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How Many Minutes Will JT Thor Get in Charlotte This Season?

We will take a look back at what improvements JT Thor flashed during Summer League and what he can continue to work on.
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Welcome to week two of our developmental prospect review! If you missed last week's article, click here to check out the discussion on Mark Williams. Next up is JT Thor.

Out of the three rookies Charlotte brought onto last season's roster, JT Thor flashed the most two-way versatility for the team. That continued during the week in Las Vegas as he showed improved shooting from three and defensive growth for the Summer League squad. He had some ups and downs in the desert, but ultimately Charlotte fans should be excited for his future with the team.

Let's start with the improvement Thor showed on the offensive side of the court. The talented second-year player averaged 12.2 points per game on 42% shooting and 37% from three. He shot just 26% from beyond the arc during his time in Charlotte last season, so this uptick in percentage could be huge. Keep in mind that five Summer League games represents an extremely small sample size, but it is still worth mentioning and is an encouraging sign.

Overall, Thor went 7-19 from downtown, and he seemed to get better and more confident as the week carried on. It was great to see him go 3-6 in the final game against the Minnesota Timberwolves as he can use that as a building block for the rest of the summer to get ready for the season. If he can prove to be a 35-38% three-point shooter for Charlotte, he can become a solid rotation player for the team. Most of his looks came off of spot-ups as he relied on other play-makers to get him open shots. This was highlighted by his game winner against the Lakers. Ty-Shon Alexander started to head downhill towards the basket and noticed Thor's defender creep in to help on the drive. Alexander tossed it out to Thor who rose up and knocked it down despite a strong closeout and contest by his defender. The confidence to take that shot in a sudden death moment in the game bodes well for the long-term growth of his shooting ability. 

We haven't seen much in terms of movement shooting or shooting off the dribble, but the shot is very much a work in progress in his second year of NBA development. For now, it would be most beneficial for him to continue working on his stand-still attempts as playing in Charlotte with LaMelo Ball will give him many of those opportunities. Increasing his efficiency on those looks could have him see real rotation minutes this season, giving him plenty of time to work on shooting off screens and pin downs in future summers. Confidence should not be the issue with his shot, so hopes should be high for him turning this into an asset for Charlotte.

Getting to the free throw line is such a valuable skill to develop and Thor showcased that he has the ability to do just that. Per the advanced statistics on basketball-reference.com, he had a 36.4% free throw rate in his time he spent with the Hornets this past season. This data point measures the number of free throw attempts per field goal attempt for a player. During Summer League, his free throw rate was at a ridiculous 67.4%. As was mentioned above the sample size was entirely too small to make sweeping generalizations about, but it is impressive nonetheless. While playing with the Hornets in Charlotte he didn't get nearly the same amount of chances he had in Vegas with the ball in his hands to attack the basket, but it is valuable to know that when given those opportunities, Thor can get to the line at a solid rate. Trips to the line are among the most efficient ways to score in the modern NBA no matter how effectively you shoot once you get there so flashing this skill should benefit his playing time.

Thor spent a lot of time playing the three in the first two Summer League games as Kai Jones and Nick Richards were also out on the court with him. This rotation didn't seem to bring out the best offensively for Thor as the team struggled with play-making and spacing. Starting with the third game, he was shifted down to the four spot primarily as Richards was shut down for the summer. Mark Williams and Kai Jones then shared time at the center spot, allowing for better ball-handling and creation to take place around the center and Thor. This move seemed to help Thor's offensive game. During the first two games, he had a combined seven turnovers and no assists but only had two combined turnovers in the remaining three games. The most simple reason for this drastic difference was the spacing created by the rotation adjustments as defenses were not able to pack the paint and swarm drivers while forcing turnovers.

Even after limiting his turnovers in the final three games, Thor still averaged only one assist per game during Summer League. While it shouldn't be expected that the Hornets would ask him to be a primary play-maker at the NBA level, the uncertainty surrounding Miles Bridges and his future with the team leaves a void that needs to be filled on the offensive end. JT flashed a few impressive drives to the rim and athletic finishes so defenses will feel the need to collapse on him when he gets going. Working on his handle and keeping his head up for open teammates on the perimeter will aid in this area. It was great that he was able to draw fouls so frequently but it's unclear whether or not he can continue to do that against better and more experienced defenders during the NBA season. Becoming a better passer should be a key area of focus for him as well as cleaning up some sloppy ball-handling that occasionally popped up.

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The defensive side of the court is where we've already seen Thor make his mark at the NBA level. His athleticism mixed with his incredibly long frame and quick feet should give offensive players nightmares. Looking back at last season in Charlotte, he has already showed the ability to cover a wide range of talented scorers. Given his energy and effort on that end, he is truly capable of guarding every single position on the court. He has flashed the ability to fight through screens and the defensive IQ to play really effective help defense.

During the final game of Summer League against the Minnesota Timberwolves, the second-year wing had an impressive five steals. His quick hands and long arms make him extremely skilled at poking the ball away from ball-handlers and igniting fast breaks. For a Charlotte team that wants to get out and run, this skill could lead to some coveted playing time for Thor. He also has a knack for jumping passing lanes and knocking the ball loose while off-ball. The disruption he causes on defense was something former head coach, James Borrego, often mentioned as something he loved about the player.

There were many instances in Las Vegas where JT showcased outstanding on-ball defense. He is strong at the point of attack and makes it very difficult to drive by him. Even if the offensive player does get a step, Thor does a great job of not panicking and staying with the play. He has the athleticism to recover and alter the shot at the rim.

One of if not the best rookie defender this past season was New Orleans' rookie, Herbert Jones. Herb was a critical component to the Pelicans' success last season, playing almost 30 minutes per game. He was tremendous as a pick-and-roll defender and recovering out to shooters. The reason I bring him up is because Thor has all of the tools to impact the game defensively in a similar way. He may never approach Herb's actual defensive impact, but the opportunity exists that he can grow into a key rotation player for Charlotte specializing in causing havoc on the less glamorous side of the court. A sign of encouragement lies in last season's block percentages. Jones finished with a 2.5 block percentage compared to that of 4% for Thor, albeit playing in more than 2,000 fewer NBA minutes. Even though the sample size for Thor was much smaller, the statistic shows he can alter shots. The key will be keeping up his effort and consistency as his playing time increases.

Overall, JT Thor showed some serious progress throughout Summer League. The first two games were a bit troublesome but he finished strong, capping the week off with a 28 point and five steal masterpiece in the final game. Improvements in his catch and shoot three pointers and ability to get to the free throw line were welcome signs for Charlotte. He continued to show tremendous effort on defense and caused disruption everywhere he went on that end. Continuing to work on his shot and adding in some shooting off movement, as well as an improved handle and passing ability would be monumental for Thor's development. The future looks very bright for him, and Charlotte should be ecstatic.

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