In this edition of our NBA Draft scouting profile series, we look at JT Thor, a versatile forward out of Auburn.
There might be more diverse opinions about JT Thor than any other prospect in the 2021 NBA draft class. He is one of the youngest players in the class, he doesn’t turn 19 until late August. And in his one season at Auburn he flashed a pretty tantalizing combination of raw skills.
For Thor it probably starts with the physical profile. At the NBA draft combine he measured in at 6’8.5 (no shoes) with a 7’3.25 wingspan. And considering his age, he might grow a bit more... a bit of an overwhelming thing to mentally process.
In several phases of the game he already looks like a pretty functional basketball player. The hand-eye coordination seems more than solid and, as a result, a decent baseline set of ball handling and shooting skills look promising.
Thor’s decision making and feel for the game are nowhere near where an evaluator would want them to be right now but, if they were, he might be vying to be taken in the top half of the lottery.
One must also be aware of the development track he has taken thus far. He played at three different high schools in three very different parts of the country (including his final two seasons at Norcross High School) and still managed to emerge as a top-50 collegiate recruit.
In his single NCAA season he managed an impressive ratio of blocks (37) and offensive rebounds (44) to personal fouls (55). Uber young athletic types that chase blocks and offensive boards typically amass a million fouls.
A look here at him working as a rim protector:
His ability to function as a disruptor, particularly as a weak side rim protector and jumping passing lines, while keeping himself under control is encouraging in how he may one day be able to apply his physical tools such that he maximizes their impact.
What he offers, at the moment, as an athlete needs to be made clear considering he is sometimes talked about as elite, which he is not.
Earlier this week I wrote about Trey Murphy III, who is also misunderstood as an athlete to a decent degree. Murphy has excellent lateral athleticism but not much in the form of first-step explosiveness and straight line speed.
Thor is the inverse of Murphy in that his first step is fairly bursty, in a sneaky sort of way because of how lanky he is, and that his ability to switch ends of the floor is quite good. Thor posted a 3.06 second three-quarter court sprint at the combine, which would have been third best, at worst, in each of the last ten (!!!) combines.
But Thor’s lateral quickness is not (yet) what one might expect based upon his reputation. That’s not to say he is a negative in this department, just that he probably shouldn’t be automatically projected as a player that is going to be an eventual wing stopper at the next level. He had the fifth worst lane agility performance at the combine although he performed better in the shuttle drill.
Young, rangy athletes that are likely still getting used to their length often struggle in these evaluation drills. I would expect him to be much better moving horizontally after a year or so in an NBA training environment but whether that actually happens or not remains to be seen.
He’s an exceptionally fluid athlete, in the Cam Reddish mold, applying his traits with precise and measured methods.
The constructive nuance of how he applies these traits can be seen in this example:
He instinctively uses a safe dribble to navigate space and traffic for the easy bucket.
Here he is with a grab-and-go opportunity:
He smartly gives up the ball before he encountering tight space and then works to create a lay up for a teammate. The feel and decision making issues show up when he is trying to do more than he is capable of doing at this stage. When he keeps it simple he’s pretty solid.
Considering that he will play his entire rookie season in the NBA at the age of 19, one has to allow for the possibility that he could progress quite a bit in the areas of his physical abilities and ball skills.
I buy him as a shooter despite a sub-30% mark last season (74 attempts). In terms of his shooting form, his upper half is impressively quiet (no wasted motion) and efficient. It’s his footwork that leads to the inconsistency...one of the easier things to address in a professional development environment.
Here you can see the simplicity of his motion and what the shot looks like when the feet are under control:
Beautiful. The ball comes off the fingertips. You see the excellent rotation. Everything is wonderfully soft and easy.
When a young big man naturally navigates the tight space in and near the corner to get behind the line without stepping out of bounds, it’s a reliable indication that he is putting in a ton of work as a shooter:
But here you can see the result when he is kicking his feet forward and landing on one foot instead of two:
As mentioned, that shouldn’t be tough to refine.
Different outlets have him all over the place in terms of where they expect him to be drafted. He can be seen in the latter part of the first round, at different spots in the second round or at risk of being undrafted.
It seems likely that Thor will be drafted at this point, and either way he will be in NBA camp and hopefully playing at Summer League next month. But what any team thinks a realistic outcome is for Thor will surely impact where they have him on their own board.
If he doesn’t progress much in his ability to move laterally, Thor may need to be developed defensively as a center. This is a completely reasonable plan for him. If he could grow to function as a stretch five with rim protection equity, it would be a great outcome.
If Thor can further develop athletically such that he can be a plus defender on the interior and the perimeter, and if the teenager can defend at both forward spots and at center, then you have a player that projects enough value to potentially sneak into the end of the lottery talent wise.