36 NBA rookies have made All-Defense: Does Ausar Thompson have a chance?

Phoenix Suns guard Eric Gordon (23) is defended by Detroit Pistons forward Ausar Thompson (9) Credit: Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports
Phoenix Suns guard Eric Gordon (23) is defended by Detroit Pistons forward Ausar Thompson (9) Credit: Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports /

Not much has gone right for the Detroit Pistons this season, but one of the few brights spots has been rookie Ausar Thompson.

Through the first 11 games, Thompson has done things that few rookies in NBA history have done. His rebounding stacks up against the best in the league and he’s already defending the other team’s best player on a nightly basis:

For a wing to be 2nd in the NBA in total rebounds is certainly something, and when you look at the company he’s in, it’s a list a Hall of Famers, almost all of which were centers.

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It’s difficult for rookies to get season awards outside of Rookie of the Year, as the best ones are usually on bad teams that get little national coverage or attention. But Ausar Thompson is getting noticed by current and former NBA stars and has a chance to make the All-Defensive team as a rookie if he can keep up this production for an entire season.

Could Ausar Thompson make All-Defense as a rookie?

There is precedent for rookies on the All-Defensive team, as it has happened 36 times in NBA history. Here’s the full list, and as you can see, many of the names are among the greatest players of all time, including Elgin Baylor, Wilt Chamberlain, Rick Barry, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Larry Bird, Michael Jordan, David Robinson and Tim Duncan.

The impressive thing about Ausar Thompson is that he is only 20-years-old, much younger than any other player on the list, as guys back then usually played at least a few years of college basketball before entering the NBA.

So how does Ausar stack up?

For the purposes of this, I am only going to look at the players in the modern era, as the NBA didn’t start keeping stats on blocks and steals until the 1970’s. But can we appreciate just for a second that Wilt Chamberlain averaged 37 points and 27 rebounds PER GAME as a rookie?

Omitting the players from before defensive stats were kept leaves six players, Walter Davies, Phil Ford, Larry Bird, Michael Jordan, David Robinson and Tim Duncan.

Here’s where Ausar Thompson ranks among those players in steals, blocks and rebounds:

  • Steals: Thompson’s 1.2 steals per game would rank 6th, as all but Tim Duncan averaged more. Michael Jordan leads the list with 2.4 steals per game as a rookie.
  • Blocks: Ausar’s 1.9 blocks per game would put him 3rd behind just Duncan and Robinson, two centers who were over 7-feet tall. Robinson (who was 24-years-old) blocked an outstanding 3.9 shots per game in his first season. Duncan averaged 2.5 blocks per game as a rookie.
  • Rebounds: Thompson is currently averaging 10.5 rebounds per game, which would put him 3rd again behind Robinson and Duncan and narrowly edging out Larry Bird.

There is certainly more to defense than just these three stats, but the intangibles help Thompson even more, as he is an elite athlete who can defend 1-4, while most of these players were centers who really only defended the paint. They also did it an era when the center position was more important, there were far more post-ups and teams tended to play from the inside out, which is the opposite of today’s wing-dominated 3-point-heavy game.

Ausar’s best rookie comparison as a defender might be Michael Jordan, who could also defend all over the floor and also played at guard.

The season is still very young, so Thompson has to prove he can maintain this, but right now, he is putting himself among the best rookie defenders to ever play the game and giving himself a shot at making the All-Defensive team before he can legally buy a beer.

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