The Disappearing Act of Hollis Thompson


Editors note: This was written before last night’s game

Hollis Thompson was one of the few feel-good stories from the 2013-2014 Philadelphia 76ers. The 6’8” Georgetown product was undrafted, but rode a fantastic summer league performance with the Spurs into a training camp invite in Philly. He made the team, and ended up being a big impact player for the 76ers, especially after the Evan Turner trade.

A low-usage spot-up shooter, Thompson was one of the few adequate floor spacers for the Sixers, hitting 40.1 percent of his threes, taking threes on 45 percent of his field goal attempts, and finishing well at the rim. Additionally, he proved to be a capable one-on-one defender on a team with very few of those. He looked like a player the Sixers could rely on moving forward; not a player with a ceiling much higher than his current production, but someone who was a known quantity on a team that would struggle this year by design.

However, through the first month of this young season, Thompson has looked like a different player. Thompson was the definition of efficiency last season, and this year he’s struggled to even come close to that. His scoring is up, from 6.0 points per game to 7.4, but his stats across the board don’t resemble the definition of efficiency that he was last year:

This was probably destined to happen, given the lack of quality on the Sixers’ roster and slightly increased role that Thompson has taken on both ends. But Thompson hasn’t just regressed; he’s been legitimately bad to start the season. What happened to sap Thompson’s effectiveness?

Naturally, the biggest issue for Thompson has been his three-point shot not falling. He’s gone from a solid 40.1 percent shooter to hitting 32 percent from outside this season, and he’s taking threes slightly more frequently than he did last year. His distribution of threes also is wildly different, and that’s not for the better.

Thompson was a fantastic corner three shooter last year, hitting 46 percent on those shots, which accounted for just under 30 percent of his long-distance attempts. This year, Thompson is taking more above-the-break threes, and while he’s shot 5-9 on corner attempts, he’s taken 41 other attempts, hitting just 26.8 percent on those threes. Thompson isn’t taking the threes he’s good at making, and he’s turned into Josh Smith from above the break. That’s a huge problem.

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The reason for this struggle is probably due to lack of spacing in Philadelphia’s offense. Thompson gets the vast majority of his attempts off of Tony Wroten or Michael Carter-Williams drives, and he’s not converting these catch-and-shoot opportunities because often he’s the only outlet threat available on these drives.

Thompson’s been playing a lot with Luc Mbah a Moute and Chris Johnson as his partner on the wing this year; Johnson was so bad that he got waived in favor of Drew Gordon, and Mbah a Moute isn’t exactly a threatening catch-and-shoot option. That has meant teams are free to pack the paint against the Sixers’ pick-and-roll while keying on Thompson outside, and his effectiveness has plummeted because of it. Per’s player tracking data, he’s shooting 38.9 on wide-open threes, more in line with his career numbers, but 29 percent on shots with a defender within six feet, and those guarded three-point attempts are occurring twice as frequently for him.

Thompson also hasn’t converted as well as he did last year in the paint, another product of the lack of spacing in the Sixer offense. Thompson’s a decent cutter, but he’s not getting the looks that he got last year, and he’s finishing at just 57.9 percent inside three feet, compared to 63.4 percent last year.

His shooting has also tanked from midrange, as he’s hitting just 28.6 percent from 10 feet to the three-point line. Across the board Thompson seems to be negatively affected by the lack of spacing. We’ll have to see if the numbers even out as Thompson spends more time with Carter-Williams, but given how the Sixers’ offense has looked all year, it doesn’t appear that he’s going to suddenly start getting more space any time soon.

Nov 1, 2014; Philadelphia, PA, USA; Philadelphia 76ers guard Hollis Thompson (31) against the Miami Heat during the second half at Wells Fargo Center. The Heat defeated the 76ers, 114-96. Mandatory Credit: Eric Hartline-USA TODAY Sports

Thompson was also a solid defensive player last year for the 76ers, and this year he’s seemed to be better as a team defender, but worse as an individual defender. Thompson is creating more turnovers this season, slightly upping his low steal and block rates from last year, and he’s been a better defensive rebounder. However, player tracking data is showing that he’s not doing that well in shot defense, as opponents are shooting within 2 percent of their averages with Thompson defending overall.

Particularly, opponents are roasting him in the paint, where they’re converting at a 72.4 percent clip with him defending. These number’s aren’t a perfect representation of Thompson’s defensive ability, mind you, but it does show that opponents are getting and hitting good shots consistently when he’s assigned to them. His overall impact on the team defensive efficiency hasn’t been good either; the Sixers are 3.7 points/100 possessions better with Thompson off the court, a stat that may or may not be influenced by the fact that K.J. McDaniels is usually Thompson’s primary sub, and K.J. is a demon.

Thompson has been a negative for the Sixers this year overall, a somewhat ominous statement given the state of the team. Combine that with McDaniels’ positive impact (the Sixers are 11 points better with McDaniels on the floor), and the enticing Robert Covington, and it becomes really difficult to justify giving Thompson the minutes he’s getting.

Thompson’s there primarily for three-point shooting and defense, but he’s been abysmal for the most part from outside and mediocre defensively. It’s worth wondering whether the Sixers would be better off sliding Thompson down the rotation and replacing his minutes with more K.J. and more of the MCW/Wroten backcourt combo, which Derek Bodner of Liberty Ballers suggested would open things up more for Carter-Williams. If Thompson doesn’t regain form soon, it’s probably worth the Sixers experimenting with these looks to give their other young guys chances to develop.

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Thompson’s 2013-2014 season looked very promising, as Thompson was a nice story of an undrafted player who hustled and scored efficiently and got a chance to make it on a bad team. However, as often happens to guys like this, he’s struggled to be consistent in his second season. It would really be helpful to the Sixers if he could regain form, because an efficient Thompson spacing the floor and providing good-but-not-great defense would be a nice compliment to the young pieces that the Sixers are building with. However, if that doesn’t happen, that’s all Thompson will likely stay: A flash in the pan for one season on a terrible team, an afterthought of the Sam Hinkie Tankathon.