Two years into Sam Hinkie's rebuilding effort, Hollis Thompson wasn't supposed to be the team's leader in games played at 148. Thompson wasn't supposed to lead all rookies in three-point percentage at 40.1% last season. He wasn't supposed to duplicate that success with increased volume and improved mechanics.
He wasn't really supposed to be anything.
Thompson entered the 2012 NBA Draft after three seasons at Georgetown, where he set the school record for career three-point percentage at 44.0%. Going undrafted, he spent time with the Tulsa 66ers in the D-League that season before catching on with the San Antonio Spurs during summer league in 2013. After not making the Spurs' roster, he finally found his way to Philly.
Look back at some of the names who suited up for the Sixers on Opening Night 2013: James Anderson, Daniel Orton, Hollis Thompson, Darius Morris, Brandon Davies and Kwame Brown. Thompson's even the only player from that game to play in this season's finale!
His development from a guy off the street to a player who dropped 19 points in back-to-back games to end his 2015 campaign has been non-linear though. He experienced success as a rookie, drilling 40.1% of his threes on 2.2 attempts per game, but his form and release needed a bit of work, causing Brett Brown and the Sixers' developmental staff to work with Thompson to rework elements of shot.
Derek Bodner broke down back in December the small adjustments Thompson made, as he said:
The changes are slight, borderline imperceptible. Slight changes in his footwork, preparation, and hand placement. Things such as the placement of his left foot so he can more quickly step into the shot with his right foot, having his hands ready to get the ball into and through the shooting pocket quicker, how much dip to have in a shooting motion, could all factor into the speed of his release.
They're slight changes, but even the slightest of changes can impact the timing and repeatability of a jump shot until the muscle memory, and comfort level, are fully formed. Even just taking the same mechanics, but trying to speed up the motion and limit the time in the shooting pocket, can throw a players timing and rhythm off.
But the team has made a quicker release a priority for Thompson this season.
I'm not a shot doctor compared to Derek, as I'm sure my former CYO coach can attest to, but there was a discernible difference in Thompson's performance as this season went on. Combined with the changes to his mechanics and the upper respiratory infection he suffered from in December and January, the beginning of the year was tough on Hollis, as he shot just 33.8% from three on 3.8 attempts per game in 37 appearances through the end of January.
Once Thompson finally had a clean bill of health and a greater comfort with his new stroke, he turned in a performance even greater than his rookie campaign, sinking 46.9% of threes while shooting 4.3 triples per contest in his final 34 games. That hot streak left him 12th in the NBA in three-point percentage (min. four 3PAs per game) at season's end, slotted in between Kevin Durant and Chris Paul and in the vicinity of other excelling role players such as DeMarre Carroll and Danny Green.
Here's evidence of his development in the form of highlights from his 23-point effort against the Denver Nuggets on Feb. 2:
Beyond just making his open looks from deep, Holliswood displayed some ability to create his own shot, an aspect of his game that has been completely absent from him repertoire at the NBA level. While I'm not bullish at all on him continuing to do that, it's encouraging to see him working on those other facets of his offensive play.
Similar to the way Mike Levin painted Tony Wroten as the paragon of this rebuilding effort, not just simply finding the superstar through the draft, but finding future key contributors while rifling through other team's scraps, Thompson has done that too.
This isn't some demented, Hunger Games-esque enjoyment of watching people struggle to make it in their profession. It's the solace taken that, in consecutive campaigns that are more about player development than wins and loses, there are little victories that can be had: finding a pair of possible sharpshooters in Thompson and Robert Covington or a possible sixth man gunner in Wroten. In a season where the Nuggets, the New York Knicks and other veteran-heavy teams have mailed games in, there was still watchable basketball due to players like Thompson turning from afterthought into a future cog in the Sixers machine.
Mike waxes poetically about Wroten slapping the hardwood of the Wells Fargo Center to the delight of a frenzied crowd in South Philly during the playoffs one day, just as I daydream about the Milwaukee Bucks double-teaming Joel Embiid in the low post, leaving Hollis open for a buzzer-beating corner three in Game 5 of the 2017 Eastern Semifinals.
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