The Process' first crown jewel is still a largely forgotten piece. In 2013-14, Tank Year One, Hollis Thompson showed up to training camp with no fanfare or advanced notice and made the team. He then spent a year mostly incognito but still finding himself in 77 games, and nearly 23 minutes per game, and shot 40.1% on three pointers. The Sixers signed him to the first successful "Hinkie Special" and still have his rights on a minimum contract for this year and a team option for next year.
Still, Thompson might be under that contract by the time the 76ers improve and compete for playoff position. And he's still a relative unknown around the NBA because it's very easy to forget when he's on the court. He doesn't do enough to warrant mention when he's not shooting the ball.
But Thompson can really shoot and has improved over his two seasons. As Derek Bodner of Philly Mag wrote here last season, Thompson and assistant coach Billy Lange worked on improving his shot release. Thompson shot so few times his first year because he had a slow release. A quicker release, and a bit more assertiveness, helped Hollis raise his attempts from 3.5 threes per 36 to 5.8. And ultimately, his percentages weren't impacted - he shot the exact same percentage (40.1%) on threes in 2014-15.
Thompson made himself into an NBA player, rather than just a curiosity. His usage rate, while still low, represented a marked improvement from his rookie season, upping from a barely believable 11.3%* to a still-low but perceptible 15.9%.
*League average is about 20%, since someone needs to use a given possession. Typically defensive specialists and players who are otherwise afraid to shoot end up ranking the lowest. In 2014-15, the lowest usage rate belonged to Furkan Aldemir. Thompson was eighth-lowest in his rookie season, and his only positive attribute was his shooting, so you can see why that's not a good thing.
But Thompson is still too bashful, if only because he can't do anything else when he doesn't shoot, a problem that has stood in the way of his NBA viability since he left Georgetown. Despite being a 40% three point shooter, Hollis only averaged 2.4 drives per game last season according to NBA.com's tracking stats site**, which is pretty amazing considering how often the Sixers pass the ball and how often unskilled players have to do more than they're capable of.
**A drive is defined by NBA.com as a dribble from at least 20 feet away from the rim to within 10 feet of the rim.
That number of drives is 1.7 fewer than Robert Covington, who also could barely dribble, in about the same number of minutes. It's fewer than what Jerami Grant and Luc Mbah a Moute averaged, and they had reputations (and realities) as crap shooters. Hollis just couldn't or wouldn't do it.
Thompson hasn't learned how to create effectively off the dribble yet. With strong-side leaning defenses, shooting is obviously important, but the best role players can shoot and, at the very least, line-drive dribble to the rim. Thompson hasn't show the ball-handling chops necessary to keep the ball moving productively against strong-side leaning defenses that will soon make up the entire NBA. The lack of driving is the result of not being able to do that.
But he can compensate in other ways, if his dribble still isn't up to par. Thompson worked last year on improving his shot speed. He can make quicker decisions when he gets the ball, and having two years of familiarity in the offense this should come naturally. He could cut more toward the rim or add a pump fake. There's options because he's a good enough shooter whose height makes contesting his shot difficulty.
He could re-focus his effort and become a better defender, or crash the defensive boards. He just needs to do a little more than be a James Jones close if he's an NBA rotation player. At age 24, he should still have some room for improvement.
But maybe the best option is just to shoot more. Robert Covington averaged 8.2 three point attempts per 36 minutes. I'm not sure what skill Covington has that Thompson doesn't. Assertiveness is the name of the game. Thompson should see more space this year, with Jahlil Okafor and hopefully competent point guard play and has increased output with comparable efficiency year-over-year once already. He just needs to do it again.