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2023 NBA Draft Combine Portraits Photo by Chris Schwegler/NBAE via Getty Images

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Amen and Ausar Thompson are trail-blazing, game-breaking twins writing their own NBA Draft story

The NBA Draft has never seen anything like superstar twins Amen and Ausar Thompson before.

There’s a moment burned into the brain of anyone watching twins Amen and Ausar Thompson that calcifies just how supernatural their inborn basketball talent really is. For City Reapers head coach and basketball lifer Dave Leitao, it happened during a Dec. game against Cold Hearts at the start of his debut season on the sidelines in the upstart Overtime Elite league.

Ausar Thompson began the sequence by stonewalling a drive from Rob Dillingham, a five-star recruit headed to play for John Calipari’s Kentucky Wildcats next season. With Amen charging in for the trap, Dillingham spun to the sideline and launched an off-balance fadeaway that was easily swatted by Ausar. As soon as the shot went up, Amen started racing down the court the other way.

Ausar caught his own block before it went out of bounds, and launched a one-handed Hail Mary throw to halfcourt. That’s where Amen caught the ball, and chucked his own one-handed pass down the court to a teammate before falling out of bounds. The City Reapers scored an uncontested layup, and the game resumed as if something totally abnormal didn’t just happen.

“You couldn’t do that unless you have some kind of succinct physical and emotional connection to know exactly where your brother is going to be,” Leitao told SB Nation. “They manifest that on the court.”

The NBA has seen twins before — Brook and Robin Lopez, Cody and Caleb Martin, Marcus and Markieff Morris, to name a few. It has seen top-ranked recruits take alternative paths to the top of the draft, from Brandon Jennings going to Italy to Emmanuel Mudiay’s brief stint in China to LaMelo Ball playing in Australia. It has seen big guards with nuclear athleticism and broken jump shots. There is no precedent in league history to the Thompson twins, though, both in terms of who they are and what they’re trying to do.

The Thompsons forged the talent that will make them both lottery picks in the 2023 NBA Draft playing alongside each other all over the country. They started their development in the Bay Area, moved out to Florida for high school where they won a state championship at Pine Crest, then moved to Atlanta to join Overtime Elite after making the bold choice to bypass college basketball and other routes.

Aside from their first season in OTE, the twins have always played on the same team, and they’ve developed games to complement each other’s strengths and weaknesses. They have nearly identical builds — 6’7 in shoes, 7-foot wingspans, frames that weight about 215 pounds — to match their nearly identical faces, but the differences in their skill sets is evident.

Amen is a point guard with athletic gifts that are the stuff of urban legend. His burst as a ball handler is legitimately stunning, going from a dead spot to full speed in a split second. His first step to blow by his defender is perhaps only rivaled by his last step to jump higher and stay in the air longer than everyone else. There’s a shiftiness to his game that is hard to comprehend, an ability to quickly dart from spot to spot to give to himself available breathing room when he gets stuck under water. He is one of the top passers and playmakers in this draft class, and he has the dexterity to finish plays himself with either hand. He might be the most athletic player in the NBA as a rookie. He might also be the worst outside shooter of any lead guard in the league.

Ausar would be considered an absurd run-and-jump athlete when compared to anyone but his twin brother. While Ausar doesn’t quite have the same level of quick-twitch freakiness as his twin, his game is a bit more well-rounded. Ausar plays off the ball, but can still create separation as a driver with his speed, stride lengths, and leaping. He’s a tighter and more conventional ball handler than his brother, stringing together complex dribble moves to keep his defender off-balance. He’s more disciplined and more effective on the defensive end at this stage, both on the ball as a point-of-attack defender and off-the-ball making help side rotations. He’s clearly the better shooter of the two, even if he’s not exactly a good shooter just yet.

The Thompson twins would be polarizing prospects due to their extreme athleticism and lack of shooting skill even if they took a conventional path to the league. The fact that they are trailblazing their own route out of Overtime Elite makes them even more difficult to evaluate. How are teams supposed to assess their play when they are several years older than so many of their opponents? How do you contextualize their statistics in a league with zero history and a preposterously fast pace of play?

Drafting a Thompson twin requires a leap of faith. For every legitimate reason there is to doubt their NBA translation, passing on them feels just as risky. For their part, the Thompsons have no regrets about the path they chose to get to the NBA Draft because they know the type of strides they’ve each made over the last two years.

“It’s hard for me to watch my old self now,” Ausar Thompson said at the draft combine. “I feel like I developed so much shooting wise, IQ wise, playmaking, even defense. When you going through it you don’t really notice as much, but every time I look back, I’m like wow.”

Basketball: Overtime Elite-Cold Hearts at City Reapers Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports

Watching an Overtime Elite game can be a disorienting. There are screaming announcers, a “Vibe Cam” often interrupting the broadcast, strobe lights and smoke machines going off sporadically, and hockey-style power plays when a team fouls in the bonus before the last minute.

There is also some real talent in the league. Dominick Barlow was an undrafted rookie for the San Antonio Spurs last season who put up some nice games after coming out of Overtime Elite. Naasir Cunningham and Somto Cyril are potential NBA talents who spent their junior year of high school playing in OTE last season. Alexandre Sarr could be a lottery pick next year. The league is primarily made up of 16-to-18-year-olds, and more closely resembles AAU basketball than college or international hoops. The Thompson twins appear to be the oldest players in the league after turning 20 years old in Jan.

While the level of competition they faced can be debated, what they’re able to do on the floor speaks for itself.

The sales pitch on both Thompson twins starts with their combination of size and athleticism. How many NBA guards have 7-foot wingspans? How many can defy the forces of gravity this easily?

“There’s a little bit of a poetry to what they do while they’re in the air,” Leitao said. “Their athleticism is just different. It’s more dynamic. It’s almost graceful. They could have been track athletes, high jumpers or triple jumpers.”

Amen is a walking paint touch as a ball handler. His speed and burst is the obvious selling point, but he also does a great job keeping his primary defender off balance with his footwork and ball handling. He has a way of lulling the defender to sleep before he hits the turbo button. While he doesn’t always know what he’s doing once he gets to the paint, his ability to get such deep penetration leaves the defense no choice but to send multiple defenders.

Amen is fully in his bag when he’s spraying out passes to teammates. His passes are thrown with great velocity and impressive accuracy. He can hit the roller, he can throw the lob, he can manipulate the defense until the man in the dunker’s spot is wide open. He also makes some incredibly creative passes that it feels like only he can make:

Amen’s playmaking is so effective in part because he has so much scoring gravity as a finisher. When he gets in the paint, he jumps so high that he can reach a level even most rim protectors can’t contend with. He can put some real english on the ball for up-and-unders. Sometimes, you wish he would dunk the ball even more often than he does.

When he gets a runway, it’s over. That first step is nothing short of wicked, and he doesn’t need to spend extra time loading up off two feet to finish high above the basket.

Amen is so tantalizing because of what he could become with more refinement to his skill set. In some ways, Ausar is already there. Ausar was named MVP this season in Overtime Elite, and he won Finals MVP in both seasons with the program. His athletic gifts translate in more nuanced ways on both ends of the floor.

Ausar’s defensive ceiling is sky-high. He’s quick enough to defend point guards and smother them with his length. He also big enough — about five pounds heavier than his brother — to provide some supplemental rim protection. As his body fills out, it’s not a stretch to believe he can check three or four positions while also darting into the passing lanes to get turnovers. A Thompson twins special is being able to defend in the full court, taking the opposing offense out of its rhythm and draining valuable seconds on the shot clock. Ausar is particularly impressive in that area.

Offensively, Ausar’s skills are a little sharper than his brother’s. While he doesn’t have the same extra gear of game-breaking burst, he can still blow by his man by utilizing his speed and tight ball handling ability. Ausar can keep the ball on a string, change directions, and still explode to the basket. He’s a good passer in his own right if not quite as creative as Amen, and it should give him value as both a connective passer and secondary creator when combined with his other tools.

The shot will be more important for Ausar because he’s expected to continue his off-ball role at the next level. Ausar got better and better from three-point range as the season went on, both in terms of volume and accuracy. Teams know his numbers weren’t anything to write home about, but his progress is what’s encouraging. His game-winning spot-up three-pointer in the OTE Finals was one of the biggest shots of the season from this draft class. He can shoot it off the dribble, too:

Where both the twins can really be special is in transition. Their open floor speed and leaping speaks for itself. They have a way of forcing their imprint on the game to get it going up-and-down.

The outlet passing from the twins is so reminiscent of what the Ball brothers used to do at Chino Hills. The Thompsons want to run at every opportunity, and they will throw an audacious 50-foot pass to ignite the break when they see the chance. It begs a question NBA teams need to ask themselves: were the Thompsons able to play in transition so often because of their own unique skill set, or was it more a byproduct of the competition? Given how much more efficient transition scoring is than halfcourt offense at the NBA level, it’s tempting to let them tap into their open floor game and see where it takes them.

For all of Amen and Ausar’s gifts, their under-developed shooting poses major questions as they enter the draft. Being a capable outside shooter is essentially a perquisite for perimeter players in an NBA that takes and makes more threes every year. With most lineups around the league featuring at least four shooters together on the floor, the Thompson twins either need to majorly improve their shots, or be dominant in almost every other area to hit their ceilings.

Between the regular season and the playoffs, Amen shot 16-of-60 from three (26.6 percent), and 64-of-92 from the free throw line (69.5 percent). Over the same time time frame, Ausar shot 32-of-96 from three (33.3 percent), and 61-of-88 from the free throw line (69.3 percent). It’s worth noting that both of them got better in the playoffs, where Amen made 77.4 percent of his free throws, and Ausar hit 38.5 percent of his three.

If opposing Overtime Elite defenses ignored the Thompsons on the perimeter, how do you think the NBA will treat them? Teams went under screens on Amen all year, and played way off him on the perimeter. Ausar was also dared to shoot. It only takes one look at the defensive schemes played in the playoffs to know teams won’t guard the Thompsons on the arc until they prove them can consistently hit a jump shot.

The Thompsons do not sound too worried about their jump shot right now. They know they are still young and still improving. Amen says he’s focusing on building his jump shot from in close, and getting more comfortable from mid-range. He believes the threes will eventually come.

“No miss really matters that much,” Amen Thompson said at the draft combine. “I’m just trying to get better. The improvement I’ve made since I got to OTE has been tremendous.”

The other big hurdle the Thompsons will have to face in the NBA is one they have no control over. They’re very likely about to be forced apart from one another for the first time in their lives. It’s another challenge they’re ready to accept.

“I love playing with (Amen), but we’re not dependent on each other,” Ausar said at the combine. “We can both succeed without each other.”

Everyone around the twins talks about how hard they work. They are devout basketball nerds in the best kind of way, watching tape constantly and able to recite facts like Jaylen Brown’s college free throw percentage off the top of their head. They’ve been working for this moment since they made the decision to leave the Bay Area for high school in Florida. So far, every choice they’ve made has helped put them in position to be top picks.

The Thompsons know they have to adjust to the NBA with such a stark increase in competition on the horizon. If they hit, the NBA will have to adjust to them, too.


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