The G League is a guard heavy league, but having a capable centre still matters on both ends of the court. Fortunately for the Raptors 905, they happen to have two skilled centres, Kennedy Meeks and Shevon Thompson, both of whom deserve consideration as being among the top big men in the league.
Through 43 games, Meeks and Thompson are both in the top 25 in the G League in rebounds per game, while both averaging under 28 minutes per game. In limited minutes, Meeks is averaging just short of a double-double with 12.7 points, and 9.5 rebounds and the same goes for Thompson who is averaging 10.7 points and 7.8 rebounds per game. Along with that, Thompson has a 16.3% PIE rating (Player Impact Estimate, which is the percentage of the game that player did something), while Meeks has a 12.8% PIE rating. Meeks and Thompson also bring in a ton of rebounds, as Thompson hauls in 21.4% of the total rebounds available to him, while Meeks bring in 19.3% of total rebounds. On top of all that, Meeks and Thompson also have a huge impact on the defensive end, as both have sub-105 defensive ratings (Meeks at 102, and Thompson at 100), good for best and second-best on the 905.
Setting numbers aside though, the amazing part is how Meeks and Thompson have worked together, and how head coach Jerry Stackhouse has used them this season for the 905.
To begin the season however, the 905’s pivot position wasn’t supposed to be manned by Meeks or Thompson. Instead, Edy Tavares was to start the season with the 905, with Meeks transitioning to power forward alongside him. As it happens in the G League, Tavares played just one game for the 905 and then signed a three-year deal overseas, leaving Meeks by his lonesome.
Meeks was productive when the season started, but then in November came an invite to play on Team USA for the FIBA qualifiers. The 905 was left to play Bruno Caboclo at centre — which was a bit of a problem. With Meeks gone, the 905 managed to acquire Thompson, the Jamaican-born centre from the Lakeland Magic.
“He is a good centre too,” said Stackhouse of Thompson back in November. “I remember playing against him last year in Erie, and he made some great moves and made some baskets on Edy and that is hard to do.”
Thompson got to work early with the 905, and when Meeks came back, he slid to the bench, which is when things really started to click for the team. Games for the 905 would begin with Meeks bringing everything he had against the opposing centre, then Thompson would come on and do the exact same thing. Together, Meeks and Thompson were a load for any team to deal with.
“I think it is working pretty good so far,” said Thompson of his pairing with Meeks. “We are just trying to compete and do the right things. We just both need to bring our best and compete.”
“It is certainly something we talk about often, about being versatile, being like a one-two punch,” Meeks added. “I give you a lot of work when I start the game, and then when he comes in he gives you the same thing. He is hard to guard I would say, he is such a great player, he has such a great knack for the ball and such a great teammate and so much fun to have him around.”
Through March 6th, Meeks is currently averaging 12.7 points, 9.5 rebounds (4.1 of those on the offensive glass), while playing 27.7 minutes per game with a 53.6 percent true shooting percentage. But Meeks has become much better at playing in the post then he was at UNC. “I just try to play in the pocket the best way I can,” Meeks said of how he has improved playing in the post. “I think I’m pretty good at it, honestly and just try to get my teammates open shots and be the most aggressive that I can.”
That initial plan to play power forward may also have helped Meeks too. He slimmed down for that 4-spot position, and credits it with helping him play better. “Defensively is the best way to put it, quicker on my feet, sliding over and definitely just trying to improve every game, and coach Stack believed in me,” Meeks said. It also didn’t hurt that he got to play in training camp with the Raptors.
Meeks was in Raptors training camp, working alongside Jonas Valanciunas, Jakob Poeltl, and Lucas Nogueira, to learn how to be an NBA centre. But he says it wasn’t the centres who taught him how to be a better player.
“More then anybody, I’d say Fred, Fred VanVleet,” said Meeks. “I’d say he definitely helped me with the pick and rolls, and transitioning into more of a four-man. I just need to keep on getting better at. My time will come, and I am confident that I will be in the NBA soon, but just enjoy the moment because this is such a great league. The G League helps a lot of players and it is an honour to play here honestly.”
Thompson, meanwhile, has come a long way too, as he now looks comfortable in the 905’s system. Stackhouse is starting to trust Thompson more and playing him in important spots, as Thompson has become a necessary part of the 905’s solid defense. “He [Stackhouse] has done a great job utilizing me so far this season,” Thompson said. While averaging just 20.5 minutes, Thompson continues to be immensely effective, putting up 10.6 points and 7.8 rebounds per game while shooting 61 percent from the field. It’s fair to ask sometimes if Thompson should indeed be playing more.
“It is all up to the coaches,” Thompson said of his minutes. “I mean, I go out there and play my hardest regardless of how many minutes I play. When I go out there I try to make use of the minutes I get and that is the main thing I for me right now.”
Since both Meeks and Thompson produce whenever they are on the court, they’ve added an extra element to the 905’s roster. Both of them have been a force on both ends of the floor for the team. And with the post-season now closing in, the 905 will need them to continue their play. “I think they are huge for us, they are the anchors for us,” Stackhouse said. “Defensively they are our last line of defense, they do a good job of playing guys in the post, they do a good job of helping on penetration.”
So look for Meeks and Thompson to continue to pair up and produce for the 905, while hoping for their day in the NBA in the future. Together, they may just be two of the best centres in the G League.