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After career night, Rockets rookie Amen Thompson proud of his growth as off-ball threat

WASHINGTON — Early in Tuesday’s game, the Wizards had seen enough of Houston Rockets guard Jalen Green destroying their man-to-man defense, and they wanted to do something about it.

After watching Green scored 37 points in last week’s matchup at Houston and seeing the 22-year-old score 19 points during Tuesday’s first quarter at Capital One Arena, interim head coach Brian Keefe needed to make a defensive adjustment on the fly.

With that in mind, Washington decided to trap and/or double team Green when he touched the ball, often using the man initially assigned to rookie Amen Thompson. When they were not doubling Green, the Wizards went zone, hoping to keep Green out of the paint.

The execution of those defensive schemes worked in limiting Green, at least for the second quarter and early in the third quarter. But that strategy opened the game up for Thompson, who finished with a career-high 25 points and 10 rebounds in Houston’s blowout victory. Thompson took the defensive adjustment personally.

“I take it as a little bit of disrespect to double off of me,” Thompson said with a smile during his postgame interview.

Thompson, 21, has been vital to his team’s current six-game winning streak. After starting center Alperen Sengun hurt his ankle in Sacramento on March 10, the 6-foot-7 rookie was inserted into the starting lineup, and he has flourished in that role. During that stretch, the No. 4 overall pick from the 2023 NBA draft has averaged 17.2 points and 8.2 rebounds per game while shooting over 80%.

Playing in the proverbial “dunker’s spot,” Thompson is finding his rhythm near the rim, which is still unfamiliar for the natural guard.

“The progress I have been making, I am proud of myself,” Thompson said after Tuesday’s victory in Washington. “Learning how to play off the ball, which is something I never had to do before. I feel like I am really learning how to do that. I see my teammates trusting me more in certain situations to make a play or score. So, I am learning where to be at and taking my opportunities to score.”

Houston Rockets head coach Ime Udoka is well aware of Thompson’s advantages on both ends of the court. The uber-athletic rookie was a menace on defense, all while ensuring he had a good position around the rim on offense for his teammates to find him.

“When they go zone, he is really good in the middle,” Udoka said. “He can pass it or one dribble; he is right at the rim. He is so athletic; he can catch it in there and make a play and be right at the rim.”

Against the Wizards, Thompson’s success in the game’s middle stages eventually relieved some of the pressure on Green, who erupted again late in the third quarter as Houston put the game away.

Thompson’s presence will be needed as Houston (33-35) makes its final push at a 2024 postseason spot. They currently trail Golden State (35-32) by 2.5 games for the No. 10 spot in the Western Conference standings, which represents the final play-in tournament berth.

That dynamic could make an April 4 game at Toyota Center between the Rockets and Warriors even more exciting, since there could be plenty of playoff implications. Houston is 23-11 at home this season, which could boost their chances, and the Rockets will have an opportunity to build on that mark in an upcoming three-game homestand versus Chicago, Utah, and Portland.

First up for the Rockets is that home matchup versus the Bulls (34-35), which tips off at 7:00 p.m. Central on Thursday.

Story originally appeared on Rockets Wire