Can Houston Rockets' Amen Thompson become a point guard?

Is Amen Thompson the point guard of the future for the Houston Rockets?
Is Amen Thompson the point guard of the future for the Houston Rockets? / Alex Goodlett/GettyImages

What is a point guard?

It's become a philosophical battleground in the National Basketball Association. For a long time, positions were clearly defined. Your point guard was the player who was responsible for orchestrating an offense.

With few exceptions, that meant being a pass-first player. Score-first guards played the 2. Typically, the point guard was responsible for getting the ball to them in their preferred areas of the floor.

In time, teams learned that there were some advantages to putting the ball in the hands of your best scorer. If Michael Jordan was playing today, he would run point. So, the question remains - what is a point guard?

Is Houston Rockets soon-to-be sophomore Amen Thompson a point guard?

Houston Rockets rookie looked like a wing this season

We'll approach the question in several ways.

What is a point guard? At a baseline level, a point guard is a player who has the ball in his hands more than the other players.

That's always been the case. It used to be that the player with the ball in their hands was expected to orchestrate the offense. Now, it doesn't matter what decision a ball-handler is inclined to make. They're a point guard because they get to make the decision.

In today's NBA, that often means functioning as a ball-handler in the pick-and-roll. Still, we shouldn't assume that teams uniformly run that set into the ground. So, we're going to ask two questions - was Thompson a point guard in 2023-24, and can he be a point guard down the road?

In the process of answering the first question, we'll compare Thompson to some of his fellow rookies in pick-and-roll frequency, touches, and dribbles per touch.

Pick and roll frequency

Scoot Henderson - 39.8%

Keyonte George - 39.4%

Amen Thompson - 12.8%

Cason Wallace - 10.9%

Touches per game / Dribbles per touch

Scoot Henderson - 67.7 / 4.23

Keyonte George - 63.3 / 4.66

Amen Thompson - 40.3 / 2.66

Cason Wallace - 20.7 / 2.15

Sure, Thompson got more on-ball reps than Wallace. With Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and Josh Giddey on the Thunder's roster, that's no surprise. Gilgeous-Alexander is one of the best guards in the NBA, and Giddey has minimal utility without the ball.

So, the Thunder used Wallace as an off-guard in 2023-24. The Rockets used Thompson as a wing. Only Henderson and George were used like point guards out of this group.

What does that mean for Thompson's future?

Thompson can be point guard of future for Houston Rockets

Thompson is an interesting player. There are a myriad of possible futures ahead of him. He's likely to be an impactful NBA player in each of them.

In all likelihood, he'll never lead the NBA in touches or pick-and-roll frequency. To begin with, a pick-and-roll between a non-shooting guard and a non-shooting big is suboptimal. Opposing bigs will have no issue dropping quickly knowing that there's no reason to guard the perimeter.

Moreover, Thompson will always have utility off the ball. He should be one of the best cutters in the NBA. His functionality in the dunker's spot will ensure that he's used as more than some kind of heliocentric hub.

Still, Thompson has potential as a point guard. His floor vision is uncanny. A player who can make passes as unconventional as the ones that Thompson can make should warrant usage.

Perhaps the Rockets will eventually need to pair him with a stretch big. A pick-and-pop could be a viable pet play with Thompson as the primary ball-handler. He wasn't ready for that responsibility in 2023-24. Even if his shot never develops, Thompson will have to improve his ball-handling to run point regularly moving forward.

If he can, he may force us to re-think the point guard position - again.