away from the ball as I think he will early in his NBA career, then I don't see him contributing to winning basketball with the Spurs as they're currently constructed.

Next. January heat check: Spurs 2023 NBA Draft prospects. dark

So, Spurs fans, keep a lookout for Ausar Thompson in the coming weeks and months. If he continues playing as he has been recently, he will almost surely be a top-five pick and may even have a significant chance to be selected before his brother.