But there were also warnings about UNC's interior play alongside of All-American Tyler Hansbrough as far back as Media Day in October, when head coach Roy Williams emphasized that neither Thompson nor Alex Stepheson had secured a starting spot. And there was also that stat line in the season-opening win against Davidson – four points and zero rebounds in 15 minutes of action.
Williams indicated last week that while he knows his sophomore forward can shoot the basketball, there is another area of his game that needs improvement for Thompson to become a legitimate threat for the Tar Heels.
"He needs to focus on the rebounding aspect of it," Williams said. "He's had two games where he's had zero rebounds, and you can't have one of your post players doing that. He has the ability to put the ball in the basket, but he can't judge his worth on how well he's doing that, because we don't have to have him to score."
But therein lies part of the difficulty for Thompson, who is averaging 7.8 points and 4.9 rebounds per game – he has struggled with his shot through ten games (49.4 percent on 38-of-77 field goals, 2-of-10 from the free-throw line) and he believes that has affected the rest of his game.
"I try to think more about getting rebounds instead of just trying to score all of the time," Thompson said. "But when my shot's not falling, it's kind of tough for me to stay focused. But I want to rebound the ball, so I've been working on it."
Those struggles have provided 6-foot-6 wing Danny Green a window of opportunity by seeing significant minutes at the No. 4 spot, but Williams has stressed that he would rather force opponents to adjust to his lineup than vice-versa.
"We need another big, because Coach [Williams] wants to play big guys," junior guard Bobby Frasor said. "He doesn't want to have to keep going to Danny at the four, so somebody's going to have to step up at the four position."
It's sometimes easy to forget that while Thompson has started 10 games this fall for the top-ranked team in the country, he is just beginning his second season of collegiate basketball – in a transformed physical build, as well. The increased effort shows up in spurts, as it did on the defensive end of the court Wednesday night when Thompson forced a five-second call near mid-court in the Tar Heels' win over Nicholls State.
"I feel like I'm giving the effort right now, but it's always more that Coach [Williams] wants out of us," Thompson said. "He always feels that there's more he can get out of us."
And the coaching staff is going to need to get more out of Thompson if they expect this team to contend for an ACC Championship in March and a Final Four appearance in April. But those events are several months away, and the purpose of this non-conference schedule is to work out the kinks and resolve any major issues before the ACC slate begins in early January. There's still plenty of time for improvement for the California big man.
"He's getting better every day in practice," Williams said. "He plays like a young player, plays like an inexperienced player. But in saying all that I think he's going to get better and better as the season goes forward."