One of the biggest criticisms during Thad Matta's career has been his unwillingness to use his bench. Whether you agree with this decision or not, it has been one that has been consistently argued for years. Clearly, Ohio State has done pretty well without heavily using its bench in recent years, but things might be a little different this year. One of the surprises for Ohio State this season has been the improvement of Sam Thompson off the bench. He has been very productive this year and could be a big piece in a potential run for the Buckeyes.
Thompson is a junior from Chicago (IL) and came in with a lot of hype to Columbus. He was a 4* recruit according to 247Sports and rated as one of the top players in Illinois. Fans were excited about the prospect of Thompson playing out on the wing. Results so far have certainly not been bad, but his contributions were relatively limited in his first two seasons. As a freshman, he averaged 10.6 minutes per game and as a sophomore he averaged 25.1 minutes per game. Those are solid numbers and show improvement. However, it's what he is doing so far this season that should really get fans excited.
Despite coming off the bench, Thompson has been very productive for the Buckeyes. Certainly, he is playing the minutes of a starter (2nd highest on team), but so far this year, he is leading the team in scoring and blocks and also putting up 5 rebounds a game. Even the advanced stats look good for Thompson. According to Basketball Reference, Thompson has the 3rd highest efficiency rating (20.8) on the team and the 3rd highest usage rate (23%). Compare that to starter LaQuinton Ross who is used 25% of the time, but only has an efficiency score of 9.7. This is a strong statement about the efficiency and production of Thompson.
So why is this important? Thompson has played before and put up points before, but what makes this different? The biggest answer to this question is one name: Deshaun Thomas. Thomas went to the NBA last year and the Buckeyes desperately need someone to pick up his scoring share. Against Marquette, Ohio State put up 52 points. Of course, they won the game, but scoring will clearly be a serious concern for this team. Getting anything from the bench is huge, but a bench player leading the team in scoring is a different story. Now, whether he stays there is up for debate, but Ohio State needs that guy to help Shannon Scott and Aaron Craft keep consistent production.
Think about this. There had been a lot of concern that if Craft has an "off night" that the Buckeyes would struggle to produce offensively. Sure, Shannon Scott should be able to put up some decent points, but Amir Williams, Lenzelle Smith, Jr., and LaQuinton Ross can all be pretty unpredictable. Williams put up a double-double against Ohio, but only put up 4 points and 3 rebounds against Marquette, Ross did not even score a point against Marquette, and Smith has only attempted 12 shots over the last two games including 5 against Ohio in 27 minutes. Maybe one of these guys can break out, as the year goes along (Ross most likely), but there is not a lot of consistency among those three, at least offensively. If the Buckeyes can get consistent production out of Thompson, that would be huge to making sure the Buckeyes are competitive on a nightly basis.
Perhaps it is too early to tell if Thompson will be productive all season, but he is a dynamic player that could help the Buckeyes matchup against many opponents down the road. Maybe he is the key piece that can make up for the loss of Deshaun Thomas last year. Along with this, perhaps he moves into the starting lineup over time. Either way, the early season production of Thompson has been something Buckeye fans should love to see.