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2021 WNBA Draft Watch: Unique Thompson is keeping Auburn relevant with her rebounding

The Auburn Tigers have seen better days, but their star player, Unique Thompson, just keeps getting better. This tenacious rebounder and post-up threat offers much that will appeal to WNBA coaches and GMs.

COLLEGE BASKETBALL: MAR 04 SEC Women’s Tournament - Auburn vs Vanderbilt
Unique Thompson has averaged a double-double for Auburn in each of her past two seasons and currently leads the nation in rebounding.
Photo by John Byrum/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

The Auburn Tigers (5-13, 0-10 SEC) haven’t had a very successful 2020-21 season. Seven players transferred from the program after 2019-20, inciting massive roster turnover and putting the program firmly in a rebuilding phase.

The one constant throughout Auburn’s messy transition has been Unique Thompson, a 6-foot-3 forward with a lead-by-example attitude and a relentless pursuit of the basketball. The Theodore, Ala., native is a familiar face throughout the SEC, and it’s not just because of her ubiquitous gameday makeup — she’s been a force on the glass and in the post.

Soon, she’ll have a shot to bring that toughness to the WNBA.

Honors and statistics

Ranked as the 74th-best recruit in the class of 2017 by ESPN HoopGurlz, Thompson wasted little time putting herself on the map, earning SEC All-Freshman honors after averaging 11.9 points and 8.7 rebounds in 30.6 minutes.

Things have only gone up from there. Thompson averaged a double-double in both her sophomore (12.1 points, 10.4 rebounds) and junior (16.2 points, 11.4 rebounds) seasons and earned a spot on the 2020 All-SEC First Team and an honorable mention among AP All-Americans.

Prior to the 2020-21 season, Thompson was voted to the All-SEC Preseason Team by conference coaches and she is currently one of 10 players being considered for the Katrina McClain Award, which is given to the nation’s top power forward. Thompson also was on the Wooden Award Preseason Watch List, though her name was removed when the list was trimmed to 20 players in early February.

How she helps the Tigers

COLLEGE BASKETBALL: MAR 04 SEC Women’s Tournament - Auburn vs Vanderbilt
Thompson doing what she does best: rebounding the basketball.
Photo by John Byrum/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Take one look at Thompson’s stat line and it’s obvious what her main strength is: rebounding.

She’s always been good at it. Even as a freshman, when her role for the Tigers wasn’t as significant, Thompson grabbed 16.5 percent of all available rebounds — ranking in the 95th percentile, per Her Hoop Stats. As a sophomore, that number rose to 19.1 percent, followed by 20.5 percent as a junior.

Now, as a senior, Thompson is securing 23 percent of all rebounds, ranking sixth in the nation. Looking at more traditional statistics, she leads all of Division I in total (13.5) and offensive (5.7) rebounds per game. She’s even recorded a pair of 20-point, 20-rebound games: 26 points and 23 rebounds against Houston on Dec. 5 and 20 points and 23 rebounds against Belmont on Dec. 20.

Don’t let her gaudy rebounding numbers fool you, though. Thompson is far from a one-trick pony. She’s averaging a career-high 17.1 points per game, and it’s an efficient tally: Thompson is shooting 53.5 percent from the field and, according to Synergy Sports, 60.3 percent at the rim, not counting post-ups.

Auburn head coach Terri Williams-Flournoy described her team as “blessed” when talking about Thompson’s offensive game:

We’re probably one of the blessed ones in the country to actually have a real back-to-the-back, post player that likes playing down in the post, that’s very efficient in the post.

Unfortunately, most of Auburn’s roster has struggled to complement Thompson’s low-post game this season.

Just 26.3 percent of the Tigers’ scoring attempts come from behind the arc, and the team is shooting 26.6 on those 3-pointers — not nearly enough to take the pressure off of Thompson down low. Opponents frequently sag off Auburn’s perimeter players out of disrespect for their 3-point shooting, making it more difficult for Thompson to even get the ball in the post, let alone make any moves once she gets it.

This can be viewed from a glass-half-full perspective, however, at least regarding Thompson’s chances in the WNBA. Auburn’s offensive deficiencies may have doomed the team in SEC play, but they also make Thompson’s individual performance all the more impressive. One might be intrigued by the possibility of her playing on a WNBA team that can adequately space the floor.

Watch her play

There aren’t too many easy wins in the SEC, and Auburn is running out of chances to get its first victory of the season. You’d be forgiven for tuning in solely for individual matchups and you can see Thompson go against fellow WNBA draft prospect Jasmine Walker (Alabama) on Feb. 14. And she’ll have to deal with Mississippi State’s frontcourt duo of Rickea Jackson and Jessika Carter on Feb. 18. Both games will be televised on SEC Network.

All statistics and team record for the 2020-21 season are current through Feb. 9, 2021.