Something happened this morning that absolutely stunned me. However, first we have to go back a bit. In May, while scouting prospects for the upcoming NBA draft, I came across Auburn forward JT Thor. At the time, the Alaska native was considered a fringe second-round prospect. However, when looking at his tape I was amazed by Thor's unique blend of size and skill. To say I was a big fan of Thor's would be an understatement. For the last three months, I've been using a JT Thor Bulls jersey swap as my profile photo. Flash forward to today, and this report comes out.
The 6-foot-9 Thor weighs 205 pounds and possesses a massive 7-foot-3 wingspan. As a prospect, Thor has soared up draft boards in the past few months. He's gone from being considered as a fringe draft prospect to now being projected in the 20 to 40 range.
The 18-year-old is one of the youngest players available in the upcoming draft. Thor's averages of 9.4 points, five rebounds, and 1.4 blocks in 23 minutes per game don't really jump off the page. However, when looking through the tape it's easy to see a hidden gem. As someone who's used a JT Thor profile photo for three months, I feel obligated to introduce you to the joys of JT Thor.
Lean, Mean, Turnover-Forcing Machine
This play is seriously impressive. Thor starts this play at the opposing team's three-point line with 28 seconds on the shot clock. Next, Thor calmly jogs back and his outstretched arm blocks a corner three-point attempt with 24 seconds on the shot clock. Thor's ability to cover so much ground so quickly is on display all throughout his game. This play would be a massive highlight for most players, yet Thor seems under control and calm the entire time. That's because this is just a normal play for him. You get accustomed to plays like this when watching Thor's tape.
Tall and skinny players such as Thor often struggle to guard smaller players in the post. However, this doesn't seem to be much of a problem for Thor. First, when looking at his footwork in this clip you can notice Thor putting his right foot slightly behind his left. As a result, Thor is able to absorb the contact to his lower half. In addition, he does a great job staying vertical and using his length to bother the shooter at the rim. Thor uses these 'bend, don't break' mechanics to be effective when guarding smaller players inside.
Another thing that makes Thor unique is his perimeter defense. Despite his large size, Thor has agility comparable to many NBA guards. Thor is constantly active on the defensive end. This persistence combined with his long wingspan leads to A LOT of steals. These steals on the perimeter often result in uncontested dunks as Thor's long strides enable him to easily outpace defenders in transition.
Ready Made Offense
A lot of players come into the NBA as "high ceiling projects" or "raw upside players". And it's easy to see why the lanky Thor coming fresh off a season where he averaged 9.4 points per game would receive that label. While I agree that Thor possesses a high ceiling, I actually think he could be an impact player from the get-go in the NBA.
Thor shot 22-74 (29.7%) from three-point range this season, but I think his shooting is better than that number would suggest. Auburn's offense was pretty bad last season, but once point guard Sharife Cooper joined the team Thor's numbers improved. Thor shot 13-37 (35.1%) from three-point range during games in which Cooper played. Thor has a mechanically sound shot, and there are reasons to be optimistic. Scouts often use free throw percentage to project shooting, since a free throw is just shooting mechanics. For a player of Thor's size, a free throw clip around 70% would be desirable. Thor shot 63-85(74.1%) from the free throw line.
The Bulls have rostered several big men who like to live on the three-point line in recent years. While Thor showcases his range to keep opposing defenders honest, he prefers to get his touches in the post. Thor is extremely quick in tight spaces. He frequently uses this to gain advantageous positions around the basket. Thor employs quick spin moves to create separation against defenders. He can easily contort his arms over and around defenders to get open looks from most any angle.
As a result of Thor's post game, he often finds himself at the free throw line. Thor attempted 7.4 free throws per 100 possessions. This tendency to get to the line should allow Thor to generate easy points early on in his career.
Long Term Offensive Upside
Thor is a solid and rapidly improving ball handler. In his first few Auburn games, he didn't really have any dribble moves. By midway through the season he had mastered his now signature between the legs crossover. And toward the end of the season he started to showcase some hesitation moves.
Here you can see him keeping his upper body closer to the ground. This is something bigger ball handlers like Kevin Durant use frequently. By lowering his upper body, Thor accomplishes two important things. First, he shortens the distance between his hands and the floor. This decreases the amount of time and space the defender has to steal the ball between dribbles. Secondly, Thor can use his upper body to prevent players with shorter wingspans from contesting his dribble at all. As a result of Thor putting his upper body in between the defender and the ball, any defender attempting a steal is likely to bump Thor and commit a foul.
This ball handling ability massively raises Thor's offensive ceiling. Because Thor has the ability to create open shots for himself, he doesn't need to rely on teammates to set him up. Removing this reliance on other players opens up the game a lot for Thor, who anytime he receives the ball is a threat to relocate himself and force rotations from the defense.
According to the aforementioned reports, the Bulls have shown interest in JT Thor and talked with him on multiple occasions. Overall, there haven't been many leaked rumors regarding who the Bulls will be looking to add during Thursday's NBA Draft. Thor's name being one of the first to receive some buzz as a potential Bulls target makes the situation extremely intriguing.
As a longtime JT Thor admirer, I felt obligated to provide a rundown on one of my favorite prospects. I think JT Thor would be a great addition to the Bulls roster. He could offer instant defensive playmaking and a solid presence both on the interior and at the three-point line. Let me know on Twitter if you think JT Thor is who the Bulls should target come Thursday's draft!