Auburn forward JT Thor has one of the most unique skill set and size combinations in the class of 2021, and Jesse McMillan (Thor’s head coach at Norcross High School) provided AU Hoops News with exclusive insight into what he thinks Auburn fans can expect from Thor.
Question: Bruce Pearl has used “forwards” with guard skills like Chuma Okeke in a “point forward” role in the past. Do you see Thor playing a role like that at Auburn?
JM: JT actually played a lot of hybrid PG for his AAU team last summer. We never ran him as pure point, but we allowed him to regularly start the break off the defensive rebound. He showed great court vision and IQ. He will have to tighten his handle up in the full court but that is something I’d expect him to address pretty easily. I know Pearl’s history of giving forwards ball-handling responsibility played a big role in the recruitment.
Question: Pearl also said he expects Thor to be a versatile defender at Auburn. What positions do you think he has the potential to defend?
JM: Right now I think defensive versatility is one of JT’s biggest strengths. He is a rangy defender and understands angles and positioning. What he may give up in weight, he makes up for by using his length and IQ. On the block and high post, he’s strong enough to do some work early and not let his man get position, but on the catch he does a good job of staying vertical and taking up space. He has excellent timing and discipline when going for blocks. On the perimeter he has the ability to defend bigger guards and wings. He would be fine on a straight-line-drive guard, but he’d have a little trouble guarding P&R action on the ball because of his body type. Realistically, his 1st year, I’d expect him to be able guard 2-4 with success.
Question: How good of a three point shooter do you think he can be as a freshman in college?
JM: JT’s three-point percentage was up and down at times, but a lot of that was due to his quality of looks. Catch and shoot was very good, especially from the top of the key and left wing. Once teams scouted him, they would normally crowd him and get into his body. That really limited the number of clean perimeter jumpers he got versus better competition. Pearl’s offensive actions should definitely help him get cleaner looks and he can definitely knock those down.
What areas of his skill set deserve more recognition? What other parts of Thor’s game will translate well to college level?
JM: He’s a very unselfish player and has a good feel for the game. He really impressed [us] with his ability to move without the ball – that’s something that a lot of talented players struggle with because they are used to being the main focal point of the offense. JT adjusted very quickly to playing with other talented players and many games we had to encourage him to be more selfish and look for his shot. In my opinion that’s an important skill to have in regards to the transition to college. He understands how to make an impact without having the ball in his hands. I expect him to find several easy baskets each game due to his ability to cut and move in space.
In an earlier conversation on Twitter, and in response to highlights of Thor defending five star 2021 forward Jabari Smith Jr, McMillan said: Unless they were a PG, we put JT on the opponent’s best scorer all year. Go watch what he did in Tucker HS game vs their SEC level wing. We had him on dribble dominate SGs too. His combo of footwork and length was filthy.
Jay: McMillan spoke highly on Thor in every subject mentioned. That’s coming from a coach who coached UGA commit Josh Taylor and four-star Kok Yat on the same team. McMillan also coached five star Kentucky commit BJ Boston and Georgia Tech’s Kyle Sturdivant the year before, among others.
One thing that stood out was McMillan saying, “many games we had to encourage him to be more selfish and look for his shot. In my opinion that’s an important skill to have in regards to the transition to college. He understands how to make an impact without having the ball in his hands.”
That sounds like something that was said about Isaac Okoro and Okeke in the past.
In an interview with Blake Lovell of Marching to Madness, Pearl alluded to the fact that Thor could be the “next” top 50 forward, who didn’t make the McDonald’s All American game, to turn into a first round draft pick while at Auburn, another comparison to Okoro and Okeke.
Drew: I love this breakdown from Coach McMillan and appreciate him taking the time to respond to us.
It’s great to hear that Thor’s interest in ball-handling duties played a factor in his recruitment, because he can showcase his talents with the freedom that comes with Auburn’s “point forward” role. McMillan’s mention of Thor playing hybrid point guard in AAU ball and his praise of Thor’s play making abilities are also encouraging, especially with exploiting mismatches being a focal point of Pearl’s offense and Auburn unsure of who its go-to scorers will be.
McMillan’s praise of Thor utilizing his length, positioning and IQ was another key point. McMillan said it allows Thor to make up for his weight, and that aligns exactly with what I’ve seen from watching his games. These qualities give him incredible versatility as McMillan mentions and could allow other Auburn defenders on court to better focus on their assignments with fewer responsibilities. These are commonly overlooked attributes and part of why I believe Thor should have been ranked higher.