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NBA Toronto Raptors Jason Thompson

Can Jason Thompson Crack The Raptors Rotation?

Jason Thompson is a 29-year-old power forward/center who has played 571 NBA games and started in 407 of them. He has career averages of 9 points and 6.7 rebounds. He’s shot 49.7 percent from the field and has range out to – and more recently past – the three-point line. A sold rebounder for a big man and a decent enough defender, but can he crack the fairly well established Raptors big man rotation?

Head coach Dwane Casey seems pretty comfortable going with Jonas Valanciunas, Luis Scola, Patrick Patterson and Bismack Biyombo at the four and five spots and he should. His team is solidly in second place and on track to win a new franchise record of 56 games. This is rarefied air for a club that has never made it to 50 wins in its 21 years of existence. Their 43 wins (March 11) already represents their sixth most ever.

“Obviously this team is very established,” Thompson explained to Pro Bball report. “Got a lot of positive things going, so I just want to be part of the ride and help as much as I can (if) guys are banged up or injuries. Be ready if my number is called.”

Thompson has already got a start in Toronto so Casey could give Scola a day off to rest and that could become very important as the season quickly runs thru the final 19 or so games and the Raptors look to be fresh heading into the playoffs that start in about 5 weeks from now.

However, spot starts to give a regular a rest is not the same as cracking the rotation and it isn’t going to be easy to displace any of the Raptors top four big men.

Known as a good rebounder, Thompson has grabbed about 15 percent of the total available boards over his career and once he’s settled in that’s a pretty good indication of what he can do in Toronto. However, both Valanciunas and Biyombo are taking down over 20 percent of the available boards when they are on the court and have been superior rim protectors as well. Valanciunas providing offense that’s ahead of Thompson and Biyombo has gained the complete trust of his coach on defense.

NBA Toronto Raptors Jason Thompson

The one very interesting and somewhat unexpected skill Thompson could bring at the center spot is what looks like a reliable three-ball. A stretch-five that can rebound and play acceptable defense is a valuable commodity in today’s NBA, so maybe there’s something here – against all the odds.

Patterson doesn’t rebound particularly well, but in the current small ball NBA, he’s a mobile big man that can guard the perimeter. It’s obvious Casey is in love with what Patterson brings to the table, even when his big forward isn’t hitting his three-ball. That kind of loyalty and trust isn’t shaken easily.

Scola and Thompson’s games seem pretty similar and in reality, these two are probably fighting it out for a contract offer for next season. Both players have size, hustle for rebounds and have pulled out an unexpected three-point shot that increases their value as a stretch-four. Probably interchangeable, but that gives a distinct edge to Scola as he’s been the starting power forward all season.

So, this period is really like an extended job interview. Who fits best for the long term?

“I kind of really never been through it before being on one team for seven years,” Thompson said. “(Then) being on so many many different teams in a year’s span. It’s just part of the route I’ve taken and it just shows how much character a person can have going thru those times. It’s easy to be a pro when stuff is going positive, but when something doesn’t go your way, it’s how you react to that. So, I could definitely learn from this experience.

“It’s an audition. For me, going thru adversity can make myself better character-wise and (as a) player as well.

“Players are needed for the playoffs as well and this is the first playoffs in my career, my eight year career and that’s the most interesting part. It’s good to be here at this time and learning from a talented team like this in the second seed and trying to go for the first.”

It’s hard to believe, until one remembers the 29-year-old Thompson has played most of his career in Sacramento, that this eight year veteran has never been to the postseason. At least from his experience with the Kings he should be used to the audition process with a new head coach, he had seven head coaches in seven years there – then he had two more in Golden State this season, plus Casey in Toronto makes 10 head coaches in eight seasons.

“I don’t think it helps,” Thompson said. ” Because you want to be in a role where you are comfortable with a coach and a system and just worry about yourself and not the system per se. Every time you have to learn from a new coach and a new system it’s not the easiest, but that’s how you learn character-wise as a player. If you can get thru those things and find ways to be effective on both sides of the floor then you can make yourself into a player.”

At least Thompson shouldn’t be shaken up or surprised by having to learn yet another system on short notice from another new head coach in Toronto. That aspect of the change should be like getting out of bed in the morning by now.

Unfortunately, minutes for all of the Raptors big men are expected to be feeling the squeeze very soon from the pending return of DeMarre Carroll.

Carroll has only played in 23 games for the Raptors this season because of foot and knee issues, but he’s expected back in short order (no date has been set, but its been about 8 weeks since his surgery) and once he’s reclaimed his spot in the starting lineup, everybody playing in the three/four/five spots in the rotation will feel his impact. Like so many teams, the Raptors are at their best playing some version of small ball and Carroll is at his best defending against power threes and stretch-fours (and even stretch-fives).

Plus, if Carroll returns as Toronto’s third best three-point threat, it will be the competition adjusting to match what the Raptors can put on the court rather than the other way around.

As Casey said on Thompson’s arrival, he’s “insurance” and he’s needed insurance. A team can’t play small ball all the time against every opponent and the Raptors options at center are not all that comfortable if Biyombo or Valanciunas are lost for even a few games. Thompson is also likely the best option if Scola wasn’t available, although his fellow former Kings teammate James Johnson would probably fill in for Patterson if needed.

Cracking the rotation and taking the spot of any of the four big men Casey currently relies upon isn’t likely at this point, but Thompson will get to play as guys get days off heading towards the playoffs. As much as anything, this is an audition for next season and this veteran looks pretty interesting.



Stephen_Brotherston_insideStephen Brotherston covers the Toronto Raptors and visiting NBA teams at the Air Canada Centre and is a member of the Professional Basketball Writers Association.