NBA Draft

Thor Could Land in Late Lottery

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Our 2021 NBA Draft coverage continues with Auburn’s J.T. Thor.

Background

J.T. Thor is a South Sudanese-American combo big from the University of Auburn. Originally playing in Anchorage, Thor moved all over during his high-school days before ultimately reclassifying to 2020. His prolific high-school days landed him a spot at Auburn where he thrived next to fellow 2021 draft entry Sharife Cooper.

Thor will be 18 years old on draft night (per NBA Draft Scouting), and represents one of the more interesting values in the draft. A versatile and explosive player, he has the frame and skillset to be a modern NBA perimeter big. His 6-foot-10, 220-pound frame, combined with Asgardian athleticism, makes him one of the most exciting players to watch in this year’s class.

Offense

For a player of Thor’s height, he certainly had an interesting shot profile. He’s thin as can be for his size, but still drew a 44.5% free-throw rate. The majority of his offense is derived from movement, finishing plays and hitting the offensive glass. The self-creation only comes around now and then, but it can be a pretty thing.

Athleticism, timing and reach give Thor the ability to crash the offensive glass from all over the floor. He’s got an incredible sense of crashing from the perimeter, weaving through bodies and making reads off the rim. Above-average touch and hangtime make him a quality finisher on putbacks as well. This sense of timing and coordination also makes him an excellent finisher off set plays.

In the play below, Thor lulls the zone defenders to sleep by going to his usual corner spot before breaking hard. Using three shooters off the high pick and roll makes the defense think long enough for Sharife Cooper to find him for the lob. Thor’s timing to hit the rim in sync with Cooper is what makes a strong finisher. He’s consistent and technically sound at making himself available, especially relative to his age.

He shoots it well with a soft ball for a demigod. He came in under 30% from deep with 91% of his makes assisted, per barttorvik. To some this would write off his shooting ability, but he displays natural touch and a willingness to pull the trigger.

A fluid shot for a player with his length is no small feat. Thor should be a plus movement shooter and off the catch at the next level.

There is certainly a world where Thor becomes a plus self-creator. Having the coordination and athleticism is a vital swing in his value, and flashes can become regular occurrences. Even without self-creation, versatility and the ability to finish will make him a relevant offensive force.

Defense

The ugly end of the floor is where Thor really shines. His instincts and length help him immensely as a shot blocker and passing-lane disruptor. Much like his offensive game, he’s just as comfortable on the perimeter as he is on the interior. Consistently Thor is able to make rapid reads and jump the lane with burst. Plays like these happened all the time:

His perimeter defense is improved by his body positioning and active hands to take away angles. His gambles aren’t as risky compared to other players due to his ability to stop on a dime and change gears. It also helps him in 2v1 situations, where he can cover lots of ground moving in any direction. This may be my favorite defensive play of Thor’s below.

It’s not all rosy. Thor’s lack of bulk makes him a tough 1v1 post defender, and he bites often on pump fakes. Though he has the tools to succeed in transition defense, focus and picking his lanes can be an issue at times. It would take some serious weight gain for him to be a legit rim-anchor down the road, but he has the weakside ability to be a small-ball five for stretches.

If Thor can capably guard wings and not get killed switching on guards, he already has value. Developing true 3-5 switching ability and the ability to stay in front of guards would be a massive boon to his value.

Swing Skills

Thor has one of the strongest profiles for an off-ball perimeter defending big. The problem is that is an inherently devalued position relative to the draft. Unless specific needs are being met, players with self-creation upside are usually prioritized. Guys like Thor have to show more offensive versatility to justify being in the top of the first round.

The ability to add weight to his frame while maintaining top-level lateral movement and agility skills for a big is another key. If he can make himself a convincing hybrid big, his value will skyrocket. Adding to his physicality could make him a legitimate defensive anchor.

Draft Stock

Thor has been tough to gauge, but recent news that his birthday was off by a full year will have people buzzing. He’ll be at the combine, indicating he may not have guarantees yet. I’d expect his athletic testing and young age to make him a late riser on draft boards as the final date approaches.

Thor is just inside the lottery on my board at 13th overall. His narrow path to becoming a legitimate creator means he may never be a primary or even secondary offensive option. His defensive acumen makes him a high-level role player at least. After the success of players like Jaren Jackson Jr. and Jaden McDaniels, Thor fits right into the vision of hybrid bigs in the future.

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About Charlie Cummings

Warriors writer born and raised in the Bay Area. University of Denver graduate currently living in Denver

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