It’s often said there are no easy nights playing point guard in the Western Conference.
Kings power forward Jason Thompson joked it’s no problem defending at his position, but he rarely draws an easy assignment.
Thompson is the Kings’ designated defensive nuisance. His next matchup is against Dallas All-Star Dirk Nowitzki on Tuesday night at Sleep Train Arena.
To begin the Kings’ six-game homestand last Wednesday, Thompson guarded Oklahoma City’s supremely athletic Serge Ibaka. Besides routinely contending for the Defensive Player of the Year honor, Ibaka has an improved offensive game that includes a three-point shot.
Friday, Thompson faced Denver’s Kenneth Faried, who pursues rebounds and runs the floor frenetically. Sunday, Thompson dealt with Cleveland’s Kevin Love, who can rebound, play in the post and shoot from three-point range.
After going against Nowitzki, Thompson will contend with Miami’s Chris Bosh on Friday and the Los Angeles Clippers’ Blake Griffin on Saturday. Then comes Monday’s game at Portland, where LaMarcus Aldridge awaits.
“I can’t say enough about how I much I respect the fact that he’s understanding where he is now, especially his role on this team, and taking that challenge to play those guys where it’s not a traditional kind of four (power forward),” Kings coach Tyrone Corbin said. “You have to get out on the floor. We ask him to show on pick-and-rolls. His runs are a lot longer; his activity is much more.”
Thompson has adjusted to his new role, which includes not being a primary option on offense. In past seasons, he wasn’t comfortable with a reduced offensive role. But it allows him to stay on the floor when he’s effective.
“It’s a little different,” Thompson said. “We’ve got a lot of guys that demand the ball a lot, so for me, taking the role of defending the other team’s best big, whether it’s a four or a five (center), it’s a little tougher than it’s been in years past, but you just kind of want to have an effect on the game.
“Some of the things I do might not show up on the stat sheet, but you just try to do all the little things to get your team a victory.”
But things haven’t gone entirely smoothly this season. He started the first 31 games before being benched for Ryan Hollins on Dec. 31 at Boston.
In what Corbin called a matchup decision, Thompson didn’t play against the Celtics, who had solid efforts by their bigs, Jared Sullinger and Kelly Olynyk. The Kings had one of their worst showings of the season in a 106-84 loss.
Thompson’s hiatus from the starting lineup lasted only two games. He has started 35 games this season.
Corbin said Thompson’s preparation has been vital to the Kings’ defensive success.
“He’s done a really good job for us and made us better on the defensive end because of his versatility and attention to detail,” Corbin said.
Thompson will be tested by Nowitzki, one of the toughest defensive assignments in the NBA. It’s not often a 7-footer is one of the best three-point shooters in NBA history.
Nowitzki is shooting 34.1 percent from beyond the arc this season. He also is adept at drawing fouls and can score in the post thanks to a fadeaway jumper that is nearly impossible to stop.
“It’s difficult to block his shot,” Corbin said. “He’s so long, first of all. He gets it off quickly; he can shoot it straight up in the air. You just have to make him work.”
Just another “easy” night for Thompson.