Jason Thompson is the Kings’ longest-tenured player, which is to say he’s the most tortured of the bunch.
Multiple coaches, too many teammates to remember and more losses than he’d care to count in seven NBA seasons.
And for years Thompson’s name has been mentioned more often in trade rumors than any other King, although others have been dealt and he has remained. The number of players the Kings’ front office has brought in to eventually replace him at power forward is a reminder of that.
But Thompson is back in the starting lineup, earning praise for his defense and willingness to do the dirty work to help the Kings to a 3-1 start.
Thompson, 28, arrived at training camp in the best shape of his career and was a standout in training camp practices, according to coaches and teammates.
Toward the end of last season, Thompson was taken out of the starting lineup in favor of Reggie Evans, who relishes the gritty work in the post. Thompson entered training camp accepting he wouldn’t make his mark on offense. That was welcome news for the coaches, who struggled to figure out how to play Thompson alongside DeMarcus Cousins, the first option on offense.
“Over the years, I’ve seen different things, different offenses, different coaches,” Thompson said. “I haven’t shot as many times as I have in my career, so I have to find different ways to still be effective in games. If it has to be defense, OK.”
Rudy Gay called Thompson the MVP of Sunday’s win at the Los Angeles Clippers for his work against Blake Griffin, who shot 6 for 20.
Monday at Denver, Thompson was needed to chase around the energetic Kenneth Faried, who thrives by outworking opponents for rebounds.
In this role, Thompson’s statistics will never be catchy. He’s averaging 3.0 points and 7.0 rebounds in 26.1 minutes per game.
Cousins has been one of Thompson’s biggest supporters this season, saying how “proud” he was of his teammate after the Clippers game and that the Kings would not have won without him.
“J.T.’s our X-factor, I believe,” Cousins said. “When he’s in that mindset and in that zone where, ‘I’m going to be the defensive stopper and I’m going to shut the best big on the floor down every night,’ we’re a tough team.”
Coach Michael Malone gushed over Thompson’s effort in the offseason. Besides his conditioning, Thompson worked on adding a three-point shot to his game to better complement Cousins.
Still, Malone wants to make sure Thompson remains engaged on offense. Cousins’ passing figures to set up Thompson for good looks around the rim off double teams. Malone urges Thompson to continue to run the floor for possible easy opportunities and wants his teammates to look for him in those situations.
“If we go to Jason, and we give him looks, I want him to shoot the ball with confidence,” Malone said. “He put a lot of time in this offseason working on his game. But I also want him to know with his post defense, he’s going to be on the other team’s best post player every night. His rebounding, his energy, his screening, his running, all that is needed. Whether he’s getting shots or not, we need those other things every night.”
But even if Thompson does everything right, his playing time will fluctuate. When teams play small, Cousins will be the Kings’ lone big man on the floor.
But when given the opportunity, Thompson said he’ll do all he can to stay on the court because he believes his presence makes the Kings better.
“It’s all about rhythm; it’s all about the chemistry of the team,” Thompson said. “… I don’t want to just be the guy starting the game. I want to be the guy finishing the game, too. I think it all depends on matchups. … Sometimes it’s about matchups and the flow of the game.”
Spoken like a player who has been around long enough to know what it takes to get on the court.
Moreland sent to Reno – The Kings assigned rookie forward Eric Moreland to the Reno Bighorns, their NBA Development League affiliate, on Tuesday. Moreland, who was undrafted but impressed the Kings in the summer league, had not appeared in a game. He played a total of 20 minutes in three preseason games.