Auburn’s JT Thor is one of the more interesting prospects in the draft. He enters the draft following his freshman year for the Tigers, so he is a raw project but his skill set cannot be denied. He is a long, lanky defender with the ability to move his feet very well. Offensively, he is great in space but struggles with pressure. He had a relatively low usage rate in college probably due to his streaky shooting, but if he develops consistency this can be an excellent two-way player in the NBA.
He is a bit of a frustrating player to watch if you’re an Auburn fan because he shows absolute brilliance one minute and then disappears the next. He’s very smart on the defensive end but that IQ hasn’t translated yet to the offensive end, but when or if it does, this is a slam dunk 15+ PPG scorer with elite defensive ability.
JT Thor - Auburn
Per Game Stats
Thor did not produce eye-popping numbers in his one and only college season but he was a freshman. He started 27 games for the Auburn Tigers averaging 9.4 PPG, 5 rebounds, and 1.4 blocks per game. He shot 44% from the field, 30% from three, and 74% from the free-throw line. His offensive numbers are not the reason for his rising draft stock rather the eye test and witnessing his potential given more knowledge and experience.
His combination of defensive IQ and incredible athleticism makes him a fantastic prospect on the defensive end. He can defend like a guard on the perimeter moving his feet well and guarding with his body instead of his hands. He’s one of the great shot contesters in this draft closing well on jump shooters and his length is a major disruptor. Since he closes out well, step-back shots are dangerous against him if they do not create adequate space.
He showed great ability to be a weak-side shot blocker. Since his defensive IQ is high, he can recognize his teams’ mistakes and make up for them with great shot-blocking. Thor also effectively identifies his spot in the rotations, especially in emergency help situations. His quickness and good feet make him very versatile defending the pick and roll. He can hedge, switch, and drop into coverage with the ability to recognize which technique is needed.
JT Thor's ground coverage ability plus the 7'3+ wingspan is quite the effective combo for closing out on the perimeter pic.twitter.com/KrL8ttOn4O— Draft Dummies (@DraftDummies) July 2, 2021
He's a transition nightmare for the opposition on both ends of the court. He turns immediate defense into offense reminiscent of an NFL cornerback intercepting a pass and taking it to the house. His speed coupled with good ball-handling in space offers him the ability to get to the rim in a flash. His offensive strengths come with space, so when the floor opens up in transition he gets downhill with ease.
Thor runs the floor well so when his guards get in transition he is capable of being a lob threat or spotting up in the corner. He has relatively low offensive usage, but most of his possessions came in transition so he seems to be confident in that area of his game. He profiles to be a great rim runner, so teams that like to play fast in transition could use a player like this.
JT Thor with back to back steals. Great awareness/length and even though he missed the first layup he had a very nice euro finish on the next one pic.twitter.com/a8HdkEb7Iq— Pels Draft (@PelsDraft) July 13, 2021
In my opinion, this is what makes him an extremely intriguing prospect. He has good form on his shot, and even though his balance and consistent mechanics can be improved, the potential is there to be way more than a streaky shooter. Although he will need to focus on consistent shooting due to the way the NBA is played today, there is much more to his game. He makes fluid movements and has the ability to be an acrobatic finisher at the next level.
His usefulness in space along with decent ball-handling facilitates his great downhill actions. If he can develop a consistent catch-and-shoot three, his pump fake will be absolutely deadly because it does not take many steps for him to get to the rim. For a big, he has good touch around the rim and as a shooter, so given more experience at the next level he can provide great offensive impact.
Auburn's JT Thor went 15/25 in the NBA Combine's 3-point star shooting drill yesterday, best among frontcourt players so far. Thor measured 6'8 1/2 barefoot, 203 pounds with a 7'3 wingspan and 9'2 standing reach. pic.twitter.com/tljpcwaPAs— Jonathan Givony (@DraftExpress) June 23, 2021
He is not the greatest playmaker. When lanes get congested he has the tendency to make rash decisions. When the pressure comes from the post or perimeter, he seems to panic and pass to a random target. Although he has great defensive IQ, that will need to translate to the offensive end to improve his utility within a scheme. Whether that is recognizing when to pick and pop or roll, and finding his spots moving without the ball, he will need to develop a more team mindset on offense.
Most of his turnovers are unforced errors. He has to propensity to make wrong and weak cross-court passes that are easily intercepted. An interesting weakness for him is his inbound passing. Some scouts say he’s the worst inbound passer they’ve ever seen, and I think that is once again his tendency to panic when pressure or his internal clock heats up.
He has great size but is very thin when profiling towards the next level. Although he’s a good finisher in space, his touch sometimes disappears when pressured at the rim. Strong defenders can easily move him off his spot and create off-balance shots for him since he does not have great strength or balance.
Even though this is one of his larger weaknesses, it’s a weakness for most college prospects. If he is serious about playing and excelling at the next level, he will improve his strength and when he does, look out because he will be a nightmare to guard in space.
He’s one of those streaky shooters so NBA teams are not going to draw up a lot of plays where he is the number one option yet. Given that notion, he has to find his spots within the offense and many of those will probably be catch-and-shoot. He shoots better when passes come from the right side rather than left, so he will have to enhance the off-hand part of his game. He has to improve on a consistent shot, but if he does it will add so much versatility to his offensive game.
When he does get catch-and-shoot opportunities, he brings the ball from his hip into his jump shot which is an absolute no-no in the NBA because defenders are so much better at closing out. He also tends to turn his feet and body sideways on his jumper so look for him to improve consistent mechanics and balance on his shot. When and if he does, he has the ability to have a quick release which is golden in the NBA
NBA comparison: Jerami Grant
I absolutely love this kid's ability. He reminds me a lot of Jerami Grant because Grant was not polished offensively early in his career and much of his draft stock came from his athleticism and defensive versatility. Grant worked tirelessly on his offensive game and now it's shown as he is a 20+ per game NBA scorer. I’m not saying I project Thor to be a 20+ scorer in the league, I think he is more of a complementary piece, but if he can learn and progress like Jerami Grant he will be an absolute gem in this draft.
Most of his mistakes come from panicking with pressure, so his learning curve in the NBA will be steep. He likely will struggle for a year or two, but his great defensive IQ gives me confidence that he is smart so he can figure it out on both ends.
As it pertains to the Denver Nuggets, I think this would be a fantastic addition to the team. They missed Jerami Grant last year, and this is a player that has the potential to fill that type of void. Denver has also needed a shot blocker for several years, and he is one of the great weak-side shot blockers in this draft.
Defensively, this is a prospect Denver would really like to have. The Nuggets struggled in pick and roll situations and Thor offers them the ability to be very versatile in that area. He’s the type of player that will need to improve offensively to get consistent minutes, but he can make a defensive impact right away.
This is definitely a player to take a long look at if you’re the Nuggets, and if passed on, he could make you pay.