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The Curious Case of Deon Thompson

See what I did there? Pretty clever huh?

When the season began there was great concern over the health of Tyler Hansbrough which was lessened to some extent by the fact Deon Thompson seemed to be filling his potential.  Thompson had 17 against Penn and followed that with 20 points and nine rebounds versus Kentucky.  The junior forward looked very smooth in those games and continued to look good even after Hansbrough returned.  Perhaps one of his best games of the season came versus Notre Dame when Thompson had 19 points and 13 rebounds.  Hansbrough had 34 in that one but it was a stark example of what kind of firepower UNC could have on offense if both big men could score consistently.

The question is what has happened to Thompson since then?  Aside from 22 versus Oral Roberts, Thompson's production began to suffer on the offensive end.  After scoring in double figures during the first 13 games, Thompson has dropped off in his point production.  In the last five games Thompson has been in double figures once, against College of Charleston.  During that span there was the 1 for 6 FT shooting against Boston College and the 3 for 13 performance from the floor against Wake Forest.  In the past two games Thompson has scored all of six points.  To his credit, Thompson was strong on the boards versus Miami and also versus Wake Forest despite the lower point production.  Still the lack of offense has many questioning whether he still should be starting and if Ed Davis should be getting more minutes.

First let's deal with the "Ed Davis should start" premise.  This is being pushed on the premise that Davis is simply better, especially on defense and therefore warrants more minutes.  The offensive ratings, according to Pomeroy, are virtuall the same.  Davis is a better defensive rebounder and shot block.  This begs the question why Davis is not the starter.  One answer lies in the fact he is still just a freshman who might need better conditioning to handle more than the 20 mpg he is getting now.  Davis also struggled with a knee issue earlier in the season which could also factor in.  It is also important to remember Thompson is more experienced and quite frankly more polished on offense when he is given the opportunity.  In some respects it could be argued that Davis would better compliment Tyler Hansbrough.  I am not sure that is the case though I seem to recall thinking the same thing about Alex Stepheson last season.  Thompson has a wider ranging offensive game than Davis does and his ability to operate away from the basket 8-10 feet should make him a decent compliment to Hansbrough.

The question is why does Thompson seem to be struggling Hansbrough on the court.  The answer is: Depends on how you look at it.  In many respects if Hansbrough is dominating the middle than Thompson is going to be muted some when the Heels have the basketball.  The games in which Hansbrough struggles i.e. versus Wake Forest the absence of production from Thompson is more keenly felt.  If there is an issue it is that a well defended Hansbrough is either unable or unwilling to make use of Thompson.  One would think if three players collapse on Hansbrough, Thompson should be a beneficiary of that.  This is not happening.  Maybe some of it is Thompson.  Some of it is likely Hansbrough penchant for not passing out of a double team.  At any rate there should be at least some shift in the scoring load on the interior if Hansbrough struggles. Even if things go well and Hansbrough does score, Thompson should at least be a threat.  The reasons for Thompson's regression is not clear.  He is not a naturally aggressive player and Hansbrough general demeanor may takes some of the air out of Thompson's sails.  It is also possible that the opportunities have not been there and more care needs to be taken to ensure the offense is being executed in away that maximizes all the players.

Even if we stipulate Thompson will lack effectiveness with Hansbrough on the court, what about when Hansbrough is off?  The past two games, Roy has gone with a "2nd unit" in the first half that left Thompson on the floor with Larry Drew, Will Graves, Bobby Frasor and Ed Davis.  In both cases the 2nd unit failed to produce points on any significance.  In that lineup Deon Thompson is option #1 followed by Graves.  There is not much evidecne Thompson is taking advantage of this situation.  My understanding of Roy's plan for this season involved rotating a nice bench so the 2nd five could easily handle the 2nd five on the other team.  Due to the injured to Ginyard and Tyler Zeller, that plan was problematic since the rotation was shortened.  The adjustment Roy made is for Thompson to remain in the game with the first four bench players(understanding this is not always consistent.)  If Thompson is on his game it serves the purpose for Roy in that he is running not one but two quality big men who can give UNC a consistency in their offense on the blocks.  In other words when Hansbrough takes a breather, Thompson should be making an impact and if he is able to that with Hansbrough in the game, it will be on another leve, just ask Notre Dame.

Part of me sees the point of the "Ed Davis should start" argument.  I made a similar argument in favored of Marcus Ginyard over Wayne Ellington two years ago. And while I was more than willing to have Ellington sit in favor of a better defender.  In this case, something does not feel right about sitting Thompson.  Part of it is I think he has shown greatness and could again.  Team chemistry is another concern.  Some folks think you can switch Davis for Thompson and just like that it is all fixed.  Hardly.  Having Thompson come off the bench might create more trouble than it is worth in part because we have no idea how it will change the dynamics of the team as they play on the court.  Such a move might wipe away any confidence Thompson has left.

For now I say leave Thompson where he is at with hopes he can find his offense the same way Ellington did.  At this point Thompson is the fifth option on offense among the starters.  There is truth to the notion that as long as the other four are performing well on offense what Thompson does is icing.  Speaking for myself, I want the cake, the icing and anything else.  I would love to see Thompson being  a legit threat to open up the rest of the players.  I think whether that happens or not is up to Thompson and also the coaches to make certain the way the offense is being run maxmizes opportunities for every player.